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When Do You Decide the Mix is DONE?


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Leonardo Da Vinci supposedly said "Art is never finished, only abandoned." But is that true when it comes to mixing? I started thinking about this when mixing a song that just didn't sound right. I almost deleted it because it was so frustrating that I figured maybe it wasn't meant to be.

 

But then I made one edit (changed the bass sound), and after making a couple more tweaks, the mix fell into place within a matter of minutes. It translated over different systems, it sounded like what I wanted, it was...done.

 

I've noticed that with almost all my mixes, at one point it's like a switch gets flicked and the mix goes from "in progress" to "done." The benefit of hindsight has shown this is the case. When I listen to music I mixed a few years ago, I don't feel like there's anything I want to change. It feels done. It doesn't feel like it was "abandoned" and I need to "revisit" it.

 

How about you?

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 I watched a video of Bob Clearmountain talking about his mix process. The interviewer asked him how he knew a mix was done. He was standing in front of his console and he reached out to tweak something  and then said. "When i don't feel like I need to do that anymore, it's done"...or words to that effect.

As for old mixes, I've got folders full of alternate mixes from long finished project with annotations like -2 dB 60 Hz on kick or shorter vocal verb etc. When I listen back to them I can barely tell the difference between them. They all sound  perfectly acceptable. It's easy to get lost in the weeds.  I'm lucky in that as a reviewer I get to try lots of great new things. When I get something that does something cool and unique I'm always tempted to go back and use it on a mix that I thought was done. I try to resist that but I'm not always successful. I guess that's not the worst problem to have but it does tend to prolong the  "it's done" moment. But I agree, something clicks and you feel like you've done all you can...at least until company X comes out with a brand new plugin that....🙂

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OMG…this topic… 😵‍💫

I’m inclined to agree with DaVinci.  Not sure if any of my mixes are “done”, per se…it just gets to the point where I feel like they’re good enough to release and it’s time to go on to another project, leaving open the possibility that the mix in question could always be revisited….and frequently is.

 

That being said, the process of getting one I feel is good enough to post/send around/release almost always entails multiple takes, more than a few of them finished after I’ve sent an earlier one off.   I’m sure we’ve all used file names with the following after the song title:  Mixed, better mix, best mix, v2, v3, Final Mix, Final Mix v2, Real Final Mix, etc. 😏

 

dB

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:keys:==> David Bryce Music • Funky Young Monks <==:rawk:

 

Professional Affiliations: Royer LabsMusic Player Network

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Its done when my Moog-sense starts tingling, which is the point where I begin removing portions of my inevitable over-playing. That's also where I do some tweaking of levels, panning and effects. DONE is relative, but I've reached the point where I know when I'm buffing too hard, threatening to wreck the finish.

 

Amusingly, as to Craig's first point... my mother once had an art teacher who took her drawing out of her hands and put an "A" on the back. When asked why, the woman said "It takes two people to create a work of art: one to do the heavy lifting and one to take it away from them when its finished." Truer words could scarcely be spoken in front of a monster 5U modular. You never finish a modular patch. You just pass out from hunger & exhaustion. 😛 

“Drugs at our age?
 You don’t have to take them forever.
 Once you’ve opened the doors of perception,
  you can see what’s going on; you’ve got the ideas.”
        ~ Dave Brock on Hawkwind’s late-period purple patch

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On 7/31/2023 at 7:55 AM, Bill Stunt said:

When I get something that does something cool and unique I'm always tempted to go back and use it on a mix that I thought was done. I try to resist that but I'm not always successful.

 

Fortunately I've always managed to resist that temptation, but only because I'm continually working on something new, and that gets priority. If I'm going to re-visit a song, it will be about re-recording it from scratch...almost like doing a cover version of myself :)

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  • 2 weeks later...

When I am done...I tend to be done with a mix and I rarely look back. On the flip side, my musical partner of 30+ years is still tinkering with mixes of songs he released on CD 20 years ago...

 

I more often get to the point where I NEED to be done, more so than being HAPPY with a mix.  I can listen to almost every mix I have ever done and still second guess things.

Editor - RECORDING Magazine

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On 8/11/2023 at 4:22 PM, Paul Vnuk Jr. said:

On the flip side, my musical partner of 30+ years is still tinkering with mixes of songs he released on CD 20 years ago...

 

In so many cases, I couldn't revisit older material if I wanted...like it has audio on ADAT tapes, and MIDI on Passport's Master Tracks Pro synched to ADAT. Those days are gone forever! :D

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On 8/13/2023 at 1:37 PM, Anderton said:

In so many cases, I couldn't revisit older material if I wanted...like it has audio on ADAT tapes, and MIDI on Passport's Master Tracks Pro synched to ADAT. Those days are gone forever! :D

 

That's an unpleasant truth, but ayuh, been there. I lost a couple of potential winners by not saving the darned things as MIDI files. I was doing it all from within a Korg 01Wfd, so I was still learning good studio hygiene. I have a few things preserved as semi-completed audio, but not in multitrack form. Damned shame, as a few were inspired during my initial psychedelic shakedown with a proper workstation. There are also a few whose cassette recordings converted beautifully, so I've been able to give them the Logic treatment and save the heart of the piece. Otherwise, fzzzt. The more you want to revisit something, the more its at the farthest end of the spectrum of all things obsolete. Sigh.  

“Drugs at our age?
 You don’t have to take them forever.
 Once you’ve opened the doors of perception,
  you can see what’s going on; you’ve got the ideas.”
        ~ Dave Brock on Hawkwind’s late-period purple patch

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It is only recently that I own the tools required to create respectable sounding recordings. 

That said, I am currently working on a song I wrote in the 1970's and I changed the opening line from "Every time you look around" to "Take a look around". It made me feel like I'd finally finished writing that song and I'm glad I did it before I got too far into the recording. 

My tracking process is evolving but has tended to be:

1. Create a "kitchen sink" mix with way too much everything. 

2. Get rid of the mess, leaving bits and dabs where they are effective. 

3. Finding ways to make the remaining parts work as a final mix. 

 

It's been evolutionary and many of my take-aways have led to a more streamlined path forward. One valuable thing I've learned is how to bring essential tracks to the front of the mix without turning them up too much or adding too much EQ. I've been copying and pasting duplicate tracks, will use bass guitar as an example but different tracks require different tweaks. 

 

For bass guitar, I'll use my best take, delete the rest and Save As so I can go back if needed (I mostly avoid going back but it does reduce worry). Duplicate the bass track, put a high pass filter on the duplicate and drop a guitar amp plugin with a fair bit of distortion on it. Playing the entire mix back, I carefully adjust the volume of the distorted bass (with no bass) track until the bass sounds clear. What amazed me at first was how the bass did not sound distorted when I got it right, just distinct with a clear low end. 

 

I do something similar but different with vocals. I never do this sort of tweaking to more than 3 tracks and just 2 if that gets me there. When I get a final mix that sounds punchy, uncluttered and clear, I call it good. At this point, I'll confess that so far everything is a work in progress. But, there is progress! 😇

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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