Welcome to Day 29 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Have you ever heard the following phrase?

Songs aren’t written, they’re re-written.

I was listening to a Nashville music business radio program the other night, and one of the hosts was berating songwriters who are too proud to make changes to their songs. He claimed that all successful professional songwriters almost never write a hit song on the first attempt.

They write the song, then they listen to it, get opinions from others, re-write it, get more opinions, re-write it, get more opinions, etc. The “wannabe” songwriters, according to this guy on the radio, will never stand a chance of being successful if they don’t let go of their pride and admit that their songs probably aren’t perfect without some revisions.What does this have to do with us recording engineers? I would suggest that:

Recordings aren’t mixed, they’re re-mixed.

Am I talking about doing a dance club remix of your song? No, silly. πŸ™‚

I’m talking about working a revision process into your mixing schedule. You need to give yourself time to make valuable changes to your mix. Otherwise, you’ll listen to your final mix 3 months from now and kick yourself because of some of the issues you failed to address.

My Approach

Here’s how I go about doing this. (I used this approach to mix my latest album.) Take my approach and modify it to suit your workflow.

1. Three-Hour Mix Session

First things first. I mix the song. I try not to take more than four hours total to mix an entire song. If you don’t set time constraints on yourself, you’ll let yourself go 8, 12, even 20 hours mixing one songs. At some point, the mix isn’t getting any better.

Download a timer app and stick to it. You’d be surprised how efficient it makes you.

2. Email the mix to a few friends.

At this point, I take my mix and send it to several friends, asking for criticisms/feedback. Tell them to be honest. It’s in your best interest.

3. Check your mix EVERYWHERE.

While you’re waiting for a reply from your friends, listen to the mix everywhere you can – iPod earbuds, headphones, car stereo, home theater system, live PA setup…whatever you can, do it.

The key here is to listen for the differences. Do the vocals stand out too much when you listen in your car? Make a mental note and adjust that when you go back to revise your mix. Does the bass sound too muddy? Make a note to adjust that later.

This is a HUGE part of the process. Don’t be lazy here.

4. Take a break.

Once you’ve listened everywhere and gotten feedback from friends, don’t go back and revise the mix. You’re too close to it. Your ears aren’t really in “objective mode” anymore. Take a few days off. Work on a different song, then come back and finish the mix.

You’d be surprised how a fresh set of ears will allow you to hear things you never would have heard before.

5. One-Hour Revision

You’ve got your mental notes (or actual written notes perhaps) of what changes need to be made. Set your timer again, and give yourself one hour to make it happen.

Adjust to Taste

Perhaps four hours isn’t realistic for you. That’s fine. Go for 6 or 8, but if you follow these steps, I promise your mixes will get better. It may be painful to listen to the feedback from friends at times, but it’s TOTALLY worth it.

Day 29 Challenge

Tell us what you’re going to do on your next mix session…then go do it. πŸ™‚

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  • Listen

    You mix is like your baby; and you want to think you know what is best for your baby. Joe is right, seek advise from others that you trust and/or value their opinion in music. If they are your true friends they will give you back honest feedback – listen evaluate and act accordingly. It’s hard for one person to raise a child/mix by themselves πŸ™‚

  • you know, i’ve figured out that this is probably what i should do… im always so exited though that i just finished a new song! i will definatly be using a revision process for my next song. thanks joe!

  • Arjun Ramesh

    The timer idea is great. I will try this the next time I mix. I tend to mix for hours on end and this will really help me.

  • Matt

    Joe, once again, GREAT advice!!
    One of the hardest parts of mixing is the issue of time limits. It’s real easy to get involved in a mix and look up to find that you’ve been sitting there for 8 hours!
    I am going to try your advice with a project that I have coming up.
    I’ve noticed that, when I think something sounds great and then don’t listen to it for a few days or a week, I can always hear issues that I need to address. That’s a good thing as long as you have time to wait those few days.

  • Frank Adrian

    My problem isn’t that I think that the mix is perfect, it’s that I can’t stop tweaking it. Even after it’s in the can, I can’t stop thinking, “maybe if I just had the guitar solo a dB higher there…”. My problem isn’t hanging on to a (possibly poor) mix, it’s wasting time on a good one that probably won’t get much better and could easily become worse.

  • On my next mix, I will definitely set time constraints. Instead of trying to be perfect on the first go around, I should build to perfection. I believe I’ll get a better result in a quicker time.

    Also, I have a close friend that produces songs for major artists. He has agreed to review my mixes to help me improve.

    With the advice I’ll get from him and Joe, I can only get better.

  • Couldn’t agree more Joe. Setting limits on your time, getting feedback, and allowing for revision are crucial.

    I wrote about the need for mix feedback a while ago, might be a good follow up to this:
    http://therecordingrevolution.com/2010/08/06/feedback-on-your-mixes-why-you-need-it/