The best mix engineers are the ones who’ve made the most mistakes. There’s nothing shameful about making mistakes really, it’s all part of the process. My goal for you, however, is to help speed up the learning curve a bit by pointing out what I think are six of the most common mistakes in mixing happening all the time. If you can eliminate these mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to making better mixes. Be sure to check out part 1 and part 2 of this post series for the first four mistakes, then come here and read the final two!
Mistake #5 – Not Taking Breaks
The more you mix the more you come to realize that you simply can’t trust your ears at all times. The “golden rule” of audio, that if it sounds good it is good, only applies if your ears aren’t shot. Unfortunately our ears aren’t consistent like speakers or microphones, they hear things differently depending on the time of day, how tired they are, and even the moisture in the air. Our ears are literally made of drums, that change constantly. The only way to gain perspective on your mix is to take frequent breaks.
How many and how often you break is up to you. I know some guys who mix for 20 minutes, then break for 10. This becomes their pattern. Others can go for an hour before needing a break. The time frame doesn’t really matter, what matters is that you DO take breaks. It seems counter productive (to stop mixing), but the truth is, each time you’ll come back to the mix with reality in mind and you’ll actually mix faster. It sounds simple, but most people don’t do this. They mix for hours at a time and then print the mix, only to find that it sounds like garbage the next day. What a waste.
Mistake #6 – Not Referencing Other Pro Mixes
At the end of the day, if you really want your mixes to sound pro, you need to compare them to pro mixes. I know it’s painful to mix for so long, thinking you’re doing your best work ever, only to compare it to some pro mixes and it sounds like poop in comparison. Been there. Got the t-shirt. But if you simply shy away from that kind of “pain” and stop referencing other mixes, then you’ll actually never get better. Sure you won’t be as discouraged, but you’ll be fooling yourself into thinking you’re actually any good!
How you reference other mixes is up to you, but it’s a good idea to do it a few times during the mixing process to see if you are on the right track. Be sure to reference these mixes on YOUR SPEAKER SYSTEM. If you are mixing through your DAW’s converters and monitors, then run the reference through the same setup. You want to compare mixes on the same setup so you can make accurate decisions. As you listen to these other mixes, take note of what sounds better about them and try to go back to your mix and “copy” that sound. This is how you learn people. It’s painful, but it’s worth it in the end!