This one’s not so much of a mixing tip, but more of a mixing “philosophy.” Hope you find it useful!
Today I want to give you not so much a mixing tip, but more of a mixing philosophy that I think will really help contextualize the process of learning a new skill (whether it’s mixing or anything else).
This idea is called the four stages of competency. It describes the process that every single one of us go through whenever we’re learning something new – whether it’s mixing or anything else.
The first stage in these four stages of competency is called unconscious incompetence. That’s where everybody starts out.
When we’re first starting something new, we don’t know how much we suck. We think we’re great, and we have no idea the extent of everything we don’t know.
You’ll see this if you go on Gearslutz or some of these forums. You see these guys that post “Listen to my music, it’s the best thing ever! Top 40 hits! I’m the best producer that’s ever come out!” And you listen to their music and it’s the worst thing you ever heard.
That’s because these people are in this first stage of incompetency: unconscious incompetence. They don’t know how much they suck, and that’s okay! All of us – every single one of us that are learning how the mix – we all start in that first stage.
The second stage, after we get past that unconscious incompetence, is when we reach conscious incompetence. This is probably the most frustrating stage in the process of learning something new. It’s where we finally become aware of the fact that we don’t know what we’re doing.
If you’ve spent any degree of months mixing or producing or doing anything in music, you probably know this stage. You suddenly realize that your stuff doesn’t sound very good, but you don’t know the information or knowledge that’s going to take you to the next level.
This is the part where most people give up. It’s so frustrating to be in that position where you feel stuck and you don’t really know what you’re doing. You’re totally aware for the first time of how much you suck, but you don’t know how to get to that next level.
Sometimes it can take months or years to reach beyond this plateau and get to the next stage of competency. It’s important to recognize that if you’re in this stage, it’s just another stage in the process. You will move forward. You will continue to grow. Just recognize that you’re here, and that’s okay.
The third stage of the four stages of competency is conscious competence. This is where we finally reach the point where we’re able to produce work that sounds great, but we’re really aware of every move that we’re making. We’re thinking a lot about every choice. We’re intellectualizing every decision that we’re making.
This is a really good place to be. For the first time, when you listen to your stuff, you’re like, “Wow! This sounds really good! I can actually produce or mix records that compete with some of the stuff that I’m listening to and admire!”
This is a really exciting place to be. Once you’ve reached this new plateau, it can be really exciting. But it’s also exhausting. Over-intellectualizing every decision we make can really wear us out. And really – the last of the four stages of competency is the stage where all of us aspire to be.
And that is unconscious competence, where you’re so good at what you do that you’re in flow when you’re working. You’re not thinking. You’re not intellectualizing. You’re just moving from instinct.
If you watch any top-tier mixer, whether it’s Michael Brauer, Chris Lord-Alge, Dave Pensado…all of these guys…they’re all so clearly in this fourth stage of competency. They’ve practiced their craft. They’ve spent years and years developing their skill, and they’ve progressed to the point where it’s just instinct to them. They don’t even think about it.
It’s important to recognize that if you’re in the third stage, then there is actually one more stage. You can get to the point where you’re so good at what you do that you don’t even think about it. You don’t even question it. You don’t even think about it. It’s a really awesome place to be.
I think that’s where all of us aspire to be. And hopefully with time, energy, effort and lots of practice, you guys will be there too.
Hope you found this useful. Like, subscribe, visit me at BehindTheSpeakers.com and subscribe on the website if you want more mixing tips.
Take care. Happy mixing!