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March 1, 2018

Ask The Pros: When Is The Mix Done?

We've all been there. Agonizing over the smallest details in the mix, tweaking and tweaking, then feeling like the mix is done. We did it. It's going to destroy the concept of the perfect mix and, say it with me, "change the game."

The next day we wake up with a smile on our face, grab a cup of coffee, confidently pull up the printed 2 track version, hit play and... wait. What happened?! Who said this was done?? Such a decision could have only been made by our evil alter-ego! Who let that person into the session?!

So we crack open the mix, yet again, to scour the depths of our bag of tricks and make this thing perfect; just to realize after hours of mindless tweaking that it was better yesterday!

It's one of the most frequent questions we get. "How do you know when the Mix is Done?!"
This week we asked the Puremix mentors how they know when the mix is done and they can walk away.

A mix is done when on a fresh listen you can’t think of what you would do next and there isn’t anything you feel like you would need to make an excuse for. Every once in a while you know it’s done because you think it’s great, but not that often.

I feel that my mix is done when I’m bouncing in my chair and the song is groovy and emotional. I throw everything I’ve got into a mix and leave no stone unturned before I present it to a client. If an idea crosses my mind as I’m working on a mix, I have to try it;  could work out great or not.

When the mix is coming together and starts feeling groovy, I make all my automation moves quickly to capitalize on the inspiration, and then walk away for a bit to refresh my ears; get a coffee, take a nap or walk the dog. When I return, I roll it from the top on my boom box with a mastering limiter inserted on the mix and see how it feels.  I make notes as the song plays (rather than distracting myself with constant stop-start), then I go back and make adjustments.

At this point it should be minor details If I start second guessing things late in the game, I need to walk away before I ruin the mix. Once I feel satisfied, I print the mix and my assistant documents all the settings and prints alternate versions to have on hand in case the client requests them.

A mix is never really finished. One moves on after any occurrence or combination of occurrences of the following:
1) No one on the team is asking for revisions anymore
2) The budget is gone
3) The deadline is really dead
4) You can no longer listen to the track without getting a rash
5) It has been mastered (not always a qualifying factor)
6) Sometimes, when you genuinely can’t think of anything that you could make better on the track.
BUT, it is very likely that even in case #6, should you listen to that track a year later, you will find plenty that you would do differently.

My mix is done when I’m happy with it and the client loves it.

Mastering is about potential and enhancing  ... a balance of ‘do all we can’ with ‘do as little as possible’ and it’s always about making things better.  It’s done when I’m out of good ideas and just before perfectionism sets in.  After review, a client may need revisions.  In that case, it’s done when they say it’s done.

Ok, the smart ass answer would be — when everything is louder than everything else! Or you could say that a mix or master is done when — after making sure you can hear all the parts — everything you hear supports the music as a whole and you are not simply hearing the parts.

Just like when writing and/or arranging a song, the mix is never finished. You just abandon it. You could tweak it forever and still find new things to do to it but at some point you have to walk away from it and let it live. So when is it a good time to abandon it?

You’ll know by asking two simple questions:

- Will people stop playing it if I don’t do this?

- Can I listen to it a year from now and not regret it?

To find the answer, simply walk out of the studio for 15 minutes. Come back, blast it without looking at it. If you get a no to both questions, print it.


Carlos "El Loco" Bedoya

When do you feel that the mix is finished? Leave a comment below