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Headphones & Monitor Calibration

Transcript
Hello everybody, hope you’re doing marvelously well. We’re back with another Frequently Asked Questions Friday. So as ever please subscribe, you can go to producelikeapro.com, sign up for the email list, and get a whole bunch of free goodies. We’re always running some kind of competition or giveaway, and actually, this week, you might be watching this in a month’s time, for the next four weeks, we’re doing a mix competition with our friends, In the Mix.

They have a wonderful channel you should go and check out, and we’re taking one of their songs, they have a band called Miavono, and they have a song called Right Here, and you can mix that track. There’ll be links flying around somewhere where you can go and download those tracks to mix. The prizes are insane. There is basically three full sets of recording equipment. We’re talking mics, headphones, and IOs, then of course, there’s the Pro Mix Academy, the full bundle, which is like, $2,200 of tutorials as well to go with it. So it’s pretty fantastic.

So let’s get on to FAQ Friday.

How do I become familiar with a pair of headphones?

The answer to that is probably the one that 99% of you are saying at this second. That is basically use them a lot, number one, just use them all the time. Not only when you’re mixing, use them to listen to music. Use them to listen to your favorite music that you know really well, and then great music. Inarguable great music.

Now, we’ve had many discussions with producers, engineers, mixers, musicians, and asked them, what are their favorite mixes, what are their favorite pieces of music that inspire them? And quite a few that come up all the time, number on, Woman in Chains by Tears for Fears, which is a Bob Clearmountain mix, which is a masterpiece, so if you don’t already have that added to your arsenal, add that one to your arsenal. It’s got great stereo separation, incredible width, amazing depth. Even after all of these years, 20 plus years, it still sounds incredible.

Other than that, Hey Soul Sister is one of my favorite vocal sounds. It’s one that I’ve seen four or five really famous mixers use as their reference point. So that’s Hey Soul Sister by Train, and Mark Endert mixed that. Then there’s all kinds of genres. If your genre is Death Metal, Country, Punk, Hip Hop, find the best of the best. Something that sounds really amazing to you. Something that you know and love, and reference it through those headphones.

You need to understand what good music sounds like through your headphones, so when you’re mixing through those headphones, you have a point of reference. Just mixing through those headphones is not going to help you. Not initially, because you have no point of reference. You might sit there going, “Wow, that bass sounds amazing!”

Then you play it in a car stereo or through somebody else’s speakers, and it’s either tiny or massive. It’s those headphones influencing the way things sound. However, if you listen to something you’re familiar with for a long period of time in between mixing, you’ll know how the bass is supposed to sound, for instance.

So get familiar by listening to lots of different things, particularly music that you know and love, and music that you know is considered by many people to be amazingly well mixed.

What monitors are those next to the Genelecs?

Those are the Unity Super Rocks. They’re really wonderful monitors. We’ve had them up there now for about a year and a half, maybe even coming on two years. What we love about them is they’re ribbon tweeter, they’re very, very smooth on the high end, and when you reference on them, they have a lot of depth. A lot of front to back. Mixes seem to really create an extra level of depth that makes it so much easier to mix with reverbs and delays, etcetera, so I can place things so much better in a room — a soundscape, if you like.

So if I’ve got a snare smothered in reverb, it pushes back, got guitars with a little bit of reverb, they’re about here, then guitars and vocals with no reverb come straight to the front. I get a lot more depth on them.

However, I use my Genelecs every day, because I know them back to front, and I know how good music sounds on them and how things should sound.

So despite having really nice, expensive monitors, or having cheap ones, the thing that’s going to help you out the most in knowing your monitors really, really well. Just like we talked about with headphones, you need to know the monitors, know the headphones, know your room. Know how things sound in your room. You’re going to eventually with acoustic treatment or just a lot of luck, the reality is you’re going to know your room. You’re going to know if there’s a bass treatment in there, how to combat it, whether it be through acoustic treatment or understanding how to mix with that in.

There’s lots of different ways around it. There’s lots of incredible software that’ll also sort that out as well, which we will be talking about very soon.

This may be a stupid question, but how does monitor calibration play into monitoring levels during mixing?

I think the most important answer is maybe not exactly what you’re asking. What do I mean by that? Everybody maintains that 85dB, or thereabout, is where you get an even sonic landscape. What do I mean by that?

Basically, everything sounds the way it should be. When you turn your monitors up, it might be because you’re trying to compensate for excitement. You want more high mids. You might want to hear more low end. So you keep cranking it until it does those things.

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However, that is not going to be good for you A, because you’re going to get ear fatigue, and B, most importantly, or just as importantly I should say. Nothing is as important as protecting your ears, but just as importantly, it will tell you all kinds of lies.

