[Editors Note: This is blog was written by Scott Wiggins and it originally appeared on his site, The Recording Solution, which is dedicated to helping producers, engineers and artists make better music from their home studios.]
How many of you are completely terrified of doing anything to the mix buss, aka “stereo buss” “2 buss”?
It is real easy to mess up an entire mix with too much processing, in particular, mix buss compression.
Over the years of searching the internet creeping on my favorite mixers (Jaquire King, Dave Pensado, Chris Lord Alge, and many more) mix buss compression settings I’ve found that a little goes a long way.
Mix Buss Compression Glue
Have you ever heard the term “glue” in a conversation of recording and mixing?
No, I’m not talking about the kind you used to put on your hands in elementary so you could peel it off when it dried.
Am I the only one who did that?
I’m talking about the way compression can make tracks seem like they fit together a little better.
When set up correctly it makes the whole song feel like it’s glued together in the subtle ways which gives it a nice musical polished cohesive sound.
The goal with mix buss compression would be to just tame any transients that may spike up in volume just a little too much, and then bring the overall volume up of the rest of the tracks juuuuuust a bit.
We’re just trying to add a little more energy and fullness to the mix.
Mix Buss Compression Settings
The attack setting you use for mix buss compression is important just like using a compressor on any other track.
With a faster attack the compressor will clamp down sooner on the transients that tend to be a little louder than the rest of the audio coming through.
A slower attack will wait milliseconds before it clamps down on the audio and starts compressing.
I tend to use a faster attack, BUT I’m not crushing those transients with a ton of compression, so I still keep the dynamics in my mix.
If I found I was killing the transients too much and there was no excitement in my mix, I would probably make it a slower attack setting.
I tend to use a medium to fast release setting.
I’ve heard a lot of famous mixers say they set the release with the tempo of the song.
So they would watch the gain reduction needle and have it release on beat with the song.
I try my best to use this method.
I use a really small ratio of around 1.5 to 1.
This means that once my audio passes the threshold I’ve set that there is very little compression happening to that audio.
It’s just a little bit. I’m not trying to squash the life out of it.
You can experiment with a little bit higher of a ratio, but know that the lower the ratio the less compression (more dynamics), and the higher the ratio the more compression (less dynamics).
I dial the threshold to where I’m only getting about 1 to 3 dbs of gain reduction on the peaks of the audio.
I tend to keep it on the lower side of 1 to 2 dbs of gain reduction.
You just want to kiss the needle. You don’t want to have to much mix bus compression happening.
Remember, we are going for a subtle “glue” like affect.
Make up Gain:
Just like on any other compressor, I turn the make up gain to math the amount of gain reduction happening.
Be careful here. Don’t turn it up to loud and fool yourself that you like the result just because it’s louder.
Do your best to math the input volume with the output volume of the compressor.
We tend to think louder is better when it’s not really better, it’s just louder.
I’ve shot a video tutorial below to show all of this in action on a mix i’ve started. Check it out!
Mix buss compression is a great way to add a little bit of excitement and glue to your mix.
Some people like to slap it on the master buss AFTER they have mixed it (Ryan West who’s credits are Jay-Z, Eminem, Kid Cudi, Maroon 5, T.I, Rihanna and Kanye West)
And some engineers like to slap a little bit of compression on in the beginning and mix through it.
I don’t think there is a right or wrong way when it comes to when to put it on.
The key is to be subtle and don’t kill a good mix with too much mix buss compression.
Use your ears like always. They are your biggest weapons.
[Editors Note:This is a guest blog written by Jason Moss. Jason is an LA-based mixer, producer and engineer. His clients include Sabrina Carpenter, Madilyn Bailey, GIVERS and Dylan Owen. Check out his mixing tips at Behind The Speakers.]
Setting up a home recording studio can be overwhelming.
How do you know what equipment to buy? Which software is best? How can you make sure everything will work together?
Take a breath. This guide will walk you through the process, step by step. It contains everything you need to know, including equipment recommendations. Make your way to the bottom of this page, and you’ll have your home recording studio up and running in no time. This way, you can get on to the good stuff—making great recordings!
