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Mixing your tracks using headphones? Follow these tips for a better mix

Mixing with Headphones: Avoiding Disaster

 

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Talk to most engineers about mixing with headphones and you’ll hear a familiar refrain: “don’t”. That’s generally pretty good advice. You have to be really careful with headphones as they will “lie” to you about many aspects of your music. Sometimes, though, it can’t be helped. Maybe you’re on the road, maybe you can’t get into a studio, maybe you’re just making a rough mix for someone. If you absolutely must mix with headphones, here are some tips to help avoid the biggest mistakes people make.

 

Keep It Dry

Headphones don’t contribute much acoustic information to the sound you’re hearing because they’re so close to your ears.  Everything sounds very close.  You’ll be tempted to make things sound deeper, wider, and more lush than you should with headphones because of the flatness of the soundstage.  The best advice is to keep it dry because you have no frame of reference.  A dry mix is far more likely to sound good on speakers when mixed with headphones than one with a lot of delay and reverb.  Otherwise you’ll run the risk of a washed out sound devoid of impact when you add the acoustics of an actual listening environment and distance from speakers.

Keep It Simple

Fancy effects such as flanging, phasing, and their ilk will sound very different with speakers because their positioning will contribute natural phase shifts.  If you start messing with phase in your headphone mix you have no way of knowing what will happen when you add speaker distance into the equation.  Again, play it safe and keep things simple.

Use the Whole Stereo Image

While this is true when mixing with speakers, it’s especially true with headphones.  Headphones are two points of sound which typically generate three major lobes: left, center, and right.  These lobes will be loudest and things will sound especially huge when panned into these positions.  Remember that you have all the space in-between those lobes to use and that headphones will probably sound most impressive with things panned  hard.  Be aware of that and avoid the temptation to make everything live there.

Lean On Your Mastering Engineer

You are going to master this material, right?  When in doubt, cut and boost less.  Compress less. Headphones will seldom have flat frequency responses and generally have very different transient response than speakers.  For one thing their drivers are generally smaller and lighter, meaning transients will snap more aggressively.  Do yourself a favor and be conservative with EQ and compression.  Any equalization will introduce phase shifts and will degrade the inherent quality of the source material.  If you EQ too far the mastering engineer will have to EQ the other way, doubling the detrimental impact.  It’s best if you don’t compress the stereo bus at all.  A good mastering engineer will be able to turn a solid mix into a great mix if you give them room to do their work.  Their familiarity with their monitors and room will help compensate for your lack of monitors and room in the mixing process.

Use Multiple References

The same rules that apply to mixing with speakers apply to headphones: the more references you have the better.  In addition to your standard headphones (I use Sony MDR-7506) check on something very different (like I cross reference on Etymotic ER-4P canalphones).  Don’t forget consumer-grade headphones like plain white iPod earbuds!  If it sounds great on all of these, you’re more likely to have a solid mix.

If there’s any way you can mix on real studio monitors, do it.  Otherwise follow these tips and you just might be able to pull of a slammin’ mix with your headphones.

 

Big thank you to THE STEREO BUS for providing us with this post.

The Importance of a Great Mixdown Before Mastering.

A big thanks to Barry and the guys at the stereo bus. Making sure you have a good mixdown will save you plenty of time, money and headache. Read the post here and click the picture to check out other great articles.

 

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This guest post comes from Barry Gardner, mastering engineer at SafeandSound online mastering.

In an ideal world once music has been mixed it would simply be committed to cd or uploaded ready for distribution. In some rare occasions this does happen, though it is fairly uncommon. In any event people who are very accomplished mix engineers still appreciate the fresh ears of the mastering engineer and final quality control before the music is released to the general public. However, there does seem to be a skewed understanding of what mastering is and what it can do. It certainly is not mixing which is arguably the most important stage of audio production.

 

At this stage it is very important that the overall balance has been performed at the best of the mixers ability. Vocal balance and all the intricate dynamic interplay between musicians should have been well controlled to present a clear and focused sound that articulates the musical message. Mastering music relies very much on a  good mix down. It is at the mastering stage that the stereo 2 track mix is worked upon to try and squeeze every last bit of quality from the mix. This could involve adding depth, air, sheen, warmth, perceived volume, clarity and punch and making tweaks to the stereo image is required. These processes when added correctly can very much improve and enhance the final results. However mastering is not normally capable of adjusting mix balances more than 0.5dB -1dB without detrimental effects. This would be performed using either mid and sides compression, eq or gain/attenuation so it is vital that the main balances are spot on so the mastering engineer can make the subtle, accumulative tweaks which add up to a larger subjective improvement to the audio.  Where possible employing a professional mix engineer would ensure that the mix down was as good as it could be, the experience of a professional audio engineer should not be discounted.

These days many mastering engineers completely understand the lowered budgets that are encountered in the world of music production. As such many will offer a second set of fresh ears over a mix and provide a little advice or suggest tweaks in the mix down to ensure better mastering results. This benefits the band, musicians or producer and of course the mastering engineer through better end results. In most instances the engineer will provide this service on the basis that the job is proceeding. (normally taking payment up front) Then the mastering engineer will have a listen to the mix down before proceeding with mastering processes. Mixes come in all shapes and sizes and it will be normal to suggest any very obvious problems be adjusted in the mix. A judgment will have to be made on the quality of the mix as to how deep a mix appraisal should be given. There is no point in opening a can of worms that a novice mixer cannot resolve through lack of technical know how. In any event when a mastering engineer provides a mix appraisal the musician/mixer should save a copy of the original mix down in case something goes awry when changing a mix balance. If you need to brush up your mix skills there are numerous great books available to help you with mixing in a small studio environment.

Independent Musician’s Guide to Not Going Broke

Came across a great blog site called www.sonicscoop.com  where they posted an amazing guide for musicians on how not to go broke, it is a must read if you want a sustainable career as an artist/musician . Being a musician is not easy, but on top of that if you’re financially unstable, it can feel like being stuck in quicksand. DO NOT ignore the business side of things.

Sonicscoop have plenty of other great resources that you guys can look into and learn from. ENJOY!!! 🙂 — AJ!

 

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