In the process of making music, it's very easy to get carried away and just never know when to stop or when things are good enough. This is true for every step of the process, from generating ideas in your head to mixing and mastering, and it gets only worse if you are working alone, like many of us actually do.
Not knowing when to stop can lead you down a dangerous rabbit hole and you might find yourself not liking the elements you've already mixed well, just because something else is tweaked too far and does not “work” with the track anymore.
Here are a couple of ideas to help you stay on top of your work.
This is probably the most important aspect when taking on any kind of project - hard deadlines. No soft deadlines that can be bumped forward a few days, and no small time promises - it has to get done no later than by the time you and your client set.
Deadlines are there for a reason - they help the clients feel attended, they show that you care and they also make the whole transaction feel professional, no matter how skilled you may be. Good work ethic is what gets future clients through your door.
If the mix has to be done by a certain date, print it a day early, so that you have some time to rest and check your work for things that may have slipped past you.
If you are working on your own material, try to keep the same attitude - it has to be done by a certain date and then you just move on to the next project.
Not having a due date makes you wander around in your thoughts and you'll probably get lost in the nearly endless possibilities that modern DAW's (Digital Audio Workstations) have to offer.
COMMIT EARLY IN THE PROCESS
Committing to your tones and samples is very important in keeping the process goal-oriented. Keeping too many options opened at one time can lead to a stressful mixing experience and a slow overall process.
If you've already chosen a drum sample set you're going to use during the recording process, print it to an audio track and don't question it later - you chose it for a reason, right? Having committed to the tones early will make you build the mix in a constructive way, by working around the subtleties of each and every tone you have recorded, rather than reamping and changing samples later.
Some mixers even go as far as printing all the virtual instruments as audio and then deleting the MIDI files to have a point of no return. The same goes for sub-mixes as well - if you've mixed a good drum track, print the bus to a stereo track and just live with it. Make it harder for yourself to go back and micro-manage everything to keep yourself mixing fast.
GET AN OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE
You probably have at least a few people whose musical opinion you can trust and who can give an honest review of your work. Once you feel like you've got a good balance of the mix, just send them the track for feedback, if you’re mixing your own material.
This can be very beneficial to the process, as they might notice things you never heard or realized, while completely not noticing other things that you have been obsessing over when mixing.
If you’re working on someone else’s music, get a good rough balance and send them the mix as quickly as you can. Don’t spend too much time on the mix, as you may need to change it completely, if the client was expecting it to go in a completely different direction.
It’s best to get your clients involved in the process as early as you can, so that there are no surprises later and you won’t have to scrap the snare sound you’ve been tweaking for the last three days.
BE REALISTIC AND LET THINGS GO
You've probably heard that great songs and arrangements basically mix themselves - and that is actually true. If a song is written poorly, there is really nothing that can make it sound as good as a great song, even though there are things you can do sonically to polish the tones.
If you feel like you've spent way too much time on the mix and it's not getting any better even with feedback from others, maybe it's time to finally call it a day and just print it. Part of being a good mixer is knowing when the mix is done, or at least, when it's good enough to release without obsessing over the tiny details.
It's better to finish a project and move on to the next one, as each song presents you with different sonic challenges. If you struggled with the snare drum in one song, it does not mean that you will struggle the same on other songs - maybe it's the arrangement, maybe it's the snare itself or the way that it's been recorded. Get it as good as you can quickly and just move on.
In real life you won't have unlimited time to mix a song or an album. If you're working for a client you'll probably get a day or two to mix a song if you're lucky - in this case the mix either is done or it is taken from you. Working decisively and quickly is a habit that every mixer has to get into.
Finishing a mix is way better and more productive that running in circles and chasing your own tail for a long time. Mix the song while it's fresh, mix it quickly, get feedback and move on. There is so much music around you that you just can't afford to spend too much time on a single project.