One major problem I’ve always had when it comes to mixing is knowing when to stop. It is too easy to get caught in the ‘tweaking’ stage, where you have completed 90% of the mix and you mix sounds good but you spend far too long on the last 10% of details just trying to make your mix the best that it can possibly be. Maybe you can relate?
If you spend too long then you run the risk of messing with the good sound that you already achieved and these ‘tweaks’ could start to have a seriously negative effect on your mix. Deadlines are good. They make us work faster and more efficiently and finishing one project sooner means we can get more done.
In light of all this I came up with the idea for ‘The 30 Minute Mix Challenge’.
The idea was that I would write and record a simple song. Then once the recording was completed I would ask my Music Technology course class mates at University to all take part in the challenge. We would all sit in the same room set a timer for 30 minutes and try and do the best mix we can in such a short time. I would then post the finished mixes so we could compare the results.
Why 30 minutes?
Now I’m not trying to say that you should only ever spend 30 minutes mixing a track. Obviously normally you would spend a lot more time and care into crafting your mix. The time it takes to mix also depends on track count, length and quality etc. However I thought this would be a fun challenge to push our abilities in mixing and also make a useful demonstration of the positive aspect of deadlines by forcing us to get ‘closure’ on a mix.
I think I need to make it clear that the aim of this project is not to make a ‘remix’ of the song but to create a balanced mix of the audio tracks provided by using signal processing like EQ, Compression and Panning etc.
You can use any DAW platform or plug-ins, etc. that you like, but everybody must start with the same thing, just a set of raw audio files (44.1 KHz, 16 Bit, WAVs).
Before you start the timer you are allowed to import the files into your DAW, but that’s it! No setting up busses or inserts or any mixing of any kind. Then you get 30 minutes to mix the tracks as well as you can and when the time is up you must stop. Even if you want to make just one more tiny adjustment, once the time is up, you MUST STOP MIXING! Just bounce the mix exactly as it was when the time ran out. Bounce the mix down as a 2 channel-stereo 44.1KHZ 16 Bit WAV audio file. No mastering, post production or editing of any kind can take place once you have bounced down the file.
I’m also making it a rule that you cannot use any form of mixing template. Although mixing templates are great for speeding up workflow, in this situation it can give people an unfair head start. So try to restrict yourself to just having the audio files open in a blank DAW project when you start.
The group response from taking the challenge was that it was difficult but also rewarding and fun. Being limited to such a short amount of time pushed us to prioritize, some people said that they found themselves mixing vocals first instead of drums which was unusual to them and another said that they used most of their time working on just the elements that they felt were most important in the mix. It also showed us where we waste the most amount of time when mixing and I think overall it has been a valuable exercise.
Below are links to the mixes of everybody that took part in the challenge and below their tracks you can see which DAW they used. If you click some of their names it provides a link to their own Soundcloud accounts. The first track is my own mix.
*Pro Tools 10
*Pro Tools 10
Thanks to everybody for taking part in the challenge and a big thanks to Blane Chalmers for recording the song with me and playing the drums.
Try The 30 Minute Mix Challenge Yourself
If you would like to take part in the challenge click the link below for a free download of the audio files:
Once you have completed your 30 Minute Mix then please post your mix to a site like Soundcloud or Bandcamp and paste a link in the comments below and tell us which DAW you used. Obviously there is no way we can know that you kept to the 30 minute time limit but there is nothing to gain from cheating and we will have to trust you have a strong moral compass.