Is Demo-itis Destroying Your Mixes?

If you’ve spent any time mixing tracks for other artists, you’ve likely encountered the frustrating challenge of a client who’s too attached to their rough mix.

Revision after revision goes by. Your mix might sound incredible, but the artist keeps sending you back pages upon pages of notes…

“Can you make the bass sound more like it does in the rough?”

“We like the chorus in the rough better…”

You can plead and fight, but this is a battle you’ll rarely win. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a college student with an Mbox, or Chris Lord-Alge.

The problem is simple: over time, your client has become so attached to the mix they already have, that anything else now sounds off to their ears.

As mixers, we encounter this issue so often that we have a fancy word for it:

Demo-itis.

But we forget that we’re subject to it, too…

Mixing Is A Race Against Time

With every passing second of playback, you become more and more attached to the way your mix sounds.

Balances that are flat-out wrong will start to sound acceptable. Tonal problems will begin to fade from your focus. And over time, even the crappiest mix will start to sound like a masterpiece.

Once this happens, it can be nearly impossible to make the right mixing decisions.

Like it or not, demo-itis is destroying your mixes.

So what can you do about it?

The Solution To Demo-itis

While there’s no cure for demo-itis, the following five tips will help minimize the negative impact it has on your mixes…

1. Make The Most Of Every Second Of Playback

When you mix, do you kick back, crank the speakers, and listen for pleasure? Or are you focused on finding flaws and areas to improve?

Remember – every time you hit play, you lose a bit of objectivity. And this makes it progressively harder to make the right decisions.

When you’re mixing, focus on listening critically. If your focus begins to wane, take a 5 minute break. By making the most of every second of playback, you’ll remain more objective throughout the mixing process.

2. Spend More Time Prepping

While color coding, labeling, and creating markers might feel like a chore, they’ll help you move more efficiently through a mix. You’ll waste less time hunting for tracks and sections, and get more out of every moment spent listening. Apply this advice to the recording phase too!

3. Know When To Stop

It’s 2 AM, and you’ve spent the last twelve hours mixing. You’re flipping back and forth aimlessly between plugins, making minute, barely-audible changes. It’s impossible to focus. You’re barely listening.

You have two choices.

Either keep mixing, or step away.

If you keep going, your mix won’t actually get any better. In fact, it’s likely to get worse. And you’ll be wasting valuable listening time, too.

Recognize this moment, and learn to walk away.

Sometimes, a five minute break is all you need to snap back into focus. Other times, you’ll need to call it a night.

Regardless, don’t listen to your mix during this time off. This way, you’ll be able to approach it with fresh ears when you return.

4. Take Notes

Legendary mixer Bob Power once told me that every time he returned from a listening break, he would force himself to listen to his mix from beginning to end. Instead of stopping playback when he heard the first thing he didn’t like, Bob would keep listening and write down each problem he heard. Only after making a complete pass through his track would he start addressing each note.

Whenever you’re returning from a break, it’s an opportunity to hear your mix in a new way. Be fully present and engaged during playback, and listen from beginning to end. Make the most of these rare moments of objectivity, and your mixes will improve significantly.

5. Get It Mastered By Someone Else

After listening to a mix for days on end, you’ve completely lost all objectivity.

This is the worst state to be in when you start the mastering process.

So if you can swing it, it’s always worth sending your track out to be mastered by someone else.

But if you HAVE to master your own mixes, take some time off before you start.

I’m not just talking about an hour or two either. After you finish the mix, take a few days, a week, or even a couple weeks off. Don’t listen to your track at all during this time. Then come back and approach the mastering process with fresh ears.

I guarantee you’ll walk away with a better-sounding record.

Do you want me to write more articles about the mixing mindset? If so, let me know by leaving a comment below!

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