Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers, and in this video you’ll discover how to easily get the low end in your mixes to sound clear and balanced every time.
But before we dive in, I also put together a free low end mixing cheatsheet that includes some extra tips and tricks I won’t have time to cover here. So if you’re ready to learn how to mix the low end like a pro, click the link in the description below or up there in the video to download this free cheatsheet right now.
So before I dive into the tips and tactics that you can use to improve the low end in your mixes, I want to give you some context on why mixing low end is so challenging. Now mixing is a responsive process, meaning every decision you make while you’re mixing is actually a response to what you hear. So for example, you listen to your mix and you notice that the kick drum sounds too quiet. So you respond to that, you make a decision based on that information, right? So maybe you grab the kick drum fader and turn it up. So you’re constantly responding to what the sound is that’s coming out of your speakers from what you hear. And this is all mixing is, right? Thousands of responses until we’re finished.
So it goes without saying that based on this information, what you hear becomes very important. And you need to hear an accurate representation of what’s really going on in your mixes, otherwise you can’t make the right decisions. So if what you’re hearing is colored or inaccurate or not a good representation of your mix, then you’re going to be lead in the wrong direction whether you’re Chris Lord Alge or a bedroom beat maker, it doesn’t matter what your mixing skill is. You need to hear what’s really going on in your mixes in order to make a great mix.
Now you might be thinking Jason, I know all this. I’m not a total beginner, and that’s why I’ve spent a whole bunch of money on studio monitors, right? I have the best studio monitors that I can afford, and so I’ve gone to great lengths to make sure that I’m hearing an accurate representation of what’s going on in my mixes. Well here’s the thing. So studio monitors certainly make an impact, and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go buy great studio monitors. But they’re actually not the most important thing when it comes to hearing an accurate representation of what’s really going on in your mixes, especially if you’re a home studio owner like me. Maybe you’re working in a bedroom or a basement or garage, or some space that wasn’t really built for making music.
Here’s the thing – the room itself, the room that you’re listening in in many cases plays a much larger degree on the impact that it has on the sound that you’re hearing than the speakers or the gear or monitoring chain itself, anything else in the chain. So what ends up happening is you put your world-class studio monitors in a room, you know, a bedroom or a basement or something like that, and suddenly the sound changes dramatically because the room itself actually colors the sound that you hear. So those perfect world-class studio monitors that you bought suddenly aren’t giving you an accurate representation of what’s really going on in your mixes anymore.
Now bringing this back to low end, the biggest problems in most listening environments and most rooms are actually in the low end, that, you know 200-250 hertz down area. That’s where the biggest problems appear in most rooms. And so the reason why, the real reason why getting the low end right is so difficult, especially for home studio owners, is because they’re battling their room. They’re dealing with a room that is coloring and changing the sound so dramatically that they have no idea what the right decisions are.
Now if you’ve experienced the car check nightmare where maybe you work on your mix all day and it sounds perfect in your home studio, and then you bring it out to the car and it totally falls apart, right? Maybe the bass suddenly sounds too boomy or muddy, or suddenly you can’t hear the kick drum or, you know, other low end instruments. You know, you’re intimately familiar with this problem. And again it all comes back to the idea that you’re not hearing what’s really going on in your mixes. And again if you can’t hear what’s really going on in your mixes, especially in that low end area, you’re never going to be able to make good mixing decisions, especially in the low end.
So the first thing I suggest when it comes to improving the low end in your mixes, is actually to get your room right. So what am I talking about here? Well a lot of people will instantly go to acoustic treatment. They’ll say man, I should go buy some acoustic panels or, you know, something that I can put in my room that’ll make a big impact. And I actually want to take a step back from that. Not saying acoustic treatment isn’t important, but it’s not the most important thing when it comes to getting your room right.
So the first place to start is actually completely free, it’s not going to cost you a penny. And that’s to find the right spot in your room for your speakers and your listening position. So if you’ve ever done any degree of recording, you know that when you put the mic in front of an instrument and move it just three inches, let’s say, over to the left or over to the right, the sound that you get from that recording changes dramatically, right? So mic placement has a huge impact. Well this concept doesn’t just apply to recording. It actually applies to your speakers and your sweet spot as well.
So just by moving your speakers six inches or a foot, or your listening position six inches or a foot, you can dramatically change the sound. And so if you use this to your advantage and take the time to find the right placement for your speakers and your listening position in your room, you can make a dramatic improvement in the accuracy of what you’re hearing without actually spending a dime. So it’s the absolute best place to start, and I recommend if you haven’t really done this, you know, to really go back to this first before you spend a bunch of money on acoustic treatment or world-class studio monitors. This is the absolute best place to start.
So if you’re looking for some actual advise one this, I put together a free video where I cover some principles and some very basic tips and tricks that you can use to find the right spot for your speakers and your sweet spot in your room, and you can check it out by clicking the link up there in the video or down there in the description.
