I’ve worked in the audio production industry long enough to know that the most important things we need to look after are our bodies and minds. It is incredibly easy to blame a glitchy DAW, buggy plug-in or temperamental computer for below average mixing sessions as those types of typical technical irritants are easy to point the finger at. However I’ve learned from experience that when a mix hasn’t quite gone to plan or a session has failed to deliver to my standards, it wasn’t always down to the tools flaking out on me. It was my state of body or mind that day which put obstacles in my way.
This article lists 5 states of body and mind you should avoid when you need to focus your full creative attention on a mix.
Feeling Under The Weather
This was the topic which inspired this article. Over the last week or so I have suffered from a horrid head cold which stopped me from being able to complete a number of important mixes and masters for my clients. Head colds don’t usually stop me functioning and in this case, my body wasn’t suffering so I felt OK enough to work and get some important studio projects signed off, however, this did not happen. A big problem which causes audio engineers real issues in the studio is blocked sinuses. Congestion inhibits us from being able to hear and interpret sound clearly. I did attempt to mix a song but soon stopped as my blocked sinuses gave my ears the impression that my monitors were pointing in a different direction to my head. Any real attempts to mix a song with this skewed ability to critically listen would have been a waste of time.
It’s all too easy for us to invest all of our energies into long studio sessions but we have to be aware that such sessions can be extremely fatiguing on both our bodies and minds. I find a blend of caffeine and adrenaline gets me through a long and demanding recording session but experience has taught me that those sources of energy are not sustainable. To push myself to mix a song at the end of a long tracking session is a false economy and can in fact, push me over the edge, way past fatigue into a more dangerous state of mind - Burnout. Burnout is much harder to recover from, often taking days to get over whereas I find fatigue only needs a good night sleep and some “me time” in order to overcome.
Under The Influence
Stimulant and sedative effects caused by consumption of alcohol or other substances contribute nothing useful in a mixing session. I’ve been party to those types of “late night mix sessions” in which copious amounts of beer drinking is believed to be fuelling the creative juices when in reality our creativity that we’re drawing from is actually being slowly dulled as the evening goes on.
I remember one such night not that long ago in which I was enjoying a beer (or three) mixing a track with a paying client, who brought in the beer in for us to share. I was in mixing mode, doing my creative thing, feeling the music, twisting the dials, throwing the faders. I was in the zone, or at least I thought I was! The mix we achieved that night sounded great, however, the next morning when I listened back to our efforts from the night before with a fresh set of ears (and a slightly sore head) were night and day different. And not in a good way. Most of the mixing moves which I applied the evening before I thought were subtle when in fact, in the cold light of day, extremely bold and overdone. My advice in this case is simple. If you want to have a drink with your client or collaborator then save it for after the session.
Low Mood Equals Low Priority
We can all have down days from time to time. Such days can be caused by a personal issue which needs working through or maybe there is something important playing around in your head that’s causing you low-level background stress. While mixing music is indeed an excellent form of musical therapy, you shouldn’t ever use a paid or mission-critical client mixing project as a means to balance or improve your mojo. Paying clients expect your full professional and creative attention. If you are struggling with low mood and feel that it is interfering with your creative flow then you should push your work commitments back to a later date and seek out a friend or professional to help you improve your state of mind. I’ve found that when I’ve suffered from low mood my work commitments became low priority which wasn’t fair to my clients… or myself.
Physical Pain, Creative Focus Down The Drain
We’ve spoken about repetitive strain injury many times on Production Expert as many of us on the team have suffered from some form of it in the past. It’s easy to ignore the early signs of RSI which isn’t smart as RSI can develop into major physical issues down the line. I’ve found back, wrist and neck pain to be real discomforts and distractions when I’m mixing. Simple tasks such as reaching for a preamp or clicking the mouse have in the past caused me pain which moves my focus from my work to a feeling of pain. If you can’t work comfortably don’t work at all, seek advice from a health care professional and take immediate action to improve your studio ergonomics and mix position. Always remember that audio engineers often work in the same sitting position for long periods of time, if you feel any small niggle of pain or discomfort in the early part of a session then you must take action.
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The best cure or remedy to any of these body and mind states we’ve raised in this article is prevention. For example, knowing that head colds cause our critical listening abilities to be temporarily impaired should help you to make the smart decision to take some time off to fully recover without feeling guilty about not working in the studio. Fatigue is completely preventable by putting in place realistic working hours.
This article hopefully might inspire you to take better care of yourself in your daily studio lives. If you find that you are suffering from anything we’ve highlighted in this article then you need to put yourself first, act on what your emotional or physical feelings are telling you so that you can return back to your studio work another day when you are fit to do so and totally able to provide your fullest creative focus and talents to your music and client commitments.