Your computer is the command center of your home recording studio. It’s the brains and brawn behind the entire operation.
This is one area where you don’t want to skimp.
Recording will place high demands on your computer, and you’ll need a machine that can keep up. If you plan on tackling projects with lots of tracks or producing electronic music, this is even more important. The last thing you want is your computer to slow you down. There’s no faster way to kill a moment of musical inspiration.
Laptop Or Desktop?
If you absolutely need to record on the go, a laptop may be your only choice. But be prepared to pay more and walk away with a less capable machine.
Go for a desktop whenever possible. Dollar for dollar, they’re faster, more powerful, and offer more storage. They also last longer and fail less, because their internal components don’t overheat as easily. And since a desktop doesn’t sit in front of your face, the noise from its fans will be less of an issue. (Microphones are super sensitive, so a noisy room will lead to noisy recordings. I worked on a laptop for years, and fan noise was a constant problem.)
PC Or Mac?
While my first computers were PCs, I’m now a Mac guy through and through. Macs crash less. They’re also the computer of choice for music-makers (you’ll find them in most home recording studios). Because of this, updates and bug fixes for recording software will often be released for Mac users first.
With that being said, most recording software and hardware is compatible with both platforms. Macs are also more expensive, so this may influence your decision. If you’re more comfortable using a PC, you can make it work. Just make sure your audio interface and software is compatible with whatever you choose.
4 Computer Specs That Really Matter
When you’re trying to find the right computer for your home recording studio, it’s easy to get lost in techno-speak. The following 4 specs are what count. Hit the guidelines below, and your computer will handle nearly any recording session with ease.
CPU (Clock Speed & Number Of Cores)
If a computer was a car, the CPU would be its engine. Clock speed is like the number of cylinders an engine has. The higher the number, the faster the CPU. A fast CPU will handle large recording sessions gracefully.
If the CPU has multiple cores, this is even better. Multiple cores will allow it to multitask more effectively.
It can be difficult to compare CPUs (especially those with a different number of cores). To make this easier, you can use sites like CPUBoss or CPU Benchmark.
Good: 2.6 GHz dual-core
Better: 2.8 GHz dual-core
Best: 3+ GHz quad-core
RAM is your computer’s short-term memory. More RAM will make your computer run faster, particularly when working with large, complex projects.
Good: 8 GB
Better: 12 GB
Best: 16+ GB
Hard Drive (Space & Type)
A computer’s hard drive is its long-term memory. This is where your recordings will be stored. Recorded audio takes up lots of space, so you’ll want plenty to spare. If you end up filling your hard drive, you can always buy an external one. However, it’s always better to start with more space.
But when it comes to hard drives, space isn’t all that matters. In fact, speed is even more important.
The best hard drives are solid-state. While they typically offer less storage space, they’re worth every penny. Solid-state drives use flash memory (the same technology you’ll find in a USB thumb drive) and have no moving parts. They’re much faster than their mechanical predecessors. If your computer has a solid-state drive, it will be much snappier when playing back and recording projects with large track counts.
If you can’t avoid a mechanical drive, opt for one that spins at 7,200 RPM. It will deliver data about 33% faster than a 5,400 RPM drive. This really matters if you plan on tackling projects with 30+ tracks.
Good: 500 GB 7,200 RPM mechanical drive
Better: 1 TB 7,200 RPM mechanical drive
Best: 500+ GB solid-state drive
Your audio interface (see below) will connect to your computer using USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire. Make sure there’s a port available on your computer for it. If you plan on using a MIDI keyboard or other accessories, make sure you’ve got enough free ports to accommodate them too.
Best Bang For Your Buck: Mac Mini
The Mac Mini is seriously underrated. This is what I use in my home recording studio, and it’s more than enough. Opt for a solid-state drive and maxed-out memory for even more power. And don’t forget—you’ll need a keyboard, mouse, and monitor too.
For Mobile Music-Makers: MacBook Pro
If you need to be mobile, the MacBook Pro is a great choice. Just be prepared for fan noise.
For Those Who Want The Best: Mac Pro
It isn’t cheap, but you’ll find the Mac Pro in most professional recording studios. Even the baseline unit is more than enough.
