So the room where you mix has little to no acoustic treatment and sounds bad? That shouldn’t stop you from churning out a great mix!
In fact, classic moves like throwing more treatment or nicer monitoring at the problem won’t fix it. All rooms sound weird in some way, shape, or form.
And although you can improve a bad sounding room, I believe there is a better approach to seeing massive improvement in your mixes starting today!
Tip #1 – Turn Your Speakers Down
The most powerful thing you could to to get better mixes in a bad sounding room is simply to turn down your monitor speakers.
The louder your speakers, the more interaction your mix has with the room. And if your room sounds bad (too boomy, too harsh, to reflective) then that’s not a good thing.
By simply turning down your monitors, you dramatically remove the room from the equation (although not completely) helping you to hear what’s actually coming out of your speakers, not what’s floating around in your room.
This helps you make more accurate mixing decisions!
Now there are two other phantom benefits to turning down your speakers: you protect your ears from fatigue and you remove the fake bottom and top end hype.
The less sound hits your ears, the fresher they stay and the longer you can mix with accurate hearing.
And then because of the something called the Fletcher-Munson curve the louder a signal is the more our ears will perceive a bass lift and top end sizzle. The result? If we mix loud we think we have more bass and treble in our mix than we really do.
Turning down your speakers solves all three problems instantly.
You have less room interaction in your mix, less fake bass and top end, and your ears are less fatigued allowing you to make more accurate mixing decisions and for longer periods of time.
Tip #2 – Check Your Mix On Headphones
One of your most powerful mixing allies is a decent pair of studio headphones.
Why? Because mixing on headphones completely eliminates the sound of your room! Problem solved!
Now, many of you might ONLY be mixing on headphones. If that’s the case then this article isn’t really for you since the room isn’t your problem. However, your next purchase or upgrade should honestly be a pair of affordable (and appropriately sized) studio monitors.
Why? Because mixing ONLY on headphones is a lot harder to do well than mixing on a combination of headphones and speakers.
I don’t have time to get into that now, but I covered this topic more in depth here. And if you are a headphone only mixer and want some tips on doing that well – check out this article here where I shared how I mixed an entire album on headphones at Starbucks.
Now, back to the mixing on headphones in addition to your speakers. This works because of two simple reasons:
- It removes the room from the equation for a few minutes allowing you to make fine tuning mix decisions with more accuracy.
- It acts as a second set of speakers with its own EQ curve which “wakes up” your ears.
The first part is huge like I mentioned. If you’ve gotten your mix pretty far on your speakers (turned down of course!) you still have been hearing some of the room (in all its nastiness) blended in.
By checking on your headphones you can finally hear your mix free from any of the the room nodes or odd reflections, giving you a good “view” of things as they really are. It can help you fine tune some EQ or level decisions and will only take your mix to the next level.
The second benefit to checking on headphones is that it snaps your ears back to reality.
Our ears (attached to our brilliant brains of course) are so clever that they become accustomed to whatever frequency response your speakers have. As time goes on it becomes hard to maintain an accurate perspective.
Your headphones bring a welcome relief as they likely have a totally different frequency response – thereby waking up your ears. This usually leads to a “moment of clarity” that can help you pin point any oddities or problems in your mix that you weren’t previously hearing.
Tip #3 – Reference A Pro Mix (Or Two)
This final tip might be the most powerful one of them all.
At some point in the mixing process I highly recommend you bring in a stereo mix of one of your favorite pro recordings from a band/artist in a similar genre to the one you’re working on.
I literally drag my reference tracks into my DAW as a separate audio track, pull the volume down considerably (because it’s been mastered), and then flip back and forth between it and my mix.
Why is this helpful?
Because knowing what a professionally recorded, mixed, and mastered song sounds like on YOUR speakers in YOUR weird sounding room gives you an instant standard to meet.
If your room has a giant low mid bump around 300 hz, a reference track will show you what a good mix should sound like with that weird 300 hz bump. If your mix has it it too, now you’ll know that it’s nothing to fear – it’s simply your room.
Also, referencing a track always helps me know where to put my lead vocal level, kick and snare drum level, and how to gauge my low end. I simply try to match what I’m hearing from the reference – or at least get as close to it as I can.
Honestly referencing your favorite pro material while you mix has got to be one of the most powerful but yet most underused mix techniques the home studio owner has at his or her disposal!
My Room Is Not Perfect And I Don’t Care
Listen – I know we’d all love to have a perfectly tuned and treated room.
And many people spend time, money, and energy trying to turn their room into an ideal place to mix. But I’m here to ask the question – why bother?
In the end, no room is 100% perfect. It can’t be.
Sound is unstoppable. It will interact with everything in the room: walls, furniture, even people!
So is my room perfect now? Nope. Not even close.
But through a combination of mixing at low volumes, checking on my headphones (and even a crap speaker or two), and referencing pro mixes like it’s a second job I’m able to churn out really good mixes (in my humble opinion).
And here’s the best part about approaching mixing this way – if you master these techniques, you can mix on ANY speaker in ANY room no matter how good or bad it sounds. Period!
It opens you up to a world of mixing freedom. No longer bound to any set piece of gear or set room.
Are You In A Bad Sounding Room?
Hopefully you’re starting to see that how you embrace the limitations of working in a home studio can make a huge difference in your final result. So let me ask you something:
- Are you mixing in a “bad” sounding room?
- Have you implemented one or more of these mixing tips? If so what’s your experience with them been?