Now once you’ve gone through this step, the sound of the low end in your mixes is going to improve dramatically. Seriously, you’re going to find that you take your mixes out to the car and suddenly they don’t sound like complete garbage anymore, and suddenly you’re going to feel more confident in your mixes decisions in the low end. It’s just one of the most important things that you can do in terms of getting the low end right.
But after you’ve gone through this step if you’re looking for, okay, you know, what do I do next in terms of improving the sound of my room? I recommend that you invest in acoustic treatment. Now acoustic treatment, acoustic panels, are these big things – typically two-feet by four-feet. You put them in the corners of your room or around your room, and they basically absorb the sound as it bounces around your room. And the impact of this is that acoustic panels and acoustic treatment minimize the effect that your room has on the sound. So you end up hearing a more accurate, flatter representation of what’s really going on in your mixes. And again going back to what I kind of talked about earlier, this is going to help you make better mixing decisions, especially in the low end.
So if you’re looking to get started with acoustic treatment, I have a great video that I put together that’ll give you the basics, and you can watch that right now. Check it out by clicking the link up there in the video or down there in the description below.
Now finally after you’ve gone through step number one, step number two, you have acoustic treatment, you’ve optimized the placement of your speakers and sweet spot, now if you’re looking for the cherry on top, the thing that will really kind of take your room to the next level, I recommend investing in software-based room correction. So these are controversial tools, but the basic idea is that you measure the frequency response of your room using a special microphone and then this software creates a curve – an EQ curve – that compensates for the peaks and valleys in the frequency response of your room. And so you put this curve on your mix bus and you listen through it while you’re working, and it basically helps to counteract for some of the problems in your room.
Now some people say that this type of software can make things worse. Some people don’t recommend using it. I’ve found in my experience it makes a significant positive impact. My mixes translate a whole lot better with these tools than, you know, when I don’t use them, and my favorite software-based room correction tool is Sonarworks Reference 4 I think they’re at now. When I started using them they were at Reference 3. Just a fantastic tool, and I think it makes a significant impact.
But the point that I want to make here is that these tools are best used as the cherry on top. So after you’ve already optimized the speaker and sweet spot placement, and gone through, you know, and added some acoustic treatment, that’s when you want to move into these tools, not as a kind of quick fix to escape the hard work and the money, you know, of buying acoustic treatment and getting the speaker and sweet spot placement right. So make sure you’ve gone through those two steps first and then add this as the icing on the cake so-to-speak.
So if you’re interested in learning more about Sonarworks Reference 4, I have a link up there – actually I don’t know if it’ll be there because I don’t know if I can link to other sites out there on the video. But definitely in the description below as well, and if I can link it it’ll be up there in the video.
Okay, so let’s say you’ve gone ahead and applied all the stuff that I just talked about. You’ve found the right spot for your speakers and sweet spot and you’ve added some acoustic treatment and added some room correction software. Now just that stuff alone if you can apply it, I promise you the sound of the low end in your mixes is going to improve dramatically. So your mixes are going to translate a whole lot better, they’re going to sound better on other speakers. You’re going to feel a whole lot more confident in your mixing decisions in the low end, more so than any tip or trick that I can give you, that’s the stuff that’s really going to make an impact.
But now I want to talk about something different, which is the idea that even if you go through all that stuff, you’re not going to end up with a perfect room, and no room is perfect. Now it’s absolutely possible that you can make great-sounding mixes in a less-than-ideal space. But it takes a little bit of additional information to get there. So I want to talk about some strategies that you can use to make great mixes in a less-than-ideal listening environment.
Now this is not an excuse not to apply any of the stuff that I talked about, but I’ve found, you know, I work in a home studio here and I need these strategies because even though I’ve gone through all those steps my room still isn’t perfect. And if you’re like me working in a home studio, you gotta have some strategies to be able to make great-sounding mixes even when you’re working in a room that’s not completely world-class. So let’s talk about these now.
So the first step I want to recommend is to use headphones. Now I don’t recommend mixing on headphones exclusively. I’ve never been able to make it work. Some people do and they get great results. I’ve never been able to make great mixes with headphones alone. But I absolutely recommend using them strategically as a part of your mixing process.
And the great thing about headphones is that they remove the sound of the acoustic environment from your listening. So when you pop on a pair of headphones suddenly you’re not hearing the sound bouncing around the room, right? You’re just hearing it barreling straight down your ear canals because the headphones actually remove the sound of the room from your listening. And so you can use this to your advantage, especially when it comes to mixing low end.