Your audio interface is the heart of your home recording studio. While it may look intimidating, it’s nothing more than a fancy routing box. This is where you’ll plug in microphones, speakers, and headphones. It’s also where the signal from your microphones gets converted into ones and zeros, so your computer can make use of it.
Interfaces vary widely in features. Some have knobs to adjust the volume of your speakers and microphones. Others accomplish this through a software control panel. However, all great interfaces are transparent—they don’t add any noise or distortion to the sound. This is where high-end interfaces often differ from cheaper ones.
Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing an interface:
Number Of Mic Preamps
The more preamps, the more microphones you can record at once. If you’re only recording vocals, one may be all you need. To record instruments with multiple mics (such as acoustic guitar in stereo), you’ll need at least 2. To record drums or people playing together, go for 4 or more.
Quality Of Mic Preamps
When it comes to mic preamps, people get distracted by quantity. They think more is better, so they buy cheap interfaces with 8 preamps.
This is a rookie mistake.
Cheap preamps will add noise and distortion to your recordings. This will become a permanent part of your tracks, and it can add a harsh, brittle quality to your music.
Quality is more important than quantity. Avoid cheap interfaces with 8 preamps. Instead, go for an interface with 4 or 2. You’ll walk away with a higher-quality interface, often at the same price.
With a 1/4″ input, you can record electric guitar or bass without an amp. You can then use software to shape the tone. This isn’t an essential feature, but it’s handy (especially if you’re a guitarist or bassist).
Pro Tip: If your interface doesn’t have a 1/4″ input, a direct box will do the same thing.
Make sure your interface has the same type of outputs your speakers use (either XLR, 1/4″, or RCA). If there’s a mismatch, you’ll have to use an adapter or special cable to connect them. While this isn’t a huge deal, it’s best avoided.
With a headphone jack, you’ll be able to plug in a pair of headphones and listen back while recording. This is an essential feature, and almost all interfaces have one.
Pro Tip: Most interfaces have a 1/4″ headphone jack. This is larger than the 1/8″ plug on most consumer headphones. To use consumer headphones with your interface, you’ll need an 1/8″ to 1/4″ adapter.
Most interfaces will connect to your computer using USB, FireWire, or Thunderbolt. Make sure your computer has a free port of that type available.
You’ll also want to make sure your interface is compatible with your recording software. You can find this information on the interface manufacturer’s website.
How To Find A Mic That Makes You Sound Radio-Ready
Microphones are the ears of your home recording studio. They convert sound into electricity (which gets sent to your interface).
If you’re a guitarist, you know that every guitar sounds different. You might reach for a Tele over a Strat, depending on the part you’re playing. Microphones work the same way. One might sound better than another in a specific situation. But if you’re starting out, you don’t need a dozen mics to cover your bases…
This Type Of Mic Will Always Get The Job Done
There’s one type of microphone that sounds great on just about anything (including vocals).
It’s called a large-diaphragm, cardioid condenser.
If you’re only going to get one for your home recording studio, this should be it. Here’s why:
Large diaphragm: The diaphragm is the part of the mic that picks up sound. A large diaphragm makes the mic better at picking up low frequencies (like the body and warmth of your voice). This means it will faithfully capture the full tonal range of sounds.
Cardioid: This is the microphone’s polar pattern. It dictates what the mic will pick up, and more importantly, what it won’t. A cardioid mic will pick up what’s in front of it, but almost nothing to the sides or behind it. You can use this feature to reduce the level of unwanted noise in your recordings (like air conditioning rumble, noisy neighbors, or chirping birds). Just position the back of the mic towards the source of the noise!
Condenser: Refers to the technology the mic uses to capture sound. Condenser mics do a better job at picking up high frequencies (like the sizzle of cymbals or the crispness of a voice) than any other type of mic.
What About USB Mics?
Avoid them. While you won’t need an interface to use one, they are of lower quality than most traditional mics. They also aren’t future-proof; if USB ports become obsolete, you’ll need to buy a new mic.
