What’s wrong with fixing it in the mix?

In 1997, jazz vocalist Kevin Mahogany (1958-2017) composed and performed a catchy melodic song titled “Fix It in the Mix.” Not only does the piece narrate the story of the challenges encountered during the recording of a song, but it also satirizes the music production process, highlighting a growing tendency (and perhaps an over-reliance) to address mistakes or shortcomings during the post-production phase.

Although initially appearing convenient, failing to rectify issues in the creative process as they arise can result in significant challenges later on. This dilemma is not unique to the music industry; it’s a common practice observed across various sectors, including construction. In this industry, stakeholders such as customers, architects, building inspectors, contractors, and subcontractors often identify imperfections and problems throughout the building process. These concerns are typically communicated to the contractor or project manager, who frequently assures other stakeholders that the issues will be addressed during the punch list process.

Similarly, in the publishing field, authors, contributors, and editors may identify gaps in arguments, missing, incomplete, or misidentified documentation, and problematic citations, but propose that they will be addressed in the final edit or in the proofs.

Why does this “Kicking the can down the road” exist in the creative process? 

The allure of fixing it in the mix is multifaceted. First, addressing issues immediately after their identification may inadvertently prolong the creative process and project. In construction, for instance, the required subcontractor or tradesperson may not be readily available, leading to unnecessary project delays and additional costs. Similarly, in the film and broadcasting industry, where studio and personnel time is expensive, the entity funding the project aims to minimize expenses.

Second, contractors, publishers, or producers may be reluctant to disrupt momentum. They seek to maintain the pace of progress and avoid halting ongoing momentum.

Third, creators themselves may be perceived as unnecessary dilettantes or perfectionists. They may prefer to take their time to ensure their approach is thorough, precise, reflects integrity and comes closest to their original idea of what the final product should look, sound, or feel like.

Why is “Fixing it in the Mix” a bad strategy? 

Once the musician reaches the mixing stage, the contractor addresses the punch list, and the authors review the proofs, a shift occurs in the dynamics among all parties involved. Initially, most primary actors involved in the creative process are exhausted from the process, perhaps even with each other.

Furthermore, it’s often discovered that neither the contractor, director, publisher, nor production engineer took adequate notes during the creative process regarding missing items (or if they did, the notes are incomplete or indecipherable). Some may hope that the customer or creator either overlooks or forgets to bring up these issues at the end, as they simply want to complete the project quickly and move on to the next job.

Consequently, it typically falls upon the customer or creator to remember, remind, and inform the contractor, recording engineer, or production company that it is their responsibility to implement the promised changes after the fact.

Unfortunately, during the final stages of the project, when reminded of these issues, contractors, production companies, or recording engineers may exhibit selective amnesia.

Alternatively, these actors may assert that the items left for the punch list or post production stage are now too difficult or costly to address at then.

Moreover, contractors, production companies, and recording engineers may try to minimize the value added that the requested changes will have on the final product.

Finally, in many cases, the problem may be too advanced to resolve without the alteration being noticeable in the completed product, and thus overall project quality. For instance, adding a bass player to a recorded song where none existed initially, installing a new window in a wall that has already been bricked up, plastered, and painted, or incorporating five new paragraphs in the proof stage, could disrupt pagination, indexing, and quotes provided to printers.

What is the solution to fixing it in the mix? 

Creators should not feel powerless in the face of these dynamics. If it is absolutely not possible to immediately fix things as the job progresses, here are some suggestions about dealing with the fix it in the mix challenges.

To begin with it’s important to keep detailed notes about the problems that arise so that you can refer to these issues when it comes time to remedy them. These notes should be stored in an easily accessible place (e.g., a computer file) located in a properly labeled directory that makes sense to you.

Periodically share these notes with everybody connected to the job. This has two effects. It forces the team members not to slack off during the production process and gives them a heads up that you are going to insist that they need to be addressed during the post production phase.

That being said, on the other end of the spectrum is the notion of slow productivity, currently popularized by Cal Newport.

In essence that argument is that sometimes if you are going to be doing great work, you need to slow down and work on a systematic basis. This is not possible for every type of creative activity, but it is an option worth considering.