Overcoming The Mix Plateau: How To Get Better At Mixing When You Feel Stuck
Alright sound guys (and girls), let's get really honest for a sec: do you ever feel like you're just not getting better at mixing anymore? Maybe you felt like you were progressing and getting better each week at some point in the past...but now, does it just feel like you've hit a road block in your journey to progress as a sound engineer? Well you know what? I've been there too. Most (if not all) of us feel like we've reached a "plateau" as a mixer at one point or another; where we just don't feel like we're getting any better at our craft. We think maybe there's some magic bullet to escape the plateau...maybe a new mixing console, new speakers, a new plugin, or something else, but really...none of that helps. It's a super frustrating place to be as a creative individual, but don't worry! Once you understand why you're stuck there, you'll understand how to get out.
A friend of mine who's a younger sound engineer texted me the other day asking for my advice about this exact topic. He said "I feel like I've reached a plateau with my mixes. I want to be better, and I've tried a bunch of new mixing techniques, but I feel like I just can't improve." So as I thought about it, I realized that I've been there before too, and what got me out wasn't a new mixing technique, it was a mindset.
So here's what I realized: you hit the plateau when your skill level and what you CAN do is equally matched by the awareness of what you DON'T know, and CAN'T do. That sounds confusing, so let's break that down.
When you first start mixing, you think you're awesome. There's this euphoric period when you first get in front of a mixing console and you think you're going to conquer the world. You think your mixes are great, and you'll probably be mixing at the next Passion Conference once Chris Tomlin hears about how awesome you are. You feel great and you feel like your mixes are improving every week.
Then...it hits you.
You start realizing that there might be a couple things you don't know. You read something online about parallel compression or multi-band adaptive equalization, and some doubt starts to creep in. Maybe my mixes could be a LOT better than I realized? Maybe...I should wait a year or two before I try to mix at Passion...
But you're still doing good, and still progressing. Then, it gets bad. You go to Passion, or some other event/concert and you hear a mix like you've NEVER heard before. You realize that your mixes definitely aren't in the same ballpark as these mixes. Heck, your mixes might not even be playing the same sport!
This is where the discouragement sets in, and where the plateau happens. You now have the skills to RECOGNIZE what is supposed to make a great mix...but you don't quite have the knowledge and experience to actually do it yourself. It's an incredibly frustrating and humbling realization. You now realize how great a mix can actually sound, but you're not yet equipped with the necessary experience or skills to make it sound like that.
But you know what's some good news? Everybody who's great at mixing, has been in EXACTLY the same spot, and fortunately for anyone who feels like they're in that pace today, the way out is simple: just keep going.
If you just keep going and believe a couple core truths about your abilities and mixing skill, you WILL get out, I promise. What you have to remember is this: you ARE progressing, and your knowledge IS improving. What you need to remember is that with every single mix you do, you're getting better. It might be a slow process at times, but you're exercising mental muscles that are going to begin working better and more efficiently the more you use them. Your ears are getting better every time you use the to listen in an active and analytical way as you mix. You weren't even able to do that when you started (which is why you thought all your early mixes were awesome when they weren't) but the more you mix, the faster your ears will be able to pick up on the nuances and tiny details that truly make a mix great. After a while you'll start to wonder how you were never able to hear those details before.
Sure, now that you're aware of the amount of things there are to know about audio engineering, and the extent to which your ears aren't fully trained to hear every detail in your mix, it can be incredibly intimidating and overwhelming, and it can make you feel like you're not progressing anymore. But if you remember that you ARE progressing every time you mix, you'll start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Through this process, I can promise you two things: it will be frustrating, and it will be worth it.
What's been your biggest struggle in mixing? Do you feel like you're stuck in the plateau? We'd love to hear from you, so email us at WorshipSoundGuy@WorshipSoundGuy.com and let us know what you're dealing with as you mix!
-Worship Sound Guy