No really, stop it.
Stop focussing on the mix. There are more important things to focus on. Your mix is fine anyway.
Newsflash: The mix isn’t really that important. Sure, a good mix helps the listener understand and enjoy the song. But a good song is still a good song regardless of the mix. And a terrible song is still terrible no matter how good the mix is. And listeners can tell the difference.
Making music is not all about mixing. Don’t hide behind the technology. There’s so much more to do:
Don’t work on your mix. Work on your creative direction.
- Come up with new ideas for projects. Don’t just work on individual songs – embark on something big. Something ambitious. Compose three songs (a demo) or six songs (an EP) to express a musical idea or feeling.
- Invent! Try out a new idea. Take a different direction to what you normally do. Invent something new. Combine two or more unlikely musical elements.
Don’t work on your mix. Work on your composition skills.
- Focus on what the listener will hear. No-ones going to care how analogue your kick drum sounds if your song is boring and uninspired. It doesn’t matter how ‘tape-like’ your mix bus chain sounds if the singer sounds like she just woke up.
- Melodies. Doing interesting things with sound doesn’t count for much unless you’re also doing interesting things with the notes. Learn how to compose an interesting melody. Don’t just read a few online articles – practice! If you spent half the time writing melodies as you do reading internet guff about plugins, you’d be coming up with beguiling and captivating melodies without trying.
- Harmonies. Don’t just choose four chords and repeat them forever. Develop them. Let them grow and evolve throughout the song. Extend the chords. Use substitutions. Use slash chords. Vary the pace for dramatic effect.
- Rhythm. Enough four-on-the-floor. Disco is over. DJs have enough music to last until the sun spectacularly devours us all. Do something interesting. That’s not enough. Now do it in 7/8. Alternate between 6/4 and 4/4. Seamlessly move between straight and shuffle. Vary the amount of syncopation for dramatic effect. Use composite time signatures. Juxtapose them. Some of the suggestions are silly, some aren’t – and you won’t know the difference until you try them.
Don’t work on your mix. Work on preproduction.
- How will it all fit together? Think about all the elements in your song and reflect on what value they’re adding to the song. Be clear about the creative direction of the song and cut out anything that doesn’t support it. Have the courage to throw away good ideas.
- How can it be strengthened/improved? Don’t stop when you have all your material arranged into a structure that makes sense. How can you continue to improve the music? Pay attention to the contour of each section. Make sure each transition (from one section to another) is clear and deliberate – not just one section after another.
Don’t work on your mix. Rehearse your parts.
- Physical instruments. Yes, I know we’ve got Elastic Audio and Autotune and endless disk space for multiple takes… but they’re no substitute for a good performance. Editing can turn a sloppy or lazy performance into a competent one. It can’t, however, turn even a competent performance into an inspired one. Editing can’t add expression or feeling or excitement to a performance. No technology can – it comes from the performer. And the performer can only do it after hours of practice and honing the craft. So get on it.
- Virtual instruments. Oh, you thought virtual instruments are different to physical instruments? Take a look at those black and white keys under your fingers. Take a look at those assignable knobs. Make a performance of it. Put some expression into it.
Oh yeah. That sounds like a lot of work. Making music is a lot of work. Cry me a river. You think you can become successful by being lazy? Yes, you do want to be successful. Success isn’t a record label contract or a sold-out stadium. Success is honing your craft. Success is becoming insanely good at what you do. Success is shipping.
And if you see yourself exclusively as a mix engineer? Make sure your clients do all the above.