Why You Should Be Mixing With A Timer

| Mixing, Mixing Month, Tips

One problem plaguing home studio mixers these days is a giant lack of focus. We pull up faders, tweak knobs, drop in plugins, fiddle with automation, and then repeat this crazy process for hours. In the end we wind up with a mix. Maybe a good one, maybe not so good.

I believe that the power of focus is what helps the top mixing engineers in the world deliver great results every time. And do you know what creates focus? A ticking clock.

 

TRR252 Why You Should Be Mixing With A Timer

Via William Warby Flickr

The Power Of Parkinson’s Law

If you’ve never heard of Parkinson’s Law then this will blow your mind. His law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Said another way: your mix will take as much time as you give it.

Don’t we find this to be true in other areas of our lives? Given two weeks to write a paper or report, we take the entire 14 days. Given just one day to write it, we stay up all night and get that sucker done. What changed? The pressure to perform under a tight deadline gave way to powerful focus.

We can magically flip on the power of Parkinson’s Law by setting a timer while we mix. Whether it’s one hour, two hours, or 10 hours, we see a clock ticking down and we know we must deliver.

Big Picture Thinking

In essence, by exploiting Parkinson’s Law, by artificially reducing the time we have to work on a mix, something in us is unlocked and we become more focused on what really matters. No longer do we aimlessly throw plugins around. There’s no time for that. No longer do we try a few different settings on the tambourine track. Who cares? It’s just a tambourine!

Rather, we move quickly and purposefully trying to create a mix that is balanced. And really isn’t that what mixing is all about? No listener is every going nerd out on which Q setting you used on that 2k boost on the snare track. All they hear is snare drum, and it’s either good or bad.

Sure microscopic thinking is important in mixing. We need to pay attention to very small details, I get that. But the small details only serve the greater mission which is to have a great sounding mix, big picture. It’s all too easy to lose perspective in micro mixing land.

The Goal Isn’t Speed

Let me make a disclaimer here. Some people have heard me discuss this concept of mixing to a timer before and falsely think that my goal is to mix as fast as possible so I can move on to something else. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While I don’t like wasting time, the goal of mixing with a timer isn’t about speed; it’s about results.

If I mix with absolutely no pressure (i.e. I have all the time I need), I will churn out a bad mix, guaranteed. Why? No focus. Remember Parkinson’s Law. Our work will expand as we give it more time. How is that possible? The tracks didn’t increase in number. The song didn’t get longer.

No, what happened was this: the more time we give a mix, the more we start tweaking things beyond what they need. We are no longer helping the mix. We may not even be hurting it, but rather we are simply changing it.

Purposeful Mixing

You see, the real goal of mixing with a timer is to mix with purpose. You mix with a clear head. You mix with intentionality. You mix with vision. The result of this type of purposeful mixing is always better than that of free for all mix as you please scenarios.

A great way to get started is to do your initial 10 minute mix. This will get your mix in the best starting place possible. Once that’s done, set your timer for an hour and see how much you can get done. Take a few minutes to break. Then come back and do another hour, with a timer.

You’ll be amazed at not only how much you can accomplish in only a couple of hours, but how much closer to complete your mix will be sounding by that point. Give it a shot on your next mix. You’ve got nothing to lose.

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16 Responses to “Why You Should Be Mixing With A Timer”

  1. Paul

    Awesome article… I do everything that requires focus with a timer now. Especially guitar related stuff.

    Reply
  2. Will Sterling

    This really hits home and comes back to being intentional. We really need to know what we are trying to achieve and not just goof around. Thanks for the great post man!

    Reply
  3. Andy

    Suddenly the 2 1/2 hour time frame I have to track vocals tonight seems like an ok scenario. Thanks!

    Reply
  4. Niklas J. Blixt

    Great post Graham! This is totally how I work when I mix, I’ve done this about the past 2 years and it have made me a better mixer for sure.

    The best think about this post Graham is that I learned that it can be referred to as the Parkinson’s Law, did know about the phenomena before but I didn’t know the name. So now a can refer to that when I’m trying to explain it this phenomena to someone.

    Reply
  5. Niklas J. Blixt

    And the most important thing about setting a deadline or a timer is that it makes us finish things. And that’s what it’s all about, especial if you’re running a business like me and you Graham. We can sit all day and fiddling about with plugins and whatnot but if we don’t finish things we cannot move on to the next project.

    And for hobbyists that’s true as well, it’s something very self uplifting about finishing things. You don’t have to wait until you’re able to pull of the best mix you’ve done in your life before you release it. Because you’ll always trying to get better. So try to do the best you can within the timeframe you set and then move on, you’ll always learn something that you can use on your next project.

    Reply
  6. Mitch Stallings

    This has been a huge change in my workflow. As Graham and others have mentioned, I have tended to get lost majoring in minors!!! Bottom up (after setting basic levels, tuning editing) is very tedious and I’ve been caught in the vortex one too many times, losing all perspective, ( and my nerves), resulting in trying to do more and more while killing a mix; no more!! the top down approach has saved me from possibly walking away from this hobby.

    Many thanks Graham!!!!!!

    Happy Easter

    Reply
  7. Leandro

    For me, “no focus” means… dreaming, and not achieving those dreams. Means a pile of undone What if’s realted to creativity, and that creates more chaos… so there’s an open door to musical composition, instead of closing, finishing that stage.

    Instead of using a timer, i leave the monitor (the screen), because i feel lost, and involves me musically with the authors, bands, in a way that was not agreed, not even with myself.

    I have a board with a table and diagrams to remind me what to i really have to do, and on what step i am if i forget it in the next days…. that instead of doing some unpriorized and distractory post-production. In that way, i visualize better from the physicall view of a mixer, and not an open view of all the things i can do, including automations.

    Having at hand the option to consider visualizing and altering the source of sound, will lead me to altere it. So visualizing sound is for me the drain of focus and distractions, makes me unable to unhear it or read it.

    I use a tiny board (like a notepad) for annotations and general objectives, and a big one for different purposes (tables and diagramas majorly).

    I’ve seen something similar that Butch Vig used it, been organized it’s a must! Is not that Butch Vig makes a difference on this, but on the big producers or sound operators i don’t see that often on his presentations or interviews, so i think take for granted things like that is a common mistake… like taking for granted that every one cleans his tracks, is like going to post-production avoiding that part, will clean the tracks by itself, or taking for granted post-production will clean the tracks, and so on.

    Well, for me this makes my timer

    Reply
  8. andrew

    How many songs are you working on at a time to reach mix completion, how do you allocate your time? A typical day in regards to mixing.

    Reply

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