Recommendations For Large-Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Mics
How To Choose Studio Monitors That Supercharge Your Tracks
Studio monitors are speakers designed for use in home recording studios. You’ll need these to play back and mix your recordings.
These are different than the speakers you might buy for your living room. Whereas consumer speakers often flatter and enhance the sound, studio monitors are neutral and uncolored. They won’t sound as pretty as typical speakers—in fact, they may even sound dull.
Listen on speakers like these, and you’ll hear what’s really going on in your music. Great studio monitors will force you to work harder to craft a mix that sounds good. This will lead to tracks that sound great on a variety of different speakers, not just ones that sweeten or hype up the sound.
Can’t I Just Use Headphones?
Headphones are notoriously difficult to mix on, and tracks mixed on headphones often don’t hold up on speakers. (There are, however, other uses for headphones. You’ll learn more about this below.) If you’re doing basic voiceover work, you may be able to forgo studio monitors. But if you’re recording music, it’s crucial to invest in them.
4 Studio Monitor Specs That Really Matter
When choosing studio monitors for your home recording studio, it’s easy to get distracted by frequency plots and technical jargon. Here’s what really counts:
Active Vs. Passive
Speakers need an amplifier to produce sound. If a speaker is active, it means the amplifier is built-in. This makes active speakers completely self-contained—you just need to plug them into the wall and your interface. On the other hand, passive speakers need a separate power amp to function. I would avoid them, as they add another piece of equipment to your home recording studio.
Near-Field Vs. Mid/Far-Field
Near-field monitors are built to be used in close quarters, like a home studio. Mid-field and far-field monitors are built to be placed farther away from your ears, and are more suitable for larger spaces. Go for a pair of near-fields (unless you live in a castle).
Most studio monitors have a fairly flat frequency response. This means they sound neutral—the bass isn’t louder than the treble, and everything is well-balanced. However, even the flattest studio monitors will sound different in your home recording studio (room acoustics affect speakers dramatically). For this reason, I wouldn’t obsess over the frequency response of your speakers. You can always use software like Sonarworks Reference 3 to flatten things out later on.
Pay attention to how far the speakers extend down the frequency spectrum. This will often be quoted as the bottom number in a range (from 40 Hz to 20 kHz, for example). Smaller speakers won’t extend down as far. This will make it harder to hear what’s going on in your recordings. Try to find speakers that extend to 40 Hz or below.
Your studio monitors will have XLR, 1/4″, or RCA inputs. Make sure these are the same type of connectors your interface uses. If the two don’t match up, you’ll need a special adapter or cable to connect them. This isn’t a big deal, but it’s best avoided.
Headphones are an invaluable studio ally. You can use them while overdubbing, mixing, or to avoid disturbing your neighbors.
Like studio monitors, studio headphones are designed to be tonally neutral. While I don’t recommend mixing on them exclusively, headphones like these will offer you an accurate, unbiased perspective on your recordings.
When trying to find the right pair, here are some things to keep in mind:
Open-Back Vs. Closed-Back
Open-back headphones have perforations on the outside of each cup which allow sound to pass through easily. They typically sound better than closed-back headphones, and are the preferred choice for mixing. However, since sound leaks out of them so easily, they’re not ideal for recording (mics pick them up).
On the other hand, closed-back headphones have a hard enclosure that prevents sound from escaping. This makes them a better choice for recording, when maximum isolation is needed.
If you’re only going to buy a single pair for your home recording studio, go for closed-back. They’re more versatile.
Most pro studio headphones use a 1/4″ plug. This is thicker than the 1/8″ plug you’ll find on most consumer headphones. If you want to plug your studio headphones into an iPhone or laptop, you’ll need a 1/4″ to 1/8″ adapter.
Comfort And Fit
You’ll be wearing these for hours on end, so you want them to be comfortable. Cushy foam padding makes a big difference. Also, look for headphones that rest over, not on your ears. And if possible, try them on before you purchase!
While they may look cool, consoles like these are now collecting dust in top-tier studios across the globe.
You don’t need them anymore. In many cases, they’ve been replaced by digital audio workstations.
