Ever gotten to a point where things just aren’t working?
The guitar tone isn’t right. The vocal sounds too weak no matter what I do. The mix doesn’t have any energy. This melody is boring. Those lyrics sound cheesy. I don’t like how the snare sits in the mix.
I’ve been to this point many times. Mostly in mixing, but more recently in a recording session. It seemed like I was spending a lot of time trying to fix something, and no matter what I did, it wouldn’t sound how I wanted it to.
In this article, I want to outline a few of my strategies for overcoming this. Hopefully you can take something away that will help you next time you feel like things aren’t working.
Take a break
First and foremost, take a break.
Probably at least 8 times out of 10, when things aren’t working, they seem to magically fix themselves overnight. Especially when mixing.
It has actually become predictable now for me. After I’ve worked on a mix for 1 or 2 hours straight, I start to get frustrated. Things aren’t coming together, it’s not sounding good, there seems to be so many things I need to fix.
For some reason, taking a break and coming at it later with a fresh set of ears often seems to make the problems disappear. It doesn’t have to be a long break. Do what works for you. Sometimes I’ll take a break for 10 or 15 minutes, sometimes I’ll leave it overnight and get back to it the next day.
When taking a break, it can also be helpful to listen to other music. Whether in your studio, or on a completely different listening system. Our ears tend to get used to whatever we’ve been listening to, so giving them a “reset” by listening to other music is something I’ve found helpful.
Try it out. See if it helps.
Focus the most time on the “big wins”
This is an idea that Graham Cochrane talk about a lot over at The Recording Revolution (if you haven’t checked out his site yet, please do. Tons of great free content over there).
Maybe that thing that isn’t sitting quite right for you actually isn’t a big deal. Maybe the people listening to your music aren’t actually going to notice that guitar tone nearly as much as you think they are.
Focus on the big wins. Something that only makes a 2% difference should not take 50% of your mixing time. Make it sound as good as you can, and move on.
Finish the project
Sometimes, you just need to cut your losses.
I talked about this in my post about my recent EP. I had been working on the songs for a while, and there was a ton more I could have done to them.
But I just went ahead and released it.
No mix is perfect. But I will tell you this: your 20th mix is going to sound a whole lot better than your 2nd mix. So maybe the snare drum doesn’t “snap” the way you want it to. Just release the mix, and start working on the next project.
Of course, I’m not saying you should just ignore problems with your mix and just go ahead and release. Of course, try to deal with the problems if you can. But don’t let them block you. If something just isn’t working and you can’t seem to make it work right, maybe it’s time to call the project finished and move on. The issues you’re hearing might not be as big a deal as you think.
Well, I hope that’s helpful for you next time you feel like things just aren’t working. Have any of your own strategies or hacks for getting past things that aren’t working? Let me know in the comments section below.