How to Know When Your Mix Is Finished
One of the hardest things about mixing is knowing when you’re finished. It’s so easy to keep tweaking here and there, putting yourself into an endless cycle of perfectionism that more often than not makes your mix worse. That last 10% of a mixing project can often be way more difficult than the first 90%. In this post, I thought I’d share some tactics I use to make sure I know when a mix is truly finished, so that you don’t have to waste anymore hours going in circles and you can start putting out more music that you’re proud of!
Know what a finished mix sounds like
To know when your mix is finished, you need to know what a finished mix actually sounds like. It sounds obvious, but I think a lot of people forget about this. Without a clear end-goal and understanding of what a balanced, exciting mix sounds like, specifically on your monitoring system, it’s impossible to know if you’re on the right track. I’d strongly recommend spending some time every week just listening to your favourite records on your studio setup. Be it headphones or speakers, doing this will give you a way better understanding of how things should sound and what you should be aiming for, plus, it’s actually pretty fun to do!
This also eliminates the need for a lot of that back and forth referencing that some people do towards the end of a project. You know, those endless, time consuming car and airpod checks. If you are super familiar with how music sounds on your headphones or speakers and you can have full trust in them, your mixes are going to translate to other devices easily. I find that with most of my mixes, one check on a small tinny speaker is more than enough to address any issues that come up and 99% of the time, the mix has no issue translating. This is purely because I have full trust and familiarity with my monitoring, gained through hundreds of projects and from listening to Spotify on my setup all the time when I’m doing admin based tasks.
Listen like a consumer
When you’re mixing a song, more often than not you’re focusing on one small detail at a time. You get your kick drum sounding perfect, then move on to fixing that resonance in the snare, then perhaps you’re dialling in the perfect amount of compression on the bass. We tend to have a hyper-focused, zoomed in perspective on the song and when you’re nearing the end of the process, this can be a hindrance.
To get a better perspective on whether or not your mix is finished, you need to take a step back and listen to the mix as a whole. Break the cycle of focusing on individual elements, sit back and just listen to the song start to finish. Do not touch anything, rewind the song or solo anything, just try to get out of the mixing headspace and listen like a consumer.
When doing this, just note down anything that’s standing out to you. Maybe the vocals are a bit too trebly? Maybe the chorus doesn’t quite have enough impact yet? Or perhaps one of the instruments is a little too quiet? When you hear an issue, don’t fix it there and then, just write it on a to-do list. Then, when you’re finished, work your way through the problems on the list until they’re all addressed, without getting distracted by anything else along the way. Fix what’s on the list and only what’s on the list. Once this is done, sit back and repeat. The list should shrink until any further problems are minuscule and have little effect on the song as a whole. It’s really important to get into this habit of zooming out and listening to your project like a song again, not like a mix.
When you’ve put so many hours into writing, producing and mixing a song and you’ve spent so much time in that hyper-focused, zoomed in state, it can become really difficult to be decisive and objective enough to know whether your song is finished. Not being distracted by the details can be near impossible. When you think you’re nearing the end and your decisions are becoming less clear-cut, you should definitely get some feedback from somebody who’s not been as attached to the project and the process and perhaps hasn’t even heard the song yet. Whether that’s a friend, family member or fellow musician, their fresh perspective and ability to listen to the song as whole will be a godsend. They might hear something you’ve never noticed or they might be able to provide you with some reassurance that it really is finished! Even better, you could pass it on to a mastering engineer for some feedback before you reach that stage. Their job is essentially to know when a song is done and get it over the finish line, so they’ll have a wealth of experience to pull from with any advice or reassurance they give you. Any good mastering engineer will be happy to give you some feedback before you commit to a project with them. If you’d like me to take a listen to your mix just email it over to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Done is better than perfect
Lastly, the key to knowing when your mix is finished, is knowing that done is better than perfect. With any project you put out, you’re always going to be able to hear things you’d change a year later. It’s just natural, but you have to move on to make progress. If you spend a whole month mixing one song, you’re going to make significantly less progress with your mixing and listening skills than if you were to mix a new song every week. If you’re sitting on a load of unfinished music, just get it finished and released so that you can move on to new projects with a clear head. You’ll also be able to open up more opportunities, gain a bigger audience and find your path with every song you put out there. It’s worth keeping in mind that your mix is not a finished project, the master is. Obviously there are things you can’t fix in mastering, but be aware of the fact that there is more to be done when the mix is finished. Remember that your reference tracks aren’t mixes, they’re finished masters, so give yourself some leeway. Your mix doesn’t need to be as loud, as heated or as compressed as your reference tracks just yet and if there are any glaring mix issues, your mastering engineer will spot them and help you to overcome them before they start their work. They’re there to help you with that final push and will know exactly how to give you a finished track that’s competitive in your market. I hope this post has been helpful and has encouraged you to finish that project you’ve been working on for weeks. If you need some feedback or another set of ears just give me a shout!