How to Monitor a Mix
The most important tool are your ears, since the quality of a mix is directly proportional to how well you can discriminate between subtle differences in timbre and level. To improve your odds of creating a successful mix, listen critically to well-mixed recordings and analyze them. Strive for the same quality in your work as mixes by Bob Clearmountain, George Massenberg, Al schmidt, Ron Nevison, and others of their caliber. Don't pay too much attention to the music; listen mostly to the mix. You'll sometimes find that many bland pop albums are mixed to extremely high standards.
Although evaluating monitor speakers is a subjective topic beyond the scope of this article, we have some general recommendations about suitable monitoring levels:
The human ear is marvelously delicate device. Exposing it to high sound-pressure levels for extended periods of time can reduce, at the very least, mid range response (as confirmed by tests on recording engineers). This can ruin a career, because if you don't hear something correctly, you can't mix correctly. Furthermore, the ear has a sort of built-in natural limiting effect clue to its logarithmic response, and monitoring at high levels will often make loud parts seem less out of balance than they are.
When mixing, we have found it useful to monitor at extremely quiet levels for several reasons. First, a typical mix takes at least twelve to fifteen hours, and ear fatigue can set in quickly if you don't monitor at low levels for most of the session. Second, you will find that you can discriminate between tiny volume variations at low level easier than at high volumes. Sometimes a lead line that sounds balanced at high volume will sound grossly over stated at low volume. Third,you'll find that if you can make something sound satisfying at low levels, it will sound incredible when played back at high volume. If you have to crank up a mix for it to sound good, you haven't made a good mix - it's that simple.
We aren't suggesting that you will have the discipline to perform the entire mix session at very low listening levels, but remember these concepts, and do not make equalization decisions when listening at extremely loud levels.
Do you have any albums in your possession that have a phrase written in the liner notes on thealbum sleeve: "This album is meant to be played LOUD". Rather than a line of hype, this is more likely to be an admission that they mixed the entire album at ear-splitting volume and only later realized that it sounded weak and distant when played at lower listening levels. Remember the Fletcher-Munson Equal-Loudness contours.
Try to get as many perspectives on a sound as possible Rock musicians commonly will play a cassette dub from the master tape over a car system as a "reality test"; while this may sound almost superstitious, it's good practice to monitor a mix over a variety of speakers, headphones, and, yes, car stereo systems. This is why most studios have multiple monitoring speakers; no speaker system is flat, so by listening to a variety of systems, you can take an average and mix accordingly. Also, no room is flat, so ideally you would not just listen to different speakers, but to different speakers in different rooms. Once you have a mix that sounds good on all of the above, your mission is accomplished.
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