Pro Audio Files

Reality Check: You’re Always Improving

I read a fascinating book four years ago, and I’ve spent the last three years tying to figure out what it was called. The author was some athletic ‘peak performance’ coach. The part that stood out and stuck with me is the idea that you’re always improving. No doubt you’ll have down days where you feel like your skills have regressed — but long term, you’re almost always on the up and up.

Stock Price Chart (AAPL) Representing Perception of Improvements

One of my non-audio-related addictions hobbies is trading stocks (2014 update: was). I won’t get into that, but I’ll reference the chart on the right. You can compare the ups and downs of Apple’s stock price to your own improvement in music and/or any life skills. There’s days — probably weeks or months — where you feel like your skills or feeling of growth are simply failing you (maybe you’re sick, tired, overwhelmed, uninspired etc.), those are the red bars on the chart. The down days. But in the long run, your overall skill level is incrementally rising (represented by the uptrend line on the chart). Just make sure you’re pushing through slumps and actively practicing, studying, or simply doing your craft. Next time you’re feeling down, keep this post in mind, and keep doing whatever it takes to reach your goals.

I hadn’t related this whole idea to mixing until reading Charles Dye‘s post on a forum I don’t really have much interest in promoting (hint: enjoy):

First, every mix where you improve your ability to get a better sound on any element, you are improving your mixing techniques. Because mixing isn’t a big skill, but many smaller skills … Each new technique you learn, perfect & improve upon, means you are getting closer to learning how to bring it all together & get that big sounding record quality mix.

So, create a checklist + start checking things off that you already know how to do. And start working on the stuff you don’t. – Charles Dye

It’s important to develop many tools for your toolbox, but this doesn’t mean you have to use each one every time. You never know when one concept or technique you’ve learned or practiced is going to be perfectly appropriate and helpful for any given situation.

It’s also sometimes hard to tell exactly how the smaller skills and tools you acquire blend back into your “big picture skills,” but have faith it will. It helps to break down your expectations for ‘big picture skill’ into smaller, more immediately masterable skills and techniques.

I knew I was getting close with my mixing skills when I started noticing that, as I listened to records by other mixers, I heard things in them that I knew I didn’t like. If I was the mixer, I knew I would definitely do those things differently. In other words, I understood what they were doing; how they were doing it; I didn’t like it; and I knew exactly what & how I would do it instead. And these were really good mixes.

This had never happened to me before. My normal reaction to a mix was simply awe, reverence & a “man, I wish I knew how to do that” reaction. So, the 1st few times that this thought occurred to me — that I would do that part of that mix differently — I didn’t even understand what I was thinking. I couldn’t relate to it. It didn’t make sense.

But after it happened a few times I realized that this was a big deal. If I wasn’t simply impressed with another mixer’s mix, but in fact disagreed with some of the choices they were making, that told me that I must be coming into my own as a mixer.

And it was within 6 mos or so of having these reactions to other mixes that I finally had that experience of hearing my own mix playback & being impressed that it really sounded like a record. @ the time, I was really proud of that mix’s sonics, but more importantly I felt it’s musicality was the best of any mix I had ever done.

The mix was right for the song, artist & time. And the artist was blown away by it as well. Actually he was flipping out. He was a big artist who’d had a lot of hits who knew a good mix when he heard one. It was the strongest reaction I had ever gotten from an artist up until that time, which also let me know I had done something different & right with that mix. – Charles Dye

“We seem to gain wisdom more readily through our failures than through our successes. We always think of failure as the anti-thesis of success, but it isn’t. Success often lies just the other side of failure.” ~ Leo F. Buscaglia

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Dan Comerchero

Dan Comerchero

I’m Dan, Founder of The Pro Audio Files and Quiztones ear training apps. I’m probably checking Instagram if you want to say hi.


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  • It’s true and the most interesting insight often come with the most complex jobs. These are the ways to push your boundaries of understanding whilst keeping the work interesting and it feels rewarding to accept a challenge and win it.

    cheers

    • Barry –

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      I agree, the most complex projects often yield the most rewarding results too. It forces you to expand your toolbox of techniques.

      It’s like being a musician and being stuck playing one style of music. As soon as you branch out and acquire new skills in different styles of music, those new ideas, thoughts, and tools sneak into your subconscious abilities in everything else you do.

      -Dan

  • paul

    Thanks for the article Dan! I just stumbled on your site today and have learned a lot already, bookmarked it

  • Kai Handberg

    This article resonates with me, as does the first comment.

    Often in the past I would reach a new level in my tracks; either in amount of tracks used or amount/type of processing – where I would feel overwhelmed and say “this is too much for me – 40 tracks I cant handle this!”
    And it was easy to tell after not giving up and pushing through on those projects, corners were turned in a much more profound way than simply finishing some other project. I rose to the challenge – and maybe the mix wasnt as good as I had thought it would be, but my skills had definitely improved because of it.

    You dont even have to listen to others mixes to tell you’re improving – listening to your own from 6/3/1 months ago will do it for me. 4 months ago I started really diving into my old projects that “grew too large” or stopped inspiring me, and re-did them from the ground up. It resulted in my first 4 label releases 🙂

    Thanks for a good article.

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