We're afraid to tell you that you likely suffer from short term memory loss.
Mixing with memory loss or more specifically your ears suffer from short term memory loss or bias. If you’ve mixed for even 5 minutes you may have discovered this yourself. It’s a serious problem for all mixing engineers, and one that if properly understood can refrain you from making dumb mixing decisions.
A Little Goes A Long Way
When you sit down to sculpt a mix together you’re hoping to take solid tracks and turn them into audio gold. At least I know that’s what I’m trying to each time I mix.
The problem comes when we believe we have to make drastic changes to our tracks in order for that to happen. We’ll make tweak after tweak after tweak. A little EQ boost there, some compression here, a little saturation there. We just keep going and going with this process without actually comparing our changes to the original sound. This is a problem because we quickly forget where we came from.
The 10 Minute Rule
This memory loss seems to rear it’s ugly head most aggressively when I’m using EQ. Whether I’m sculpting my kick drum sound or getting my vocal to sit in the mix I quickly can lose perspective. In a matter of just a few minutes I can easily find myself cutting, boosting, and tweaking my tracks too far in the wrong direction.
If instead I were to stop what I’m doing and bypass all the effect changes I’ve made in the last 10 minutes in order to compare, I’d realize that I’ve made a drastic change (for better or worse) to my audio and I can decide what to do from there. I call this the 10 minute rule. I simply try to look up at the clock every 10 minutes and stop to assess what kind of “damage” I’ve done in the past 600 seconds.
Sometimes it tells me I’ve gone to far with the EQ and I only needed a 2 db cut and not a 6db cut. Sometimes it tells me I can stop tweaking because things are actually sounding just right, even if I thought I hadn’t “done enough.”
The Cumulative Effect
The more you mix the more you’ll start to realize that it’s not the big sweeping decisions that define your sound, but rather it’s the cumulative effect of small seemingly minor tweaks that lead you to mixing glory. If we aren’t careful we’ll forget just how much we’ve changed the sound and we will lose perspetive on where the mix is going.
Don’t let your ears’ natural bias dictate your mixing. Instead, stop, refresh, and track your progress to see whether you’re heading where you really want to go.