Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers. And before we dive in, make sure you download my free car check resource pack, which includes the specific steps you’ll need to take to make your mixes sound perfect in the car. Click the link above or in the description below to download this now.
So we’re all familiar with the infamous car check nightmare, right? You spend all day working on a mix in your home studio and it sounds amazing, everything’s working together, and you feel like you’re almost done. And then you print your mix, you take it out to the car just for a quick listen, and the whole thing falls apart. Maybe the kick drum sounds boomy or muddy, the bass sounds too loud or too quiet, you can’t hear the vocal, and all the time and energy and effort that you put into the mix throughout the day feels like suddenly it’s wasted. And then you have to figure out how you can fix the mix so that you can make it sound decent in the car, but it always feels like this kind of guessing game, right? You’re not quite sure what the right decisions are to make. So you end up going back and forth, and back and forth, never quite getting to where you want to be.
So if this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. And in this video, we’re going to talk about how to fix this problem once and for all. But the first thing I want to talk about is why this problem actually happens. Because if you understand why, ultimately it’s really going to help you in figuring out what you need to do to fix this problem. So that’s where we’re going to start, and then we’re going to talk about how to actually fix the problem so that you don’t have to deal with this frustrating situation anymore in your mixing process.
So if you want to jump ahead to the actual tactical here’s-what-you-do stuff if you feel like you already know why this happens, then go ahead and click the link in the description below. There’s a time code down there so you can skip ahead. But I encourage you if you’re not 100% certain why this happens, to stick around and listen to the theory and the background behind this issue. Because if you understand that, ultimately it’s going to help you figure out how to address and approach the solution.
So why does this problem happen in the first place? Well it’s important to understand that mixing is a responsive process, meaning the entire mixing process is nothing more than listening to the sound that’s coming out of your speakers, and responding to that, making decisions based on that information.
So we listen to the sound coming out of our speakers. We hear that there’s some sort of problem, and then we fix that problem by making some kind of move in the mixing process – adding a plug-in, grabbing our fader – all of these decisions are made in response to what we hear.
So if what we’re hearing is an accurate representation of what’s going on in our mixes, then this is not a problem. But if we’re hearing a colored or inaccurate or skewed representation of our mix, then what happens is we actually end up being lead towards the wrong decisions. We think that maybe we’re hearing a problem, but we’re not actually hearing a problem, because what we’re hearing is not actually a representation of our mix, but something that’s completely different.
This is really what’s happening if you’re dealing with mix translation problems. Meaning your mix sounds really good in your studio, but then when you take it anywhere else, it kind of falls apart. Because what’s happening is you’re hearing a skewed representation of what your mix actually sounds like in your studio. You’re not hearing what your mix actually sounds like, you’re hearing something that’s slightly different, and you’re responding to that sound that’s colored or skewed by making the wrong decisions.
So a great example of this is let’s say you’re hearing in your studio too much low end. For some reason, maybe it’s your room, maybe it’s your speakers, you’re going to constantly respond to that by feeling like the low end in your mixes is too loud. Maybe the kick drum’s going to sound too loud. Maybe the bass is going to sound too loud. So you’re going to turn down the bass or the kick in your mixes to compensate because you’re hearing that skewed presentation of your mix.
Now your mix is going to sound great in your studio, but when you take it out to another set of speakers like your car, where maybe you don’t have that same problem, maybe there isn’t a buildup of low end like there is in your studio. Suddenly the mix is going to sound like it’s bass-light, like there isn’t enough bass.
So this is a great example of this problem, and it happens in other areas of the frequency spectrum too. But again, whenever we’re not hearing an accurate representation of our mix in our studio, then we’re not going to be able to make good mixing decisions. We’re actually being lead in the wrong direction.
So how do we go about fixing this problem so we never have to deal with the car check nightmare again? So there are really two steps. And the first thing I want to talk about is where you should begin, which is step one. Now it’s important to realize that we can talk about mixing tips or tricks or plug-ins, or all the surface-level stuff all day. But again, if you’re not hearing an accurate representation of your mix, if your home studio is skewing or coloring the sound in some way, then it’s going to be impossible to make good mixing decisions whether you’re really good at mixing or just starting out.
So the first step is actually to improve your room. It’s to get your monitoring chain and your listening environment to a place where you can hear a fairly accurate representation of what’s going on in your mixes. Now how do you go about doing this? Well, what most people do when they finally find out they have a problem with their listening environment, when they realize what we’re talking about, is they go out and they spend a whole bunch of money on new studio monitors. They buy new studio monitors because they feel like that’s the best way to fix this problem.
The truth is studio monitors do matter, and getting a nicer pair or a better pair of studio monitors can help. But it’s actually not the fastest, easiest, most effective way to address this problem of not hearing an accurate representation of your mix. And the best thing to do before you go out and buy a new pair of studio monitors is to start by finding the right spot in your room for both your speakers and your listening position. And that’s often going to make a more dramatic impact on the sound than buying a new pair of studio monitors.
