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Engineers can be a pretty obsessive bunch, listening to a song or individual track over and over until we don't remember our own names. While this passion is a key component in the success of today's top mix engineers, we must still be mindful of our bodies and take care of our minds. So on top of the healthy session topics I already covered here, I wanted to talk about some things to help keep your head on straight during the mix-down. So first thing, avoid mixing for more than three to four hours at a time, and take frequent breaks and let your ears rest and reset.
For me personally, it can take a solid day for my ears to regain perspective on a tune. So in the first day, I generally spend 70-80% of the total time on a mix and then I usually take a break and finish the remaining 20% the next day, or maybe even a few days later after I have had a chance to listen to it in the car and take some mental notes on any changes I want to implement with fresh ears. In the DAW edge, there is no reason for us to kill ourselves over these mixes because we have total recall.
The next thing you want to do is be mindful of your monitoring levels or the volume of your monitors or headphones. Now, every engineer has a different opinion. Some say to monitor at a specific dB level based on something like the Fletcher-Munson curve. And so the Fletcher-Munson curve basically describes how we as humans and our ears hear frequencies as loudness increases or decreases. So it's not a flat frequency response. I personally like to mix fairly low.
It allows me to mix longer for extended periods of time and then I like to check at louder and softer levels all the time. Again, because the graph tells us that we hear things differently at different loudness levels, you can't assume that somebody is only going to listen at sort of that perfect level where the frequency response is the flattest. So it's a good idea to check your mix at different levels, and you tend to not want to mix too loud, because when you mix too loud, when you turn it down, it might not be as punchy.
So I tend to mix lower and generally that translates better when I turn it up. It stays punchy. If it was punchy at a low volume, it's going to be punchy at a loud volume. But adjust your speakers, and don't go overboard, taking breaks every so often. You want to be extra careful with headphones even outside the studio. Someone once told me that if you can hear someone else's headphones when you are standing next to them, it's probably too loud and damaging your hearing. So how often have you been on a bus or the subway or walking down the street, and you could hear someone else's ear buds just blurring into the ear standing right next to them? That's probably too loud.
And remember you only have one set of ears, so be gentle with them. Get your ears checked semi-regularly. Wear earplugs to concerts and band practice. These are our tools, and so we need to keep them healthy. And lastly, spend some time addressing the ergonomics of your studio. Many of these "studio desks" are horrible workstations when it comes to ergonomics. Find a comfortable chair that supports your back, sit up straight and go outside once in a while.
Above all, you want to remain focused and committed to the goal, but don't over obsess. It's not the end of the world if the snare drum doesn't sound exactly like the one you had in mind. Don't let one obsession ruin your mix.
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