Mix Tip of the Week: Take Frequent Breaks

 In TSM Studio Blog

Believe me, I know this can be a tough one to implement into your daily routine

As mixers, we’re constantly up against the clock. Whether it’s an approaching deadline or an eager client that’s just dying to hear the finished product, as selfless, people-pleasing mixers, we often take it upon ourselves to deliver mixes with accelerated turnaround time. 

When an engineers’ primary focus is quality-control in the mixing phase, it’s their job to assure that the mixes amplify, cater and contribute to the artists’ overall vision. In order to properly execute their sonic intentions, it’s vital that mixers are able to work efficiently in order to maintain clarity throughout the process and avoid overthinking.

Part of maintaining that clarity means understanding when to take a break.


Listening Fatigue

Whether you leave the studio at the end of a long day with a slight buzzing sound ringing through your ears or a cognizant understanding that your perception is altered in the mixing process, listening fatigue is the number one threat to the outcome of your mixes. It’s far too often that as mixers, we become so engaged in the process that time seems to escape us. One moment you’re doing some subtractive EQ on a resonant frequency and the next thing you know an hour has passed and you’re still sweeping through instruments with broad EQ boosts and attenuations. 

Whether you remain conscious of it or not, you’re fatiguing your ears. This ear fatigue will undoubtedly inhibit your workflow and lead you down a self-destructive path of questioning your past, present and future mixing decisions.

In an attempt to better prepare you to combat listening fatigue, we’ve provided some tips below that facilitate a healthier approach to knocking out mixes while maintaining our initial intelligibility.


Monitor With Your Ear’s Best Interests In Mind

Our ears dictate every single decision we make as a mixer, and for that reason it’s our upmost responsibility to take care of them before, during and after a session. Although monitoring back at quiet, “casual listening”, and loud levels are essential processes that allow us to understand how our mixes will translate across sources, monitoring back at exceedingly loud levels for an extensive period of time is the fastest way to cloud our judgment and impair our ability to make accurate mix decisions. 

The OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) encourages us to limit our exposure to 85 dB SPL for no longer than eight hours per day. Exceeding this recommended limit may result in temporary ear fatigue or permanent hearing loss. It’s also crucial to understand that as SPL (sound pressure level) rises, we become more and more susceptible to hearing loss. Being exposed to 100 dB SPL for thirty minutes can be more harmful than exposure to 90 dB SPL for two hours. Understanding how we can better protect our ears in harsher listening environments can extend the lifespan of both our ears and our careers.

Whether you work in a commercial facility or a bedroom studio, our listening environments often alternate, resulting in different levels of perceived loudness depending on the rooms’ acoustic treatment. You may understand that nine o’clock on your Apollo’s volume control is typically sufficient at your home studio, but in a better treated room you may find yourself raising that knob to eleven or twelve o’clock. Without getting too technical, you should spend the bulk of your time listening back to mixes at a conversational level.

It’s also essential to bear in mind that ear fatigue can be provoked anywhere. A long commute to the studio with music being played at an excessive level could onset your fatigue before you even sit down to mix! We recommend that you take all of this into account prior to engaging in a mixing session.


Carefully Craft a Healthy Workflow

As mixers who typically operate entirely on our own work schedule, there’s no officially mandated breaks meaning it’s solely up to us to enforce these intermissions. Whether you feel you’ve got your mixing process down to a science or not, if you’re not implementing frequent breaks to your regimen than your mix process can quickly become circuitous. 

Once you’re in the zone it can feel like a burden to disengage from the task at hand, but it will ultimately work in your best interests to assure a longer, healthier career. The widespread philosophy is that mixers should take a 10 minute break at the end of every hour or a 20 minute break every 90 minutes.


In Closing

Knowing when to stop working is equally as important as knowing when to keep working. Taking the necessary steps to assure that your ears aren’t playing tricks on you will allow you to arrive at a finished mix without all of the deterrents and road blocks that come with ear fatigue.