Why You Shouldn’t Compare Your Mixes To Others

| Mixing, Tips

Want to crush your mixing spirit in a heartbeat? Compare your mix to that of someone else. Chances are high that you will envy their mix (and therefor their mixing ability) and want to quit this whole home studio thing.

Now, I’m not talking about referencing a mix. That is a helpful tool to make sure your EQ balance is comparable to that of the pros. But when it comes to strictly listening to other people’s mixes and comparing them to yours, it could be a bad move.

A Top Pro And His Insecurities

This week I was in Virginia, visiting family and catching up with old friends. On Tuesday my wife and I had dinner with a mutual friend who is one of the world’s top photographers. He has a thriving career and is well regarded in his profession. And yet he shared something fascinating: he doesn’t look at other photographers’ work. It only makes him feel deflated about his own.

How could this be? Someone who is as successful as he is should “know” that his work is excellent. And I’m sure he feels that it is, when he’s not comparing it to someone else. The reason, he said, that it’s easy to assume that someone else’s work is better is because everyone has a unique way of seeing the world.

Your Unique Way Of Hearing Music

So when he looks at another photographers’ work, it is different than his own, and therefore he thinks it must be better. When in reality it might be just as good as (or worse than) his own work. The same is true of us in the audio world. We are getting better with every mix, not just techincally but artistically as well. We are developing our own musical tastes.

We each hear music differently. This is based on an entire lifetime of influences and circumstances that shape the way we think music ought to sound. Consequently, our mixes will reflect that. But guess what? The same is true for every other mixer out there. I will hear music differently than you, and therefore my mixes will sound different than yours. Not better, just different.

Keep Learning But Tune Out The Noise

Here’s where I’m going with all of this. I want you to be the best mixing engineer you can possibly be. That takes a combination of time, talent, and hard work. Keep putting in the time for training and practice and you can only get better. But all the while, you need to do one crucial thing: tune out the noise and stop comparing your mixes to others’.

Don’t spend much time listening to your mix next to a pro mix and noticing all the ways that theirs sounds “better.” Instead focus on making your music sound as good as it can. Am I suggesting you stop listening to great mixes all together? No. I think you should always be listening to music and enjoying great mixes. But please just listen as a listener. Take note of some things you like about the mix, sure. But enjoy the music for the music.

Ignorance can be foolish, I understand that. But selective ignorance can be useful if it helps you grow and keep the main thing the main thing.

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23 Responses to “Why You Shouldn’t Compare Your Mixes To Others”

  1. Dan Updegraff

    I spent all day yesterday ruining a mix I had in pretty good shape. Why? Because it’s for a mix contest and I was compared it to other mixes that have been posted. I was sooo aggravated by the end of the day I had to pull myself away from the PC to stop the bleeding.

    Reply
    • lo.mo

      This was the same thing I was thinking as I read Grahams post. There are alot of good mixes in that thread (3 plug mix, right?) and they all seem to have done something better than I did with my own. Thankfully, I didn’t have a chance to listen to any of them before I completed mine, otherwise I probably would have done the same as you.

      Reply
  2. Rob

    Excellent advice. I learned this at (Visual) Art School, but now I’m in the ‘Danger Zone” again. It is a trap door, but actually a very small one. One can step over it easily, if someone just points it out. I think you just did, for a lot of people. Once again, good job Graham!

    Reply
  3. lo.mo

    Graham, I feel the same as your friend, when it comes to writing. I still listen to music, of course, but there are times when I try not to listen to anything, because it leaves me frustrated and depressed and chain-watching old movies.

    Reply
  4. Paul Odiase

    This is very soothing! glad i read this artikle!!
    Many Thanx Graham!!

    Reply
  5. Patrick

    Analog to the photographer example, you would have to stop listening to records of other people… and yes, why not? Too many musicians are exclusively inspired by other peoples’ music anyway and unconsciously copy it instead of finding their own way and inspirations outside of the medium.

    Finding your “own thing” is what makes you an unique and original artist and in my opinion that’s what counts, because there are already too many copies.

    Reply
  6. Chris

    Hands down one of the best pieces of advice you’ve given Graham. So many times I’ve heard someone else’s mix, and it made me feel like my own mix was somehow flawed. Go back to that mix in 6 months and you’ll be surprised how much you enjoy it!

    Reply
  7. Jeff

    Good point Graham.

    Like the visual artist guy, I’ve done graphic design for some time (ok….I’ve done too many things in my life but..hey, it’s interesting). I do try to compare myself to great graphic artist. I like Hugh Syme and weigh some of my stuff against his skill. Not that I will be as good. I do think of Hugh as ‘aspirational’ for me. A goal to strive for. Each time out of the box and a new design I improve and while I may never be Hugh, I’ve had a few good ones I don’t hate.

    I take that to recording and mixing. I need to reference something I think fits in to what I am trying to achieve and reference that. I am, however, not afraid of being crushed if I never get that good.

    I don’t know that I have the perspective to know if I am ‘great’ at any one thing but I think measuring honestly against that which you aspire to be pushes you to be better.

    Reply

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