If I listen really, really quietly, I find that I’m not hearing any low end at all. That’s why the old hi-fis like I had with my old Marantz over there had a loudness control. What that was is you push it in, and it had a bass boost, so when I was listening quietly, I could hear more low end. It was very typical of old home hi-fis.

Now, you’ve got to bear that in mind. If you’re mixing super quiet, you’re not going to hear the thump of an 808. If you’re mixing super, super loud, you’re probably going to burn your ears out on the high mids, and you’re going to need to turn those down.

You need to be listening at a level that sounds even in all of those frequencies, and that’s around about 85dB. So when you’re talking about calibration, yes, if you cranked your monitors up, you probably would have to recalibrate them for the room, because there’s other factors at work, not only your ears hearing things differently, but your room might react differently at really, really high levels.

You’ve got to think about the fact that if you’re listening at a normal level between some speakers, at a relative level, you’re not going to get as many reflections. If you crank that up, you could have all kinds of craziness going on. There are lots of reasons not to monitor really, really loud, number one of course being ear fatigue, and ear protection.

Regarding phase, can reverb or delay become an issue? Can we experience low end loss with those effects?

I think phase is huge. We talk about this all the time. All professional mixes, all of the best mixers in the world do a lot of high passing, and we know there’s a lot of bad information about high passing out there, but high passing is your friend, and I think I may have talked about this in another video, but I’ll mention this again, high and low passing reverbs and delays is very, very common.

It’s been around quite famously for a long time, but most famously in The Beatles recordings where they would apply what has now become known as the Abbey Road EQ to reverbs and delays. What they’re doing is they’re getting rid of that low end rumble that might happen in a reverb, or that over the top high end kind of sizzle. You don’t need it.

Unless you’re going for a specific effect where you want that, [imitates sparkley reverb] reverb to have super high end, or a massive low end exploding kick, maybe the end of a song, [imitates explosive kick], unless you’re going for that, you don’t want it.

You don’t want your kick to have a huge reverb trail, because every kick, kick, kick, if it’s going, [imitates low end reverb] with this massive low end, you will get horrible phase, and horrible masking issues. Masking occurs when you get lots of instruments producing low end in particular, low mids and low end, all overlapping each other, and there’s no definition. You don’t have a kick drum or bass guitar, because they have so much low end combined, the kick is going, [imitates masked kick], the bass is going, [imitates masked bass], and it’s just this low end rumble.

That’s why all of the people that know what they’re talking about encourage you to high pass the bass guitar a little bit out of the way of the bass, probably about 60 is a nice gentle way, where 40 and 60 is where you’re looking at most of the time a kick drum living. So if you’ve got 40 or 60Hz going on down there, and you’ve got 60 and 80 on the bass guitar, you can still have a gentle slope on that high pass so that they overlap, but you don’t want both of them pumping 60 at the same time massively, or you’re not going to hear the definition between the kick and the bass.

Also with guitars and stuff like that, you’ve got that same issue. You don’t want the guitar pumping too much 40 or 60, or else it’s going to mask those frequencies.

So all that being said, the same is true of reverbs and delays. If you’ve got instruments down there that you’re putting reverb on, be careful, you don’t want to add to that mess. A long reverb tail with loads of low end is just going to be, [imitates low rumble]. This big low end rumble that is going to destroy your mix. So definitely high pass your reverb.

Also, low passing your reverb can be great, because you don’t want that extra sizzle that’s just going to get in the way of the cymbals or the air on your vocals. Or guitars. Even if there’s not much 8kHz and above on the guitar, it might generate that reverberation. Those high frequencies might be generated in some kind of convolution reverb.

So you might not want that, because why would you want all this high extra sizzle, this high end information which is going to confuse the high end of a vocal, or a drum kit, or another instrument, or strings or something. So yes, high and low passing reverbs and delays is really good for yes, phase issues, but just low rumble, high frequency issues, it is really, really a good idea to control your reverb and delay with high and low pass filters.

Now, most reverbs and delays have that built in already, but if they don’t, be sure to EQ going in and even EQ on the way out as well.

So please enter the mix competition. Absolutely incredible. The prizes are amazing. The link will be flying around here. Give me some more questions, I love doing these FAQ Fridays. This has been an absolutely wonderful week. We had a great time on both of our live streams. I had a really great time doing that live mixing stream, so check that out, I want to do more of those, we’ll work out some of the issues and make it better and better.

Thank you ever so much, have a marvelous time recording and mixing, and I’ll see you all again very soon.

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.

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