Recording & Mixing
Sound Techniques Recording & Mixing

A guide to mixing music - Part 102

Questions to ask yourself before moving on
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Darn, is this series dedicated to mixdown long! But remember that Rome wasn't built in a day! Learning a new craft, regardless of what it is, demands a lot of time. That's the way it is, I can't help it. And if you don't like it feel free to put a claim with the highest authority you can, don't take it out on me.

Anyway, I know it's a long journey, trust me! I've spent countless hours with my computer to put all this to paper. And I also know some of you think the rate of publication could be a bit higher. But look at the bright side, this way you have enough time to digest all the information. Because there are a lot of things to assimilate. On the other hand, it also gives you more time to put it all into practice. Because knowing all the theory is one thing but actually mastering it in practice is a completely different story! Do you think it's enough to know by heart all basketball rules and tricks to become the next Jordan? Surely not, you need to train day in and day out. And even then, training alone won't be enough, you also need to reflect on what you are doing. That's why today we'll do a brief recap and put into perspective everything you've accomplished so far. This will allow you to get prepared better for the final stage of the mix.

Work in progress…

So, where are you right now? If you look at the roadmap we put out at the beginning of the series, you will realize that we have finally reached the exit of the loop. We are now faced with what you could call a static mix. You've achieved 85% of the work and I sincerely congratulate you for that!

Premix 01

I would love to be able to see the look on your face right now: "What? Only 85% after 102 articles when we were at 75% after 54 installments? WTF?" If you stop to think about it, it makes sense. Never forget that the devil is in the details. Think about a sculpture: The sculptor will certainly take less time to transform a block of marble into a human body than to imbue it with a sense of life. Broadly speaking, if you were to plot the progression in a graph where time is in the horizontal axis and the qualitative "gain" in the vertical axis, you'd get a logarithmic curve. Get it?

So, what should you get from this tirade? Two things. First, the closer you are to the end of the mix, the harder you'll need to work to make the improvements significant. And don't forget that it's precisely these details that make a professional mix stand out from an amateur one, so it's worth the effort.

Second, at this stage of the static mix you are so close to the final version that you should be able to objectively judge the work you've done so far. Hence, I invite you to review what you wrote down regarding the vision of the mix you had at the beginning of this adventure. Reread your notes carefully and try to put yourself in the same state of mind you were when you first wrote them. Once you're done with that, take a comfortable seat and listen to the entire song in its current state. Now do the same with all previous bounces you've made so far. Then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did you respect your vision of the mix?
  • Are the trade-offs you made acceptable considering the overall result?
  • Are the artistic decisions appropriate?
  • Do you enjoy listening to the mix as a plain listener?
  • Has all the work done so far benefited the song?

If you answer any of these questions with a no, I'm sorry to tell you that it would be useless to try to make up for it later on. There's only one solution: go back to the beginning of the loop. It may be hard to swallow, but this painful truth can only be matched with the huge satisfaction of knowing that you have nailed the mix just the way you wanted it.

If the answer to all above answers is positive, the next stage ought to be truly joyous. And I'll be waiting for you here next week to start discussing automation!


P.S. I imagine that many of you find this article useless. There's no trick or tip to put into practice – what a waste! Yet, I can assure you that the step described here is absolutely necessary and not obvious at all. It requires a lot of humbleness because it confronts your ego with reality. And in my opinion that's a prerogative of the best audio engineers.

← Previous article in this series:
Modulation Effects - The Phaser Effect
Next article in this series:
Introduction to automation →
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