And so when you’re trying to figure out, you know, the balance between the kick and the bass, or if you’re trying to do something in the low end in your mixes, and you’re struggling, just pop on a pair of headphones and listen to what the low end is doing. And often times you’ll find that this will give you a more accurate representation of what’s really going on in that area. And I recommend just checking on headphones frequently while you’re working and really paying attention to what the low end is doing. And if you can use headphones as a tool, especially in the low end to make better decisions, you’re going to find it’s just a more accurate reference point in many cases in the low end, and it’s going to help you make better mixing decisions. So using headphones as a tool to help you improve your low end and help you make sure you’re making the right decisions in the low end is really powerful and I highly recommend it.
The second strategy is to use references. Now references are commercial tracks, typically things you haven’t worked on personally, that you can actually compare your mix in progress to while you’re working. So maybe you bring in a couple of references into your session and then you flip back and forth between your mix in progress and these references while you’re working. And that can be a great way to stay in the right lane when it comes to the low end. So if you flip over to a reference and suddenly you notice that your mix sounds really boomy and muddy and just sounds like it has way too much low end compared to the reference, pretty good indication that you probably need to pull things back in your mix.
So using references as – the way I like to think of it is it’s almost like bumpers at a bowling alley. So making, you know, sure that you’re switching over to your references every once in a while will help you stay in the right lane while you’re working, and just help you kind of hone the low end in so you can come up with something that is fairly balanced and even and is not, you know, going to totally surprise you when you take it somewhere else – to the car or something like that. I’ve found referencing to be one of the most powerful tools that you can use when it comes to mixing the low end in particular.
The one thing that you want to watch out for is you don’t want to copy your references. So you don’t want to get so granular that you start focusing in on the kick drum or the bass and how those individual tracks sound. You’re more listening for a broad sense of what’s the tonal balance of the mix. So how much low end is there, how much high end, and if you stay kind of broad and don’t get too granular, that’s the best way I’ve found to reference, especially when it comes to getting the low end right.
And the third strategy is to get some perspective. Now it’s so easy to go down the rabbit hole while we’re working on a mix, right? And suddenly, you know, we’re just completely veering off the path and we listen to our mix the next day and we’re like why did I add so much low end to everything? Or why does the kick sound so bright? Or why does the bass sound so muddy, right? We’ve all been there. I’ve been there a million times too.
So one of the most powerful things that you can do to help, you know, remain on the right track while you’re working is to get some perspective. And specifically the number one most helpful thing I’ve found is to find a great mastering engineer who can service a sounding board while you’re working on a mix.
So if you find a great mastering engineer and you send a mix in progress to them – and again, they’re not just going to kind of listen to mixes for free, they’re probably going to want to work with you as part of the mastering process – but if you send something that’s almost ready to be mastered and you say hey, you know, I’d love for you to master this but I just kind of want to know your thoughts, they’ll send you feedback back – many of them will – and they’ll say eh, you might want to go fix this thing in the low end up, or the kick drum sounds too loud.
And it just can be a wonderful sounding board to get some great perspective from someone who really knows what they’re doing, is hopefully listening in a world-class space, and is dealing every day with hundreds of mixes from all different mixers around the world. And they really know what they’re talking about in most cases. So if you can find a great mastering engineer who you can use as a sounding board throughout the mixing process, this is one of the best ways I’ve found to improve my mixes overall. And especially in that low end area of the mixing, you know, the frequency spectrum where it’s so difficult to veer off the path, it can really help you remain grounded.
But even if you don’t get that feedback from your mastering engineer, you can still use professional mastering as a tool to help you get that perspective. So whenever you get a track back from a mastering engineer, you can actually import it into your DAW and compare it against the mix that you sent off. And I used to do this all the time. And if you A-B and flip back and forth and level-match everything so, you know, there’s no difference in level when you flip back and forth between your original mix and the mastered mix, you’ll hear right away what they did.
And if you find that, you know, the mastered mix has way less low end then that’s a pretty good indication that you probably went overboard. And if you start to notice trends as you send more and more mixes off, pretty good indication that you probably need to make some adjustments, maybe in your listening environment, or maybe just be aware of the fact that, you know, hey I tend to add a bit too much low end to things because every time I get a master back from mastering it sounds like the bass has been cut.
So over time you get this perspective from working with another mastering engineer that can really help you hone in your mixing decisions, especially in that low end. So for me this has been hands-down one of the most helpful ways over time that I’ve been able to get some more perspective and improve the low end in my tracks.
Now if you’re ready to dive deeper, I also put together that low end mixing cheatsheet that includes some additional tips and tricks that I didn’t have time to cover in this video. So if you want to learn how to mix the low end like a pro, click the link in the description below or up there in the video to download this free cheatsheet right now.
Now before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – what are you going to do today to improve the low end in your mixes? Could be finding some acoustic treatment or getting the placement right in your room. Whatever it is, let me know in the comments section below.
Thanks so much for watching, and you can check out more mixing tips right here on my YouTube channel, or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.