Every producer and mixer has encountered a situation where a project just keeps dragging on an on because there are new ideas and new techniques every other day that just have to be implemented in the tracks.
It's hard to let a project go and put it out into the world to be heard and criticized by other people – this is why we keep on tweaking, fine tuning and re-doing parts of a record, trying to come up with the ultimate version that is just perfect in every way.
This is actually a detrimental thing, because music and mixes are fresh for limited time. Redoing and fine tuning for too long may just be the thing that keeps you from being happy with the tracks.
Here are a few pointers to help you finish that project that's been going on for too long:
GET AN OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE
No matter if you are working on your own material or someone else's, you need to get some feedback on how the mix sounds in the real world to people who have not been through the whole mixing process.
Chances are, you have been working on the material for way too long and are obsessing about tiny details that probably would not really matter. Send the mix to someone you can trust to give an honest review of the mix, if you're mixing for an artist, send them the mix.
Don't be afraid of criticism, as the mix notes you will receive will help you a lot. If there are no notes, you're done. If you do get some notes, work on those particular things. This process will be way more productive than just working on the mix alone with no outside perspective.
PRESERVE THE ORIGINAL FEEL
Even though things often need to change during the mix, don't be ignorant to the tones and feel achieved during tracking, as there will be some magic captured there.
The point is, don't mess with something that already sounds good. This is what takes up the most time – tweaking things that are already good or trying to improve takes or tones that work perfectly.
Approach the mix or the song from a different perspective and try to see what is good about it not what sucks and what has to be changed. If you have a guitar tone that's a little heavy on the low end, try to see how that maybe could work in the song's favor before reaching for that high pass filter.
One of the main reasons mixes don't get finished is a lack of hard deadlines. Even if you are mixing your own material, set a specific date you want the mix to be completed by – this will actually make you move forward instead of sideways.
It's surprisingly easy to come up with ideas or solutions once you know that time is limited and the project needs to be done one way or the other.
If you're working for a client, getting things done quickly is even more important, as the client wouldn't want to wait indefinitely for you to make up your mind and hand in the mix. You can set certain deadlines here as well – tell the client that the mix is to be expected within a week, for example.
This way you will have set a deadline that has to be met and it will help you work more efficiently. Never leave your clients waiting for longer than necessary. Impress them by working quickly and efficiently – this will go a long way towards building a good reputation.
Set realistic goals for yourself when mixing and try to achieve them to the best of your ability.
Reference a couple of tracks in the same genre and try to decide if your mix is in the approximate ballpark. If it is, you've done your job well and the mix is probably good to go.
As mentioned earlier, realistic time goals are also important. No record label is going to wait indefinitely for you to finish mixing a record. Once you feel that the mix is done, leave it alone for a day. Check it the next day and if it still sounds fine, print it and send it in. Don't obsess over the hi-hat being half a dB too quiet or other things of similar fashion.
You also have to be realistic in the sense that you will always learn new techniques and you will always get better with each day. If a mix is left untouched for a month or more, of course you will want to redo some of it, because you have new plugins or you have learned a new trick or two. Just finish the mix and call it a day.
There's a saying that a finished mix is better than a perfect mix – keep that in mind and don't get obsessed with small details. If one mix doesn't turn out as good as you wanted, keep working on the next one! They'll get better each time.
Once you've reached the crossover point where the mix sounds good in a reasonable amount of time, consider just mastering it and finishing the project. Any tweaks past this point probably won't make much difference.