Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Is the most important gear that we have telling us lies?

The most important gear that we all have are our ears. Maybe they don't lie to us, but they will misrepresent the truth. The longer we listen to a particular mix, the worse our ears will distort the truth. What does this mean? Well here is an example, and what we can do to achieve better mixes.

First, as we start to mix a song, we listen very close to certain tracks, perhaps one or two at a time. As we bring in other tracks, we tend to not "hear" the former tracks as much. Often times things will start to come together, in our minds, when they are not together at all. Sometimes, when we spend a great deal of time on a mix, and then bounce it down for listening in another system, we stand in shock as it just sounds bad. How can this be?

 Well, it is our ears playing tricks on us. The good news is that this very thing happens to all of us, so you are not alone. The great news is that we can help our mixes get better and better by simply doing a few different things as we mix.

First of all, with the passing of time, we will learn our monitors and headphones. Every system adds to or takes away from certain frequencies. We should pay attention to the mix, as we play it back in our DAW's and as we play it back on other systems. What is different? What is missing, and what is too much, in frequencies, and volume too? Learning what our monitors and headphones take away, or add too, a mix is very important. This comes with time.

Next, as much as you love to spend great lengths of time mixing, take more breaks. I can't list the number of times that after taking a quick break, I have heard a glaring issue that I had missed before the break! We create an environment, an illusion, as we sit in our mixing environment, and things just sound different in the rest of the world. So, get up from time to time, stretch your legs, and rest your ears.

Next, as much as I had heard this next idea, over and over, it wasn't until recently that I implemented it into my mixing routine. Because of this next idea, massive changes have come to see the light of day. Bring a reference track into your mix! This is as simple as importing a song, that you know forward and backwards, and of the same genre as the song that you are mixing, onto a stereo track, in your mix. I like to bring in a song that is off a CD, and it has been mastered as well. Solo the reference track, and listen to the EQ, the loudness of the bass and drums, and "re-set your ears". Then, listen to your mix.

 Wow, now your mix sounds completely different! What a way to bring your mix to the next level. This step alone will save you so much time and hassle, and you will soon forget all of those trips out to the car and back just to check the mixes that you are constantly mixing again and again. Believe me, my mistakes are here to save you time and frustration! Take advantage of this stuff, please!

Lastly, mixing at a loud volume will cause you a lot of trouble. There is a famous rule, called the Fletcher-Munson Curve, that deals with this very issue. The issue is that the louder a mix, the more "volume" is applied to certain frequencies. So, the louder a mix, the louder the bass, let's say. So, you turn down the bass to make up for it, and then you make a bounce. When you listen to the bounce elsewhere, the bass is gone. Turn down your mixes, and listen critically.

These are not my ideas. I have not done the studies that prove all of this stuff. I like to listen to people that know more than I do, and learn from them. One person that has recently said most of this stuff is Graham Cochrane, from "The Simply Recording Podcast", and on the pages of "The Recording Revolution" website. He does the podcast with Joe Gilder, and his website, "Home Studio Corner", is packed with great information too.


  1. Absolutely true info man. I have mixed on my cans long enough that usually after a quick mixing session of a freshly recorded song, I can get a mix that is pretty close to the final one I end up with. Usually have to adjust the vocal track and bass the most. You must learn your monitors otherwise youll waste a lot of time guessing. Great Post!

  2. Well thanks so much Sean! Learn your gear, refernce tracks, and then repeat! Thanks for the comment!

  3. Yeah. Ears can be tricky things. First, they will focus in on whatever you are trying to hear. In some ways they're like eyes. When you focus on something far away the things that are close get blurry. If you put a finger up in front of you and focus on it the whole background blurs out. Our ears/brains do similar stuff with frequencies. We can focus on certain frequencies and pick them out but when we do that our brains don't really focus on the remaining frequencies.

    Try it for yourself: play some music and try to intently focus on both below 100Hz and above 10kHz at the same time. You can go back and forth but you can't truthfully focus on both at the same time.

    Now like your eyes, you can look at the whole picture at once and see the landscape, the balance of the lows and highs. You can tell if the lows are too low compared to the highs in general relationships but you can't take it ALL in in a single listen.

    The best we can do is train ourselves to switch between focal points more quickly and to gather more information with every listen.

  4. how true that all is. Thanks for putting it in such a way as I can understand it. I tried to say all o f that above. Thanks so much, for the true words, and for finding the post!

  5. amen. use a reference mix. take breaks. the ear has a very short memory. in a minute it can easily for forget a reference and start adapting to whatever it's hearing currently. it's very easy to go off the rails while mixing.

    however after many hours or years you tend to develop a "north star". this is when you "know" your speaker and room. then you are less dependent on references.

    mixing at low to medium levels is also good advice as you say. high volumes fatigue your ears. they also make any room modal issues worse.

  6. hey guys, not sure, if I am at the right place here, but I waned to get some feddback on my last homerecorded song, as I am pretty new into that scene...

    Any Ideo, where I can find boards, forums, where people are discussing their resuklts?

    that would help a lot.

    1. You can always send it to me directly for my feedback, for what it is worth, at

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  9. I don't mean to plug a product but I bought a vrm box; focusrites clever little gadget & software that synthetically mimics other speaker set ups for the same sort of effect as going for a drive and listening to a mix. The only issue being you need very 'clear' cans or monitors to get the full effect or you essentially end up hiding the mistakes in a variety of ways. Might be worth a look as it can really emphasise what is missing or what should be! Also a-b'ing another track is a great shout. Not alot of my studiophile buddys use this but everyone should in my opinion

  10. I learned the hard way about ear fatigue. Now I give myself many breaks during a mixing session. - Home Audio Recording Resources