How do you know when the mix is finished?

Feb 02, 2024

Knowing when a mix is finished is something that both sound engineers and recording musicians grapple with.  

Mixing is a combination of artistic and technical skills. While the quest for the perfect mix can be both exhilarating and exhausting, knowing when to stop tweaking and trust your instincts is crucial to achieving a well-balanced and polished final product. 

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as each project and artist is unique, but there are some key indicators that signal when the mix is right and when it's time to step away from the mixing console.


Define Your Vision

Before diving into the mix, have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. Understand the genre, mood, and emotion you wish to convey. Having a defined goal will serve as a compass throughout the music mixing process. If you are unsure of what you want from your final mix, use a reference track as a guide.

Reference Tracks

Use reference tracks from professional recordings in a similar genre to benchmark your mix. Compare the placement of individual instruments, tonal balance, dynamics, and overall clarity. If your mix holds its ground against these references, you're likely in good shape.  When mixing a live performance, the the band's recording can be your guide.  If it’s a cover band, the original artist's recording is your guide.  To be able to differentiate  the nuances of the various elements you'll need to use critical listening.

Critical Listening

I’ve often talked about how the first step is getting great sounds from the source and making sure your gain structure is correct.  Once you’ve tackled those two items, bring up a basic rough mix and listen.  Put all the faders to -0-.  It doesn’t matter if it’s on headphones, studio monitors, or even in mono, if the song feels pretty good then this is where you start actually mixing.

But if it’s not pleasing to listen to, if something is making you cringe, then you need to go back and fix the problem.  Maybe one of the samples or virtual instruments you’re using isn’t quite giving the track the feel you were looking for, go back and find a better one.  Is the guitar tone too shrill?  Is the vocal too thin? 

If mixing live sound you might need to play around with mic positions if something isn’t right.  If you need to re-record something to fix the problem, do it.  This is often much easier than trying to ‘fix it in the mix’.  It will save you time on the back end.

Check Mix Elements Separately

Solo each instrument or element in your mix to evaluate for clarity and definition, while checking for masking issues.

Soloing each input/track helps identify any potential clashes within the mix.  It’s also a great way to pinpoint problems.  You’ll be surprised at how many unwanted noises can be present and negatively affect a mix because they are too subtle to be obvious by themselves.  Briefly soloing each input will allow you to clean them up and improve the mix. 

Listen to the Tonal Balance

Can you hear all of the elements of the mix?  Are the instruments and vocals sitting where you would like them to sit?  If there’s a lot of unwanted low-frequency energy rolling around, get rid of it before moving on. Do you need to open up space in the mix for instruments that are crowding each other?  Are you hearing a terribly annoying frequency in the singer's voice that is hitting you right between the eyes?

EQ is the solution to these problems.  I teach EQ in mixing in depth in my course LISTEN!

Trust Your Ears

Your ears are your most valuable tools. Take breaks during the mixing process to give them a rest, and listen in different environments (e.g., headphones, monitors, car speakers). If your mix sounds good across various platforms, chances are you're on the right track.  Sometimes, stepping away from your mix for a day or two can provide a fresh perspective. Returning with "fresh ears" can help you identify areas that need improvement or confirm that your mix is indeed ready for mastering.

Check the Dynamic Range

Aim for a balanced dynamic range. Avoid using excessive compression, as it can lead to a flat and lifeless mix. Ensure that quiet passages have enough breathing room, and loud sections don't clip or distort.

Feel the Emotion

Music is about emotion and energy. Take a step back and ask yourself if your mix conveys the intended feelings. If the emotional impact is there, it's a strong sign that your mix is on the right path.

Feedback from Others

Seek feedback from trusted colleagues or fellow musicians. 

External opinions can provide valuable insights that you might have overlooked. However, always take them for what they are (other people’s opinions) and filter feedback through your personal vision. 

Funny story about an artist who had hearing damage and couldn’t hear anything above 2KHz.  He was recording a record in his home studio where he used a hi-hat for the click track.  After he had already mixed and mastered the record he was playing it for a friend who, after a brief listen, asked if ‘he really wanted the hi-hat to be that loud?’  The artist couldn’t hear the hi-hat because of his hearing damage and forgot to mute it before sending the record off to mastering.

It never hurts to get a second opinion before finalizing the product.

Know When to Say When

When you find yourself making minor adjustments without a noticeable improvement, it's a clear sign that your mix is finished. Trust your instincts, acknowledge the hard work you've put in, and recognize when it's time to stop mixing.  

If you are mixing a song in the studio it’s easy to spend days, even weeks overthinking, and mixing yourself into a hole. 

If you are mixing a live band, once you’ve got a good mix take a step back and listen. Is it satisfying and pleasing? Can you hear everything? Make minor adjustments as needed but be careful to not over-mix and undo your hard work.


Achieving the perfect mix requires a delicate balance of technical expertise and artistic intuition. Knowing when to stop mixing is as important as the mixing process itself. Trust your ears, maintain a clear vision, and use the tools at your disposal to create a mix that not only sounds great, but also captures the energy and emotion. Remember, the goal is not perfection but rather a mix that resonates with both you and your audience.  Happy mixing!



By: Michelle Sabolchick