Mixing desk fadersAs a songwriter I’m (far too) familiar with writer’s block, and when my creative energy wanes, I’m not above using outside help to keep fresh ideas flowing.

In particular, I own and love Naomi Epel’s Observation Deck. If I sense a creative lull creeping on, I pull out a card and ponder its message (for example, “think in reverse,”) and invariably, almost like magic, my brain’s off and running again.

The Observation Deck isn’t free. But these 3 web sites, offering similar imagination exercises, are.

Mixer’s Block

It turns out that, along with helping writers, these tools are great for halting mixer’s block. Mixer’s block is exactly what it sounds like: The mixing engineer’s version of writer’s block.

You’ve likely found your mixes fall into two categories: Those that take care of themselves, and those that take years off your life. No amount of knob tweaking and fader pushing seems to bring resolution to those in the second category. Blocked mixes instead wait interminably on a flash of creative insight, for despite its technical nature, mixing is often art more than science.

Like its counterpart for authors, mixer’s block is frustrating and energy-zapping. And this is where the tools above come in. They’re designed to help shift your thinking, to inspire ideas from parts of your brain you’ve forgotten to use. Like a “virtual outside opinion,” it’s often all a stalled mix needs.

In practice

Let me illustrate with an example: I pulled hair out mixing Pushed Around. The mix wouldn’t jell. After fighting with it for hours, I decided to consult the Observation Deck, which told me to “create a conflict.”

Instantly, I realized the acoustic guitars were in conflict, fighting each other for the listener’s attention. I nudged the guitar tracks into better alignment, added the shaker to emphasize the beat and distract from the guitar strums, and the mix immediately righted itself.

This can work for any mix. So the next time you find a troubling mix uncooperative, consider setting the technical details aside and letting your imagination suggest new approaches. “Try faking it,” perhaps (a personal favorite,) or maybe even “think about the last time you cried.”

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