This article comes from content in Jesse’s streaming video class Fundamentals of Mixing Rock & EDM available through CreativeLive.
One of the most common reasons people are unconfident in their opinions on how to judge a mix or master if they don’t know how to listen properly. They trust the people they work with cause they don’t trust their own ears or get confused by what to listen for. If you follow these simple steps you can easily reference and know how to listen properly to your music and make good judgements.
- Familiar – When you listen to your mixes or masters, don’t go to your friend’s Dad’s system that he paid $10,000 for. You want to listen on the systems you listen to music on everyday. It doesn’t matter if this is your laptop, car, earbuds, studio monitors or all of the above. You want to listen on the systems you listen to music on every single day. This is why it’s important to not trust your mixer or mastering engineers speakers as much as your own. You know when a song sounds good or bad on your speakers and you need to trust that intuition and relationship you have built with these speakers. As well, odds are most people will listen on these speakers than the expensive studio monitors your mixer uses.
- References – Put on a playlist of 3-5 songs you have listened to a lot and that are similar to the type of music you make into iTunes (if you use iTunes make sure you turn off “SoundCheck” in the preferences) or your phone’s media player. Next, load your mixes into the same media player, otherwise this comparison won’t work. As long as you have heard them a bunch on this system and they are close to what you do, they will work well. Don’t go crazy trying to find songs exactly like your own, just relax and listen to them. Put them on at a volume you like to listen to music at.
- Volume Match – Most of the time, your mix won’t be as loud as the songs you compare it to. Because of this we want you to get a VU Meter from the App Store on your smart phone. Once you have it, set the reading to “average” and take note of what volume you are listening to your reference mixes at. 82db is a great place to aim for, but you can also set the volume to an average listening level, that feels good to you.
- Compare – After you have listened to 3-5 of your references, relaxed and taken note of how they sound, it’s now time to put on your mix. Use the VU meter and turn up your mix to the volume of the other songs you are listening to to properly evaluate it. As you feel different opinions about the songs, jot them down and feel free to go back and forth between your references and mixes. This will get you a confident result. Now trust yourself enough to tell your engineer what you heard.
- Evaluating A Master’s Loudness – If you want to make sure your master is as loud as another release, you should not turn up the volume when your master comes on. Make sure it plays at the same volume as your reference. If it isn’t loud enough or too loud, have a conversation with your mastering engineer. It isn’t always to make your master as loud as what you reference, make sure you work with your mastering engineer on finding an appropriate volume that brings out the best of your song.