What To Listen For When Mixing Your Tracks

Posted by Aaron Davison on Thursday, July 12, 2012 Under: July 2012
Today's newsletter features a guest post from producer Gary Gray.  Gary is a renowned producer with 30 years of experience working in the industry with a long list of placements and credits. Gary has worked with the likes of Phil Ramone, Quincy Jones and many others. Gary and I recently created a new course about how to produce music specifically for licensing opportunities.  I'll be revealing details about that course soon, Gary and I our still putting the finishing touches on it.

In the meantime, take it away Gary...

My name is Gary Gray and I'm a producer/engineer/orchestrator/musician.  I live in Aliso Viejo, CA; near Laguna Beach.  I own my own home studio, which I affectionately call "California Renaissance Studios" and I freelance out of studios across Calif., the U.S. and abroad.

Earlier this year, I took Aaron Davison's 90 Day Course on "How To License Your Music" in order to do a refresher and to keep my finger on the pulse of our ever-changing industry.  Boy, was I glad I took that course!  Aaron is an amazing individual and is doing a huge service to our Music Industry Community - and that's an understatement. 

It was an honor to be asked by Aaron to put together an exclusive course designed to help musician/producer/engineers -- many of whom work out of their own home studios -- learn how to increase the quality of their studio productions so that they will land more licensing deals and make more money.

They say timing is everything.

Well. . . I had just compiled approximately twenty-five years of research on Audio Recording, with a revolutionary approach to teaching the subject which came about as a result of analyzing my research findings.   I was literally working on the closing chapters for an upcoming book on the subject when Aaron asked me to collaborate with him on a new course for his colleagues on "HowToLicenseYourMusic.com."

"Yes!" I told him.  "I'm in!"

We ended up calling the course "How To Produce Music That Will Get Licensed And Make You Money."

The earlier working title for the course was: 'Secret Missing Links To Great Sound - For The Home Studio Musician.'

I used the word "secret" because I've been teaching production and engineering for over 20 years, and my students, many of whom have had hundreds of hours of experience in the studio before studying with me, all shared a common question:  "Why do some producers and engineers that I talk to hide their secrets?"

I'm sure there is a different answer for each person who does so, but I can tell you this:  I've compiled a hefty list of "secrets" and I'm letting them all out of the bag on this course.  I believe in apprenticeships, mentorships, and in sharing knowledge that will increase the standards of our Entire Community.  I find that sharing such "secrets" benefits EVERYONE in the community, especially the teacher.

So, with that philosophy in mind, I'm going to give you an example of one such secret right now:

Some of the top Mixing and Mastering engineers that I have been fortunate to have learned from, all do this one thing that makes a huge difference in the final quality of their recordings.  They mix and/or master through specific "cheap" monitors, as well as their higher-end favorite speakers, back and forth, back and forth, ensuring that their mixes and masters are translating equally well to systems with wide range capabilities (high-fidelity systems with super rich low end bass output [sub-woofers], meaty mid-range and brilliant high-end [tweeters]) and systems that many people in the real-world commonly listen to their music on - computer speakers.  However, it's not enough to say mix through good speakers and cheap speakers.  That's too general.  That can lead to problems in mixing and mastering.  Big problems. 

You have to know what exact systems are the best - and you have to know WHAT to listen for exactly and HOW to listen for it.

So, I did my research and found the optimum high-end system and the optimum "cheap" system for Home Studio Owners that lead to extremely good results in landing Licensing Deals with respected Music Supervisors.   High-End - KRK Systems Rokit Powered 5 Monitors with Subwoofer.  "Cheap" Monitors:  USB powered GEMPU1-2G AFI Technologies Monitors without a subwoofer.   (Though inexpensive for sure [$17.98 a pair] they are definitely NOT "cheap!")

(I also mix and master through 7 additional systems, but these two are the "go-to" systems that do the most work and that I take with me when doing outside free-lance work).

These systems are excellent because, used correctly (see below) they produce a consistently flat response of the sound source.  Flat response means that the lows, mids and highs tend to be reproduced faithfully - without adding, subtracting or altering frequencies in the audible range of hearing - roughly 20Hz to 20,000Hz.

In terms of WHAT to listen for and HOW to listen for it, many of these details are covered in the course.  But I will tell you this vitally important fact that will help get your ears trained so that you can join the respected elite of producer/engineers known for having "good ears."

Firstly, listen to your mixes and masters at an average volume level of 85dB at point of listening (measured where you sit or stand).  You can test your mixes and masters louder for short periods of time, but don't work any louder than 85dB long-term.   Besides protecting your hearing,  there are other vital reasons to not mix too loud. (keep reading)

Why 85dB?  For many years, I found that right around 85dB seemed to be optimum for some reason.  Then I learned why.  Check this out:

Monitoring Level

Unfortunately the human ear is not flat at all levels. Some guys called Fletcher and Munson worked out what the response curve of the ear was and found that at low levels the ear missed out on the low frequencies and the high frequencies, whereas at loud levels it was the opposite.

From a chart they devised, it can be demonstrated that around 80 - 90db the ear is the flattest. The fact that we don't hear low frequencies and high frequencies at low levels created the Loudness switch on stereo systems which boosts the low and high frequencies to compensate for the ear. Unfortunately, Joe Public doesn't know this but knows that when it is switched in things sound fatter and brighter so they leave it in all the time. It is generally recognised that a level of 85db is where the ear is at it's flattest so don't mix too loud if you want a flat response."    Reference:


One way to “fine-tune” your ear and to understand Psychoacousics (how the mind perceives and processes sound) in relation to home-studio recording, is to do LIVE MIXING of musicians and bands as much as possible.   This one action will help fine-tune your ear in the studio more than I could explain here on this blog.  But you will see exactly what I am talking about if you give it a go and even just help your singer/songwriter friend run sound at the coffee shop down the street every Thursday night.

Your ears, finely tuned, will be able to hear the nuances necessary to adjust the most critical aspect of your mixes (besides the lead vocal/lead instrument) covered in Video 2 of the 6 Videos accompanying this course: “The Low End.”  The low end of the mix separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls and is by far the aspect of mixing that causes the most amount of frustration and disappointment and in many cases, missed licensing opportunities.

In : July 2012 

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