Do you ever get that sneaking suspicion that the more versions of a mix you do the worse it gets? We assume that with each tweak we are simply fine tuning a good mix, turning it into a great one. And sometimes that might be the case. But more often than not, your first mix, your initial gut feeling of where the tracks should go, is going to be your best mix. Or at least closer to your musical vision than say mix number 7, 8, or 9.
Mixing “Billie Jean” 91 Times
One of my readers sent over this clip of legendary engineer Bruce Swedien speaking to Full Sail students about mixing Michael Jackson’s hit, “Billie Jean”. It’s only 90 seconds, but what he has to say is profound, especially for us home studio owners with no time pressure to finish. Watch it and we’ll discuss.
Gradually Losing Perspective
Can you even imagine doing 91 mixes of the same song? That seems ludicrous to me, but these guys are pros and it’s Michael Jackson we’re talking about here! The song was recorded well of course. The first few mixes were likely really good. In fact like Bruce said in the video, Mix 2 is what made the cut on the album. The mix we all know and love. So the reason for making more mixes wasn’t because they didn’t have a good mix to begin with. Rather there was something inside these two men saying,”It could be better!”
But what happens with each minor “enhancement” is a gradual loss of perspective. I’m sure that by mix 20 they were already so far removed from the first few mixes, but didn’t realize it. They were making small, gradual tweaks. Isn’t that what we do? We keep firing open our DAW, making some more tweaks, and saving the session. We think the mix is OK, but it will get better with time. In reality, we’re just loosing perspective and forgetting what the mix really should sound like.
We’re Afraid To Commit
I think the bottom line is this: we’re too afraid to call a mix done. We can’t commit to a musical idea. A lot of it might be due to lack of experience. Which leads to lack of confidence. Which leads to lack of commitment. The solution? Keep fussing with a mix until you’re sick of it, or you run out of ideas. Bad move. Rather, don’t begin mixing unless you have a musical vision to start with. Then use the tools at your disposal (gain staging, EQ, compression, panning, automation, effects, etc) to realize that vision with the tracks at hand.
Here’s the truth: you’ll never truly be “done” with a mix. So you might as well finish it. Every mix I’ve ever done, I can listen to today and give you a laundry list of things I would do differently. Why? Because there isn’t only one way to get a mix done. That’s part of what our members see every month on Dueling Mixes. Two guys taking the same tracks and churning out very different mixes. So why not embrace that fact, and learn when to call it quits.
Don’t be so afraid that you missed something. Your gut was probably right early on in the mixing process, so trust it!