So start here. And the great thing about it is you don’t actually have to spend any money, it’s just a very simple process that you can follow to do this. And if you want to learn exactly what to do to pull this off, again I’ve put together that free car check resource pack, which includes the exact steps that you need to follow to find the right spot for your speakers and listening position in your room. So again, click the link above or in the description below to download that now, and you’ll get all the steps that you can follow to make that happen.
So a very common question that I hear is why can’t I just mix on headphones? Seems like an easy answer, right? If we pop on a pair of headphones, we don’t have to worry about studio monitors. We don’t have to deal with the sound of our rooms, or acoustics, or any of that stuff. The truth is I’ve never been able to make great-sounding mixes on headphones. I know some people have been able to do it well, but for me I find there are just lots of problems with mixing on headphones. I can’t get a good sense for effects levels. Balances generally don’t translate very well. So I can make a mix that sounds pretty good on headphones, but when I take it anywhere else, I find it just falls apart.
In practice, I do think headphones are an important part of the mixing process. And w’ell talk a little bit more in this video later on about how you might use them effectively, but I still recommend that you do the majority of your listening mixing on studio monitors, even if you’re working in a less-than-ideal room.
Now once you’ve found the right spot for your studio monitors and listening position in your room by following the advice in that car check resource pack, the next thing you want to do is invest in acoustic treatment. Acoustic treatment is going to help improve the acoustics of your listening environment so that you can hear a flatter, more accurate representation of what’s going on in your mixes. This is a really important part of this process. A lot of people feel like they don’t want to spend money on acoustic treatment. It’s big and it takes up a lot of space. It’s kind of a pain, it doesn’t look very good, and if you’re living in an apartment or some space that’s not really your own, sometimes there are some limitations around what you can actually do – hanging panels on the walls, things like that.
But the truth is, there’s no getting around the laws of acoustics, and these panels really do make an impact. They can absolutely improve the sound of your space. And in addition to finding the right spot for your studio monitors and listening position, the acoustic treatment is a really important part of this whole improving the sound of your room part of the process.
So if you want to learn all about acoustic treatment and how to actually purchase the right acoustic treatment, what you need to buy, I put together a whole video on the topic that I’ve also included in that car check resource pack. So again, if you want to download this, click the link above or in the description below. Watch that video, it’ll give you all the details that you need to know to invest in the right acoustic treatment. Because again, there’s a lot of stuff out there, but it doesn’t necessarily all make a positive impact. So you can buy these cheap foam panels, for example, that seem like they’re good because they’re really inexpensive, but I wouldn’t recommend starting there. So this video covers all the specifics that you need to know. And again, you can check it out in that car check resource pack.
Now the last thing you can do if you want to improve the sound of your room is invest in room correction software. Now these tools come with a measurement microphone, which you place in your listening position. And they basically measure the frequency response of your room, and create an EQ curve that compensates for the peaks and the valleys in your specific room.
You listen through this EQ curve while you’re mixing, and the idea is that that EQ cancels out the peaks and valleys in your room, and allows you to hear a more accurate representation of your mix, which results in better mixing decisions that translate better, that sound better in the car or on your iPhone, on your laptop, et cetera. I’ve used these tools for years. I’m a big proponent of them. I think they really can be a fantastic addition to a lot of the things that we talked about earlier – acoustic treatment, finding the right spot for your speakers and listening position.
They’re not a quick fix, meaning some people just go to the software and they don’t actually take the time to follow the other suggestions that I mentioned. I don’t recommend this approach. I recommend you do everything I’ve talked about in the video, and then use room correction software as the cherry on top. That’s how I find it works best.
In terms of the software that I recommend you use, I’ve tried a lot of different tools. I recommend SonarWorks Reference 4. It’s I think the best tool out there for this, and I’ve tried pretty much all of them. So you can check that out by clicking the link in the description below. And I actually wrote a review on it on my site as well, so you can check that out on my website too.
Now if you apply all the steps that I outlined so far in this video, you’re going to significantly improve the sound of your listening environment. And that’s going to help you make better mixing decisions that translate better to other speakers. Meaning when you take your mix out to the car, it’s not going to sound like total garbage anymore.
But the truth is even if you apply all the steps that I talked about so far, no room is perfect. And certainly when it comes to home studios, you do the best you can. But we all have limitations, and it’s never going to sound like a multi-million-dollar world-class studio. But that’s okay. I work in a home studio, and certainly I’ve struggled with the monitoring chain in my room. But we can actually hedge our bets within the mixing process, and apply some tips and strategies that will help us make really good-sounding mixes, even if we’re working in a less-than-ideal space.
So that’s what I want to talk about next, which is step two, and that’s to improve your mixing process. So what I want to talk about here is some specific strategies that you can apply to your mixing process to improve the way your mixes translate, even when you’re working in a less-than-ideal listening environment like a home studio.
Now the first thing I want to talk about is using headphones selectively. Headphones are a great tool to use as part of the mixing process. Again, I don’t recommend mixing on them exclusively, because I think they make it very difficult to judge balances and effects levels and things like that. But when you’re listening to headphones, you’re not hearing the sound bouncing off the walls in your room. And so some of the biggest problems in your room actually completely go away when you listen on headphones. This makes them a great tool for listening to the low end in particular, because the biggest problems in most listening environments are actually in the low end of the frequency spectrum.
