There comes a time in every industry where professionals need to put their foot down and say enough is enough. The customer can only be right for so long before they’re wrong – no matter how much that phrase gets repeated. In the studio, this usually comes around the point where you’ve revised a mix so many times that you’re questioning whether you ever want to mix again and wondering what other career opportunities might be out there.
Things don’t have to get that bad though. In fact, for thousands of professional mixers around the world, this problem will never happen again. By simply setting expectations upfront with an artist that you’ll only include so many revisions of their work, you set the standard and end up fielding a few rare exceptions rather than falling into revision purgatory every time.
Here’s how it’s done…
Start with Your Best Foot Forward
Once you realize that you should be limiting your mix revisions, the first step in that direction is not delivering anything until it’s something you can be proud of.
This accomplishes two things. First – it makes you consider how finished your work is. You start shifting your focus from the minor details toward the major themes to create the best possible mix. Small issues fall by the wayside when you’re working with a time limit and a revision limit in place.
Secondly, it forces artists to take your initial pass seriously.
I think we all fall into a trap sometimes when we think about the “first” mix. The artist might go into it thinking they’re going to need revisions and the mixer might be expecting the same – but what if it didn’t have to be that way?
With a revision limit in place, artists aren’t going to make rash decisions about what needs to be changed. They’re going to listen to the mix again and again, knowing that the list they give you is going to kick off revision #1. And something crazy can happen here… after spending more time meticulously reviewing the mix, it might grow on them and there won’t be any revisions at all.
Maybe that’s a pipe dream for some mixers, especially when they’re just starting out, but even if you do get a list of revision requests from the artist, you can expect them to be well thought out and (hopefully) well-articulated before going into your first round of revisions.
Revisions Should Be Collaborative
If a revision list seems long or doesn’t make any sense, don’t waste your artist’s time trying to work with unclear instructions.
Collaborate and try to understand their perspective on the issue at hand. In some cases, you may find that notes like “make bass louder” aren’t really about the bass at all – they’re about a guitar part masking the bass in the chorus. Artists aren’t mixers; they’re not familiar with the techniques you’re using, so it’s up to you to translate and try to get the results they’re looking for.
In cases where you’re able to have an artist sit in on the revision session with you, you may want to give it a shot. Some people can’t stand working with someone watching over their shoulder, but there’s no better way to avoid repetitive revisions than having someone sign off on the updates as you make them!
How Many Revisions Should I Offer?
There isn’t a magic number but consider your level of experience and the number of times you tend to edit mixes today. Finding your average is a great starting point, then try to work your way down as your skills improve. Most professionals won’t offer more than 2 or 3 revisions without charging for the extra work.
And that’s an important point – setting a revision limit doesn’t need to be a hard cutoff.
I know plenty of mixers who are happy to keep mixing a song endlessly so long as they’re getting paid for their time. While it might not be the most exciting thing to do, having an additional charge stops artists from abusing a situation where a revision limit is not in place. It’s up to you to decide how much extra work merits an additional revision fee and what that extra time is worth.
Along the same lines, other engineers may choose not to offer additional revisions, even if an artist is willing to pay for it. Just like the music is the artist’s creative work, so is the mix that their mixer created. Some even go to the extreme – stating that they don’t offer any revisions and you get what you get when you work with them.
It’s not super common, but there are professionals out there who will tell an artist to go to someone else if they don’t like the mix they’ve been presented with.
A Path to Fewer Revisions
Having the ability to get a quality, balanced mix quickly is one of the easiest ways to avoid revisions, but it can take years to get there. The best thing any new mixer can do is surround themselves with the tools and knowledge of the mixers that came before them and try to incorporate some of their techniques into a standard workflow.
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