Work the Room
It’s no secret that the speakers and the room form a system. A monitoring system. The speakers couple with the room, and moving the speakers to a different room sounds different, even with the same speakers.
This is because the sound waves coming from the speakers reflect and bounce off the walls, floor, and ceiling, and what you hear at your listening position is a mishmash of the direct sound and all the reflections. You’ve heard the term “room sound”. These reflections and the excitement of the room by these sound waves is the sound of the room. The room has a little reverb.
It gets more complicated than that, because lower frequencies have much bigger wavelengths, so high frequencies bounce around like laser beams, and low frequencies engulf everything and go right through walls. That’s why soundproofing requires a lot of heavy walls, because mass is the only thing that really stops low frequencies from escaping a room.
If you move your speakers within the room, the sound changes because their relationship to the walls changes. Speakers placed in the corners of a room sound different than when they are placed away from the walls.
So how does this information affect your mixing? How can you win the room battle? Simple. Put speakers in different areas of the room, and in other rooms, to get a new perspective on your mix. It’s a good idea to have at least one set of monitors on the side of the room.
Change It Up
By placing speakers off to the side of the mix position, you gain a new perspective, as the room reacts differently to the sound. Using multiple monitors in various positions around the room can really be an ear-opening experience.
Another great technique for getting a new perspective is to use multiple sets of reference monitors. By using a larger, full range pair and also a smaller set, like Auratones or desktop computer speakers, you gain a new perspective on the mix. The smaller set may not tell you what’s happening in the lowest octave, but it will let you know what the real world will hear on smaller speakers.
Many times, the first place a listener will hear your mix is on their laptop, on those teeny built-in speakers. I like to mix for hours on a small set of computer monitors so I can make the mix sound big and full on someone’s laptop for that reason. I call it the Facebook perspective of the mix.
Lower The Boom
Many engineers have drastically improved the quality of their mixes by turning the monitors down when mixing. By lowering the volume, you are able to mix for longer periods without ear fatigue, and it’s actually easier to hear balances.
Since the room couples with the speakers, lowering the volume excites the room less than cranking the volume. Imagine a pebble thrown into a pool. It will make waves that reach the walls of the pool and bounce back. But if you throw in a boulder, the water is much more excited, and the waves are stronger, and the reflections are stronger.
In air with speakers, this correlates to increased room sound at the mix position with increased volume. While it is impossible to truly remove the room sound when listening to speakers in a room, lowering the volume reduces it’s effect, allowing you to more accurately decipher what the speakers are telling you.
With that said, the first thing the client will do when you hand them the mix is run out to the car and crank it up. For that reason, it is important that you do some mixing at higher volumes to make sure that the bottom octave (rumbles, bottom of bass and kick, etc.) is full, punchy, and controlled, and the mix has impact and clarity at full volume. If you keep the loud mixing to short time spans, you’ll avoid ear fatigue.
Meet in the Middle
Another great way to change your perspective is to use the mono button. Keep the pan pots where you like them in stereo, but monitor in mono. By summing the mix to one channel, the left to right imaging that can make things sound really nice disappears, so you are forced to make the mix sound nice through one speaker (or two speakers playing the same signal). Many times I use small speakers in mono for level balancing and spectral balancing with eq.
By summing to mono, logjams with frequencies and levels show up more readily, and by fixing those in mono, you are fixing them in the stereo mix as well. By making the featured instrument or vocal nice and clear in mono, and doing the same for all the instruments, when you go back to stereo the mix is usually greatly improved.
In summary, there are many ways to change your perspective and get a new view on your mix. The name of the game is “No Surprises”. By checking the mix in mono, at low volume, high volume, and on different sets of monitors in various positions around the room or in different rooms, you can avoid surprises once the mix leaves your room.
Happy mixing! ~Sean Shannon
Mixing The Band (www.mixingtheband.com)