“Hey Jason! How do you know when a mix is finished? I often spend hours tweaking things, only to realize they’re back to how they were at the start of the session!” – Patrick C.
Hey Patrick—I can certainly relate! When I first started mixing, it would take me dozens of hours to finish a track. In retrospect, I realize I spent most of that time chasing my own tail…
Many of us assume the more time we spend mixing, the better our mix gets. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The process of mixing follows the law of diminishing returns. When you first get going, you can make significant progress quickly. Your mix can go from “wow, this sucks” to “hey, this is pretty good” in a few short hours.
But as you move through the mixing process, your rate of progress will slow. Towards the end of the mix, you’ll often spend hours honing in the last 5 or 10 percent.
Then you hit a wall, and your mix stops getting any better.
You can certainly continue mixing beyond this point. But as you mentioned, you’ll likely be running over your tracks and reworking things that already sound great.
At best, this is a waste of your time. At worst, it can ruin your mix. Either way, your track won’t end up sounding any better.
So how do you know when you arrive at this point? That’s the hard part.
Often times, this is best revealed with a simple question—can you listen to the mix from start to finish without getting distracted by any problems? Other times, you’ll notice that your mixing decisions suddenly lack direction and purpose.
Either way—if you’re not sure, it’s usually best to take a break. If you come back and the mix sounds great, you’ll know it’s time to print. If not, at least you’ll be able to address any problems with fresh ears.
In the meantime, setting deadlines (and sticking to them!) can help make it easier to let go. This is crucial if you’re mixing your own work, as you’re often more attached to your own material.
A friend and fellow music-maker once told me that records were a lot like photographs. In retrospect, both are likely to produce a few cringe-worthy moments (“gah, my haircut” or “I can’t believe I thought that snare drum sound was good!”).
There’s no such thing as a perfect mix. The trick is to get more comfortable with letting things go.
Hope this helps,