So there I was, dangling from the end of a rope 1,500 feet above the forest, trying to figure out where I went wrong. But let me rewind a few days. I had been in the studio trying to hammer out some tracks for a new artist on RCA, but unfortunately, I just wasn’t getting into a creative groove. Most of the time the ideas flow, but after a grueling week I was feeling burnt out. I tried my usually reliable “get in the mood” exercise (eating an ice cream sundae), but nothing seemed to work. After sleeping in the studio and listening to what I had been working on the day before (yeeeh!), I decided that I had reached the point of diminishing returns. I needed something bigger than a mushroom pizza to snap me out of it and get my creative juices flowing again, so I called my friends Mike and Greg to go rock climbing.
We started climbing at dawn, but now the sun was beginning to set. I had completed the most technically challenging – as well as the most dangerous – parts of the climb, but now the last, relatively easy, 50 feet were giving me trouble. Why? Because finishing anything is always the hardest part of the job. In the case of rock climbing, I had failed to pace myself properly. Now my arm muscles were fatigued, and I couldn’t hold on to the rock. I had been doing the same thing in the studio, believing that working harder and longer would give me better results.
With a home studio, you have the luxury of being able to spend many hours agonizing over minute parts of a mix. Because the meter isn’t constantly running, you don’t feel the same sense of urgency that you would at a commercial studio. But with all the distractions and other life issues competing for your time and attention at home, it becomes all too easy to put off completing your mix until a later time, when while there might be fewer distraction, you also might not have the energy for mixing, though you might not realize it. Here are some other reasons why mixing at night is a bad idea:
- You can’t make your speakers loud enough, because it will disturb your family and/or neighbors. The mixing level at which your ears judge most accurately is 85 dB, which is actually pretty loud. Although you don’t want to monitor at a continuous level for the entire mix, you do need the option of turning it up loud enough to check your bass, reverbs, etc.
- Headphones can be helpful with things like panning and depth, but it’s undesirable and misleading to mix entirely with cans.
- Your mind slows down when your body needs sleep. A task that should take you 10 minutes during the day may take you a half hour at night.
- Your judgment may suffer from wow and flutter. “Wow, that’s great!” “No, that sucks!” When you hear the mix the next day, you’ll get the proper perspective, and you might find that the night before was a big waste of time.
- Besides body fatigue, you must be conscious of ear fatigue. When you pound your ears with intense volume for hours on end, they become less sensitive to high-end frequencies, so you begin to crank the high end more and more during the course of the mix to compensate. The next day the mix will sound sharp and brittle to you, because your ears have now sprung back to their proper listening condition.
I hung from the rope for two minutes, shaking my arms out and allowing my muscles to calm down enough for me to finish the climb. When my ears are fatigued from mixing too loud or too long, I give them a break as well. I just have to figure out an easier way to refresh them than going out and hanging from a rope.