You stay up all night crafting the perfect mix. The kick and bass fit together like a fist in a glove, and you can finally hear every word of the vocal. So you print the mix, bring it to your car, and take a listen…
Is this you? Then you don’t want to miss the five tips in my video below…
So you print the mix, take it to your car, and take a listen. And it totally falls apart.
Maybe the bass suddenly sounds way too loud, or the vocals totally disappear. The balances sound nothing like what you were listening to in your home studio.
This is one of the most challenging things about mixing in a home studio environment. I know I’ve spent hundreds of hours trying to figure out how to create mixes that translate (sound great on a variety of different playback systems).
Today I’m going to give you a couple of tips that are going to help you create mixes that sound great wherever they’re listened to.
Before I get started, I want to talk for a second about why this happens. It’s important to remember that when you’re mixing, every decision that you make is based off the sound that you’re hearing, not only from the speakers, but the way those speakers are interacting in your specific room. Most people don’t realize this, but the room itself has a massive effect on the sound you hear – sometimes a bigger effect than the actual speakers themselves!
The problem here is that if your speakers or your room are coloring the sound in a way that isn’t representative of what’s actually going on in your mix, it’s going to cause you to make decisions that might sound great in your home studio, but aren’t going to translate (sound good) on any other speakers.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s say something in your monitoring setup is causing you to hear too much low end – too much bass. Now if you’re mixing a track in a room like that, the bass is going to feel like it’s way too loud. So you’re going to pull down that bass fader quite a bit to try to make a mix that sounds right to your ears. And that’s going to be great in your home studio, but as soon as you take that mix anywhere else, what you’re going to find is that it sounds like it doesn’t have enough bass. The bass is way too light suddenly.
So the name of the game when you’re thinking about building your home studio is – how can I create a monitoring system that is as flat and neutral and uncolored as possible? Something that allows you to hear what’s going on in your mix, without coloring it or changing it in any way.
That’s going to help you create mixes that sound great on a wide variety of different playback systems.
So today I want to give you 5 tips that will help you create mixes that sound great, wherever they’re listened to.
#1 – Optimize your speaker placement.
A lot of people, when they find they have problems with mixes that aren’t translating, the first thing they’ll do is they’ll go out and spend a bunch of money on acoustic treatment or fancier monitors. This can be helpful, but the easiest place to start is actually the place that doesn’t cost anything at all.
Just find the right spot in your room for the speakers that you currently have.
Just like when you’re recording, and let’s say, you move a mic a couple of inches and it drastically changes the sound, speakers actually work the same way. Just by moving your speakers six inches or a foot, you can actually dramatically change the sound.
So I have a couple of tips here.
First of all, your speakers should be set up so that they’re in an equilateral triangle. This means that the distance between the two speakers should be the same as the distance between you and one speaker and you and the other speaker.
Number two – consider the direction which your speakers are facing in your room. If you’re like most people, you’re probably working in a room that’s a rectangle. There are two different ways you can set up the speakers in that room. You can have them so that they’re firing along the long wall. For example, in my room, this is the long wall [motions with hands]. My speakers are firing along the long wall. Or you can have them the other way, so that they’re firing along the short wall.
9 times out of 10, you’re going to get better results when your speakers are fired along the long wall. This is because bass actually develops over longer distances. So by setting your speakers up so that they’re firing along the long wall, you’re going to give the bass frequencies more space to develop. You’re going to get a more even low end.
Also, consider the symmetry in your room. Most of the time, you’re going to get better results if you have the speakers set up so that they’re in the center of the room – like I’m directly in the center of this wall right here [motions with hands].
I see a lot of people do this…I did this for years…you’ll set up your speakers so that they’re in a corner. Maybe you have a corner desk. This, most of the time, is not a great way to set things up. You’re going to get much better results if your speakers are set up so that they’re symmetrical.
Last point I want to make is if your speakers are sitting on top of a desk, get them off the desk and onto stands. When your speakers are on top of a desk, the desk is actually going to resonate with the speakers, and interact with the speakers in a way that’s going to change and color the sound. This is not what you want. So get the speakers onto stands, and you’re going to hear a more accurate, truthful representation of what’s really going on.
