If you’re a musician, this question must have crossed your mind a couple of times—
Should you mix your own songs?
In this article, we are going to look at both the pros and cons of mixing material you both wrote and recorded yourself.
The short answer is — yes you should, especially early on, if you love the DIY aspect of music production. But ideally, only to work on your mixing skills and techniques. It is very beneficial to learn mixing music as a musician, even just the basics. Eventually, this DIY mindset will into several pitfalls.
The thing about mixing your music yourself is it doesn’t have to be super high-quality (it’s pretty much guaranteed not to be early on), but there are awesome benefits you get from learning the process.
Let’s discuss this.
The Benefits of Learning Mixing: Why You Should Mix Your Own Music
Here are some of the benefits of learning mixing, for those of you who are independent artists who are looking to produce your music.
Benefit #1 — You’ll Have a Better Understanding of Mixing
This might seem pretty obvious but it’s the most important reason for mixing your music—
You’ll have a better understanding of how the mixing process works.
That means that when you are in the studio with the engineer who is mixing your music (if you are there unless you hand it off), you’ll be involved with the process of mixing.
This is good because if you’re an artist you’ll have somewhat of an idea of the sound that you want.
You don’t have to know everything about mixing, but you need to understand the basics.
Some musicians are not at all involved in their music — they come in, record, and had everything else off to somebody else to handle.
Unless you are that type of musician, knowing what is mixing and how it works is pretty darn important.
In my experience, most musicians I work with are involved in the mixing of everything that you’ve ever heard from them. It’s what we do.
Learning how to mix means you can ask the engineer something, and explain it accurately.
If you don’t understand how things work (you are completely clueless), that only works against you. You’ll have a hard time putting your creative ideas across.
You need to convey your ideas to studio personnel. You need to, at least, be able to say “This is what I’m looking for.”
That’s how you get a better mix.
Benefit #2 — You Get More Creative Control — You’ll Put Out More Mixes (That Probably Suck)
You will not be the best mixer for a long time (that is completely subjective, btw) but at the very least, you won’t have that excuse.
“I can’t release this because it’s not mixed.”
Well, mix it.
You need to learn how to mix yourself, at least the basics — which are not that complicated.
You’re going to put a lot more songs out, and faster, if you do.
There’s a reason it’s called a Recording Revolution, you can do it too.
If you are someone who loves the DIY aspect of the music production process, where you get to have a handle on every single aspect of producing, it may not make sense for you to hire a mixer.
Benefit #3 — You Can Make Money Mixing for Others (Immediately You Figure Out the Basics)
Mixing your music is the perfect opportunity to learn, charging other people to mix their music is even better for you as an artist.
With just the mixing basics and $200 equipment, you can start mixing for others.
You might think I’m overselling the idea a little here, but it’s true.
Okay, maybe I’m overselling a little bit because it not that easy.
But if you learn basic mixing skills, and you put in the effort, and the persistence, and the drive, you can then charge people to record their stuff and even mix it, right from your home studio.
You’ll find that a lot of the time, people are either too lazy or don’t take the time to learn things.
And they’ll be really good mixes when you start to get better at it.
This is how some producers got started.
Technically speaking, if you’ve gotten good at mixing other people’s music, you almost certainly have the basics nailed down. So technically, you can and should be mixing your music.
If you know practically any DAW, you can get someone to bring a beat it, drag and drop it onto a track, get them to drop some vocals, do some basic mixing, and then you give it back to them.
Occasionally, when a producer is being honest, they’ll admit this is how they made their first couple of bucks.
And there’s a crazy good “side-effect” of doing this — you get to put your name out and build your network up doing this. This is how most people know a producer if they know one.
The Pitfalls: Why You Shouldn’t Mix Your Own Music
Let’s start with the most common one.
Pitfall #1 — The More You Work on a Mix, The More Perspective You Lose
The problem is that if you wrote and recorded it, you don’t have a fresh perspective on the material off-hand.
The more you work on a mix, the more perspective you lose. Beyond a certain point, you won’t have a fresh perspective on a mix at all.
You can do a few things to mitigate this, such as sampling and listening to similar recordings, stepping away from the mix, bringing another mixer on, and so on.
You lack that critical view that someone else can bring into your work.
If tends to creep up on you in a very subtle way.
First of all, you’ve been hearing it so many much already throughout the process. This means you’ve gotten used to how something in the mix sounds already (good or bad).
Then there is the most important factor — the emotional attachment.
I’ve been a musician and brought in my stuff for mixing, I’ve produced and mixed my music, and now I mix for clients. So, I’ve done all three.
Speaking strictly from experience, I know how it feels being in all these three situations.
The problem with the second setup — writing, recording, and then mixing your music is that even if you are technically good at it (and you will be if you keep at it long enough), it’s YOUR stuff, YOUR material, YOUR song. It’s YOU on the track.
You will be emotionally attached to it, whether you realize it or not.
Even worse, you will get more emotionally attached and even less objective the more you listen to it, and you have to listen to it because of — the process.
You don’t need me to tell you that’s a bad combo.
Of course, you want your stuff to sound better than everybody else’s.
It’s your stuff.
Pitfall #2 — You Rarely Get Pro Feedback Until the Mix is Done
You don’t have anybody’s input from the outside except probably your friends or bandmates — which is even worse if you ask me.
When you are mixing your music, you won’t have other professionals giving you feedback during mixing.
Even when you get a pro to look at hear your work, they really cannot do anything except give you a bit of advice. They are not mixing it, you are.
If you hire a mix engineer, your mindset changes immediately.
You still get your ideas and input into the project, and, you have someone working with you that you can bounce ideas off of.
And, it’s not you, you’re not judging your stuff but you are still in charge of the operation.
That’s a pretty important switch that allows you to look at the material in a new way.
Pitfall #3 — Your Mix Will Never Be Good Enough
Every creative person understands this quite well.
When creating music, you’ll always compare your stuff with high-end mixes, the best material you can get your hands on.
That’s only natural.
The problem with comparing is that from your perspective, you’re never good enough. You actually could be, but you’ll hardly ever be objective enough to know when to stop when your mix is good enough.
You’ll finish a mix and then find yourself second-guessing everything later.
“I’m not good at mixing, or did I not record that well.”
It’s not that you need someone else telling you when to stop, it’s just that you’ll never look at your best work the way others do.
Everybody’s a bit of a perfectionist. Yes, everybody.
We all tend to knock down our work until someone else says “Hey, that mix kicks ass."
Pitfall #4 — The Reference Will Always Sound Better
There’s a reason you reference is your reference — it sounds better to you.
I can pretty much guarantee that you will never look at your mix as better than your reference, no matter how long you work on it.
If you have a reference, it will always sound better to you.
The emotional attachment you have to your mixes is what makes it impossible to be objective as your producer.
It’s not a matter of being technically able to mix. If you’re mixing for other clients you can technically. The problem is purely emotional. Unless, of course, you can completely detach yourself from your work. And even then, you’ve still heard the song too many times already.
When you are emotional and subjective, your mixing decisions will always be biased, and you will never be able to judge you finished work objectively.
But there are two bits of advice here—
First of all work on your mixes for a loosely fixed length of time.
This helps you not to get too “in your head” and work on your mixes for too long.
Second, if you feel the need to change your reference track, your work is probably ready.
You’ll typically want to change your reference tracks because “it no longer fits” what you’re producing. That either means your material is good enough or you need to start afresh —
Either way, you’re done. Save the rest for mastering.
That’s if for this article.
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