Guitar recording. An electric guitar, and a professional use headphones on a rustic or bare wooden table, by the window.

Two Monitoring Tips For Mixing in the Home Studio

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written exclusively for us by Scott Wiggins, founder of The Recording Solution, a website dedicated to helping producers, engineers and artists make better music from their home studios.]

I’m sure you’ve heard or read in audio forums, or books from professional engineers that you need the BEST monitoring or listening environment possible when mixing your music. You may think you need the best monitors, the best converters, or the best acoustically built room.

Although I agree with needing a good listening environment, I don’t agree that you need the “best” gear to pump out good mixes. The “best”, most times, means expensive. For most home studio owners, we simply don’t have the budget to buy the best gear available. This high-end gear would definitely help, but it’s not the end all be all.

Most of us home studio owners are not in the ideal mixing environments. You probably are in a spare bedroom, a garage, a basement, or whatever space is available. These rooms were typically not built with the idea of recording and mixing music in mind. That’s ok!

If you can just get some decent affordable gear and some strategically placed acoustic treatment, you will be on your way to a great mix. I’ve been mixing on KRK Rocket 5 monitors for years, and have happy paying clients!

I also have some DIY acoustic treatment strategically placed in my listening room. I could go into acoustic treatment and where to put it, but that’s a whole other article. Today I want to focus on two simple hacks for monitoring in your home studio.

1. Turn your mix WAY down

First off, you should not be mixing at super loud volumes. We, as humans, perceive louder as better. Don’t trick yourself, or I should say, don’t trick your ears. You should be monitoring at a level where you could still have a conversation with someone and not have to turn the mix down or raise your voice to be heard.

The problem with loud monitoring is you may think the mix is balanced, but your ears are just adjusting to the volume, and long story short, fooling you.

This low volume hack gives you a better perspective of balance between the instruments in the track.

For example, when I’m nearing the end of a mix, I turn the volume WAAAAY down and listen to how the vocal and snare are sitting with each other. I tend to like a loud snare, and this low volume lets me know if I’ve set it too loud compared to the vocal. This super low volume also helps tame the weird room reflections and resonating frequencies we all have in our not so perfect mixing spaces.

Another tip when I’m nearing the end of my mix is to listen to the mix as a whole . I will listen to the song from start to finish at this low volume, and take mental notes (or written), of the balance between everything. You then can go and turn things up or down where needed. We are essentially “balance engineers”. It’s our job to make the tracks sit well with each other.

Don’t stop the mix, listen to it in its entirety so you get a better perspective of the balance of the whole song. Poor mixing decisions tend to come when we are too laser focussed on one tiny part of the song, that we lose perspective of the whole picture. Act like you’re a casual listener just enjoying a song. Then go back and fix the things that stick out.

2. Listen on a different set of speakers or headphones

I monitor on my KRK Rocket 5s, but then I will switch to my headphones. Don’t get caught up in what type of speaker or headphones you switch to, the point is to “wake your ears up”. Just pick something new to listen on even if it’s a crappy little mid range mono speaker. Don’t ask me what the best crappy speaker to buy is.

When listening to the same speakers for a long time, our ears adapt and start getting used to the problems that may be occurring in the mix.

For example, your ears may get used to way too much bass or low-end in your mix, and you will perceive this as OK. Switching to a new listening environment will wake up your ears and you can instantly hear things that are out-of-place. You can also bring in your favorite professional mixes and reference how they are responding on your monitors and your headphones. Take notes and adjust your mix.

I tend to set my reverbs and delays too loud on my KRKs. When I switch to my headphones, I immediately notice this and adjust. Then when you switch back to your first monitors your ears wake up again. Just periodically switch to something new, and this can be a very useful technique to help you make accurate mixing decisions.

So to recap:

  1. Mix at low volumes
  2. Reference your mix on different monitors or headphones

These are two very simple hacks that will give you better perspective and help you make better, more accurate mixing decisions. Another hack that took my mixes to the next level was learning how to mix music in mono.  I hope this helps you in the future.

Just keep mixing!