The second tip I have is invest in acoustic treatment. I know this isn’t as exciting as buying new plugins or fancy analog equipment, but acoustic treatment is singlehandedly one of the best investments you can make in your home studio.
The concept behind acoustic treatment is that it’s going to even out the anomalies of your room and allow you to hear a flatter, truer frequency response. Which is going to allow you to make decisions that sound great on a wide variety of different speakers.
It’s really easy to get started. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. In fact, you can even build your acoustic treatment yourself. That was what I did when I got started. You can build bass traps that sit in the corners of the room. It’s going to flatten out the frequency response of your room and give you a flatter, truer sound.
There’s a lot of great information online about how to build your own acoustic treatment. I have a couple of great resources. You can check out those resources by clicking the link in the description below.
Number three is use references. Now, by references, I actually mean other tracks – commercial tracks by other artists that are already mixed and already mastered – that you can bring into your session and A/B against while you’re working.
The reason why this technique is so powerful is that it’s going to give you a real-world reality check. It’s going to help you judge and balance your decisions against what you know already sounds good.
For example, if you’re working on a mix and you think it sounds great, but then you A/B it against a reference and suddenly the reference has way more low end, then you know that you actually may be OK adding some more low end to your mix. It helps give you a real-world reality check and a point of reference that will help you make better decisions in the mix.
Now – just one thing to note here – when you’re choosing your references, it’s really important to make sure…take the time…to find the best sounding references you can. Whatever reference you choose is going to become your gold standard by which all of your mixes are judged. When you’re choosing references, I like to go through artists’ back catalogs. A lot of the times, the biggest hits or the Top 40 stuff – they’re not actually the best-sounding mixes.
For example, you might find that by going through an artists’ back catalog, you find a track that actually sounds a lot better than one of the tracks that really was a huge hit for them. Don’t just go by the hits. Try to find the best-sounding material.
References are really going to help you. I use them every day when I work. It’s a really powerful thing.
Number four is use headphones. While I don’t recommend mixing on headphones exclusively, they can be really helpful as a secondary reference point. This is because they completely remove the sound of your room from your monitoring chain.
Think about it. When you put on headphones, the sound is barreling right down your ear canals. You’re not hearing the room interacting with the sound in any way.
Where I find this can be really helpful is when mixing the low end. Because the biggest problems in most listening rooms are in the low end. So by putting on headphones, you cancel the room out of the equation, and you’re going to get a much more accurate representation of what’s going on in your mix’s low end.
I like to mix my kick and my bass in headphones. I’ll keep referencing them pretty consistently while I’m working, popping them on every 15 minutes or so, just to hear how things are sounding in headphones. I won’t rely on them exclusively, but I find they can be really helpful and they can help raise some red flags and help you make decisions that are going to translate much better.
Number five is invest in professional mastering.
I know a lot of you are probably mastering your own music, and that’s fine. But if you can swing it, it’s always worth investing in a professional mastering engineer. Not only is this going to improve the sound of your tracks, but it’s also going to open the door for a conversation that can lead to better mixes. You don’t even have to have a conversation with your mastering engineer. You can just listen to the tracks that they sent you back and compare them with the originals. That’s going to give you some really helpful clues on where you’re falling short.
One of the things I really like to do whenever I get a track back from mastering is I’ll pull it into my DAW and I’ll level-match that mastered track with my original mix (the one I sent out). And I’ll just flip back and forth between them…I’ll A/B them. And that gives me a lot of clues. It’ll tell me – what were the tonal differences? What were the changes that they made? And if I find that there are trends and patterns between different mixes – for example, maybe I get four or five different mixes that come back and they all have more bass in them – then that’s giving me a big clue. That’s letting me know that I’m probably hearing too much bass in my room, and that’s causing me to turn down the bass in my mixes lower than it actually should be.
By investing in professional mastering, you’re giving yourself an objective, third-party perspective and some really valuable feedback that can help you create better mixes that translate more effectively wherever they’re listened to.
Thank you guys so much for listening. I hope these tips help you make mixes that translate better.
I put together a PDF of a couple of resources that I recommend you check out. You can access it by clicking the link in this video, or down there in the description.
Anyways, happy mixing. Check out more tips and tricks and BehindTheSpeakers.com. See you soon!