So when we’re trying to make decisions about the kick or the bass, and we’re listening on studio monitors, those big peaks and valleys in the low end in our room make it very difficult to make accurate decisions that translate well. But if we pop on a pair of headphones and listen to the sound of the kick and the bass, and make decisions on headphones, we’re not hearing the sound of the room. So we’re hearing a flatter, more accurate representation of what’s actually going on in our mixes.
So in practice, I find that when you’re making decisions about the low end in particular, headphones are an excellent tool. And I recommend that you use headphones specifically for this purpose. So whenever you’re mixing low end instruments, specifically the kick and the bass, pop on your headphones for a couple minutes, and rely more on the headphones to make those types of decisions than the studio monitors. I still recommend that you do the majority of your listening on studio monitors, but I think headphones can be a great tool for this very specific reason.
Another strategy that can help your mixes translate better is to use references. Now references are commercial tracks, things you’ll find on Spotify or iTunes. They’ve already been mastered. And you can import these into your DAW, and compare them against your mix in progress while you’re working. The great thing about this is it’s almost like using bumpers at a bowling alley, right? They just help you stay in the right lane so you don’t veer off track and make something that ends up sounding really horrible anywhere else.
So specifically in the low end, I find them very useful because that’s one area that’s very difficult to get right, especially in home studios. So when you’re struggling trying to figure out how much low end to add, how loud the kick or the bass should be, just flip over to a reference track and get a sense for what the low end is doing in that track, how loud it is compared to the rest of the mix. That’ll help you stay in the right lane while you’re working. And in practice I find it can really help when you’re trying to create mixes that sound good outside your studio, like in the car for example.
Now if you want to know what references I recommend, references that I use in almost every mix that I do, I put together a list of twelve of my favorite reference tracks. And I’ve included it in that car check resource pack, which you can download again by clicking the link above or in the description below.
Another thing you can do to improve the way your mixes translate is to check your mix on different speakers. Now obviously this is the whole idea behind the car check, right? By bringing your mix out to the car, you can hear how it sounds in a different environment, and that can help you figure out what you might need to do to improve the way the mix translates.
Something I just want to talk about here is there’s no magic when it comes to the car check. It’s not like the car is this magical environment. And you really want to be careful when you make decisions based on how your mix sounds in any one specific environment, especially if it’s an environment that’s not particularly flat or accurate. The truth is, most cars have all sorts of peaks and valleys. They’re far from accurate, flat listening environments. And so if you make decisions to accommodate that one listening environment, you may end up skewing your mix in the complete opposite direction, right?
So maybe you’ve made your mix sound better in the car, but then when you take it to another listening environment that doesn’t have those same sets of acoustic problems, it sounds even worse. Just make sure that you don’t put too much stock into any one set of speakers, especially if it’s a less-than-ideal listening environment like a car or something like that. So be careful with this technique, but I do think it’s an effective approach that you can use to help you build mixes that translate better.
Ultimately I think the place that most of us want to get to is having one listening environment that is flat and accurate enough where we don’t feel like we need to go to check our mix in a million different places. So that’s ultimately what you want to be building towards. And if you follow the steps that I outlined in the first part of this video, that should help you get there in your own studio. But in the meantime, if you feel like your listening environment is deficient, if you feel like there are lots of problems in that room, you can use this approach. Just be very careful when it comes to making big decisions and accommodations to make your mix sound better on one set of speakers, wherever that set of speakers is.
Another technique you can use to improve the way your mixes translate is to use a spectrum analyzer. This is a type of plug-in you can load up in your DAW, and it’s basically a tool that will give you a visual representation of the frequency spectrum of a track, or in this case your mix. Now what’s great about this is you can see how much energy you have in the different areas of the frequency spectrum. So you can actually see on a graph what the curve of your mix looks like. And flat-sounding mixes generally have a fairly even distribution of energy throughout the frequency spectrum, so there aren’t big bumps or valleys, it’s a fairly smooth curve.
So by using this technique, sometimes it can help you pinpoint areas in which you may have added too much energy, or where you may actually need to add some more. By using this technique, it can help you get around some of the deficiencies in your room. Like if you are hearing that there’s too much low end in one specific spot in your room, and so you have a tendency to pull out a lot of that energy in your mixes, you’ll actually see in some cases a dip on that area on the spectrum analyzer. And so by seeing that on the spectrum analyzer, you can kind of catch yourself when you’re doing that, and prevent yourself from going down that rabbit hole.
So if you want to learn more about this, I have a whole video on this technique. I talk about it in detail, and I’ve included it in the car check resource pack as well. So again, you can download that by clicking the link above or in the description below. And before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – what do you do to make your mix sound great in the car? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks and techniques, so leave your answer in the comments section below.
Thanks so much for watching, and you can check out more mixing tips like these right here on my YouTube channel, or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.