A digital audio workstation, or DAW, is the software that will power your home recording studio. It’s what you’ll use to record, play back, and manipulate audio inside your computer. Arm yourself with a great DAW, and you’ll be able to do everything you can do on that hunk of junk above (and more).
What’s The Best-Sounding DAW?
Visit any online audio forum and you’ll find people that claim one DAW (usually the one they use) sounds better than the rest.
This isn’t true. In fact, all DAWs sound exactly the same. The differences between them have more to do with workflow than anything else.
My 3 Favorite DAWs
When choosing a DAW, there are tons of great options. Here are my favorites:
As a mixer, Pro Tools is my DAW of choice. I’ve been using it for nearly a decade.
You’ll find Pro Tools in most recording studios. This is helpful if you ever end up recording in a commercial studio, because you’ll be able to open the projects you save on your own rig. This means you’ll be able to record drums in a professional studio, for example, and then edit them later in your home recording studio.
Pro Tools excels as a recording platform. Its audio-editing features are second-to-none. However, beatmakers or EDM producers may be better off with one of the DAWs below.
Logic is the preferred choice for many producers. It features a fantastic library of sounds and plugins—one of the most comprehensive packages available. When I’m not mixing, it’s my favorite DAW.
Unfortunately, Logic is Mac-only.
Ableton Live is great for loop and sample-based producers. In fact, many EDM producers swear by it. Its audio manipulation tools are flexible and innovative, and it can be easily integrated into a live performance. If I was an electronic music producer, Ableton Live would be my choice.
Other DAWs Worth Exploring
Your search shouldn’t stop here. Here are some other DAWs worth exploring:
How To Choose The Perfect DAW For You
Choosing a DAW is like dating. Download a few trial versions and take them for a spin. Explore your options and make sure things fit before committing. While all major DAWs have similar features, some do certain things better than others.
If you’ll be collaborating, check out what DAW your collaborators use. It’s much easier to work together if you’re both using the same software. But in the end, the choice is yours.
Don’t get too hung up here. Remember, The Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper on a 4-track tape machine. Even the most basic DAW has infinitely more power. Go with your gut and move on.
Save Hundreds By Avoiding Unnecessary Plugins
As you start to explore the world of home recording, you’re going to run across plugins.
These are pieces of third-party software that extend the functionality of your DAW. They allow you to manipulate sound in different ways. Most people invest in plugins too early. If you’re just getting started, your DAW’s stock tools are more than enough to make great recordings. Master what you have first—more plugins won’t necessarily lead to better-sounding tracks.
We’ve covered the basics, but there are a couple of extras you’ll probably need too…
You’ll need an XLR cable to connect your mic to your audio interface.
You’ll also need a pair of cables to connect your speakers to your interface. These will be either 1/4″, XLR, or RCA—depending on which connectors your speakers and interface use.
Go for quality here. Cheap, flimsy stands will be the bane of your existence. I prefer ones with three legs over those with a circular, weighted base. They tend to be more stable and don’t fall over as much.
A mesh screen that sits between your microphone and vocalist. It helps diffuse the blasts of air that accompany certain consonants (like “p” and “b” sounds). Left alone, these blasts will overload your microphone’s diaphragm, leading to boomy, muddy recordings. This essential accessory will significantly improve the quality of your tracks.
Pro Tip: For a pop filter to work well, there needs to be a few inches between the filter and the mic, as well as the filter and the singer. If you push the filter right up against the mic or put your mouth on it, it won’t be able to do its job.
With a MIDI keyboard, you’ll be able to “play” any instrument imaginable. You can use it to fill out and orchestrate your recordings. If you’ll only be recording real instruments or vocalists, you won’t need one. But if you’re a beatmaker or electronic music producer, it’s almost essential.
Every decision you make while recording will be based on what you hear. If what you’re hearing isn’t accurate, you won’t make the right decisions. This will lead to recordings that sound good in your studio, but fall apart on other speakers.
You can avoid this by setting up your home recording studio properly. Don’t overlook this crucial step! If you follow the guidelines in the video below, you’ll be well ahead of most home studio owners. Your recordings will sound better too!
Taking Your Room To The Next Level With Acoustic Treatment
After your home recording studio is up and running, you’ll want to invest in acoustic treatment panels. These will improve the sound of your room by evening out acoustic problems. While acoustic treatment is beyond the scope of this article, I’ve put together a PDF with resources that will help you get started.
It’s Time To Build The Home Recording Studio Of Your Dreams
There will be nothing more satisfying than hearing your own recordings play over the speakers in your new home studio. You now have everything you need to make this happen.
The next step is for you to take action. Order the equipment you need, set up your room using the guidelines above, and start recording! Remember, once you get all this out of the way, you can get on to the good stuff—making great music!
But before you go, leave a comment below and tell me—what will you use your home recording studio for?
I wish you the best of luck on your home recording journey!
[Editors Note: This is blog was written by Scott Wiggins and it originally appeared on his site, The Recording Solution, which is dedicated to helping producers, engineers and artists make better music from their home studios.]
Slapback delay is a very common effect on tons of hit records. It’s really easy to set up!
When you think of delay, you probably think of yelling down a long canyon and hearing your voice repeat over and over. In my mind that’s an echo.
That’s what a slapback delay is, except it’s one single echo. One single repeat of the original signal.
It’s more like you clap while standing in a small alley between 2 buildings, and hearing a very quick repeat of your clap.
It’s a super fast repeat that adds a sense of space.
Guitar players love it when playing live, and I love using it on guitars and vocals in the context of a mix.
[Editors Note:This is blog was written by Scott Wiggins and it originally appeared on his site, The Recording Solution, which is dedicated to helping producers, engineers and artists make better music from their home studios.]
You may be asking yourself: What is the best microphone for recordings vocals?
I want to ask you a few questions first.
Does expensive gear really matter anymore?
Is the reason why your recordings and mixes don’t sound the way you want them to because you don’t have expensive gear?
Yes it’s nice to have great gear, and I’m not against it, BUT I whole heartedly disagree that you can’t make GREAT recordings and mixes on budget gear these days.
The question, “What is the best microphone for recording vocals?”, is a lot more complicated than that.
You see, different vocalist sound different on different mics. If you have a bunch of mics to try out on your vocalist the day of your recording then by all means go for it and pick the best one.
The thing is, this is really subjective. One mic may sound different then the other, but is it better? Maybe…. Maybe not. Maybe it’s just different and they are both good.
I have a really good buddy named Pat Manske who is a professional grammy nominated audio engineer, and works
at a studio in Wimberly TX called the ZONE.
Did you know the famous engineer Rupert Neve lives in Wimberly?! Pretty cool.
Anyways… Pat let me borrow a really expensive Neuman U87 mic, an RE20, and an SM7B.
All classic, famous mics. These mics can be heard on all kinds of hit records over the years. The RE20 and SM7B are more affordable, but still in the $400 range. The SM7B is what Michael Jackson
sung into for the whole Thriller album.
I put them up against my $300 MXL 4000 I’ve had for years and use on EVERYTHING, as well as 2 $100 mics, the Audio Technica 2020 (AT2020) and the workhorse of studios world wide, the SM57.
Audio Technica 2020
In the video below, I sing the same part of a verse into all 6 mics, and I was surprised at the results I found.
All of them sound different. All have little things I like and dislike about them. The thing is, I am convinced now that it’s not the lack of expensive mics that are the reason for not having a great vocal sound.
I am completely sold on “It’s the ear, not the gear that make a great engineer”.
I’m the only one standing in my way from getting my mixes to sound like the top dogs in the industry.
It’s not the million dollar studios, it’s not the super vintage analogue gear they have that I don’t, It’s not the $100,000 mic locker they have to choose from. It’s their years of hard work and putting in the time. It’s their knowledge of how EQ and Compression works.
It’s their taste they developed over the months and years of finishing mix after mix. Thats it!
With today’s technology and digital plugins that sound just as good as the true analogue gear, the playing field is even. Tons of professional mixers are going completely “IN THE BOX”, meaning they are strictly using DAWs and digital gear.
So to answer your question “What is the best microphone for recording vocals?”:
[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:
Mix at low volumes
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.