A guide to mixing music - Part 123Getting started
Critical listening in a home studio
Chronologically speaking, the critical listening stage is divided into two phases for any home studio enthusiast: the first one under his/her usual working conditions and the second one outdoors. This week we will review different listening methods that will help you understand better the first of these phases.
Home Sweet Home
If you followed my recommendations, your ears should be fresh enough when you approach this listening session. Start by playing back your mix as is while you lean back and enjoy it.... But why, you ask? Well, because it's the least you deserve after all the hard work you've put into it! Besides, listening to the mix from start to finish this way will allow you to get gently back into the game. Once you've done that, you can continue with any of the techniques below:
- Mono listening: this will not only allow you to identify any eventual phase problems, but also to replicate the most common listening situation, considering that not many people will go through the pains of finding the ideal position to enjoy a true stereo listening experience worthy of the name.
- "Side" signal listening: in this case you will be able to focus better on the space, the high end of the spectrum and all accompanying instruments.
- Inverse stereo listening: switching left and right channels is a good way to hear your mix from a different perspective. In fact, since your brain is not used to listening to your mix this way it will consider it as something new and will be more attentive. This is an ideal solution to regain some objectivity fast.
- Frequency range listening: by limiting your listening to a given frequency band you will be able to realize better what's going on there. This is ideally suited to analyze the low and high end of the spectrum.
- Listening on small speakers: this will allow you to focus on the mids while at the same time simulating consumer products.
- Listening on headphones: if your monitoring system is not great or the acoustics of your home studio aren't the best, a good pair of studio headphones can save your day. But don't forget to listen to your mix through a regular pair of cans! In fact, nowadays music is commonly "consumed" on the move with a smartphone and more or less inexpensive headphones, so make sure your mix will survive to this kind of punishment.
- Listening at different volumes: very useful to realize whether the most important elements of your mix are there, regardless of the level.
- Mobile listening: press play and start moving. Do your regular life at home but don't forget you're analyzing the mix. After all, chances are your listeners won't stop doing whatever it is they are doing to focus on your music, so it makes sense to see how your mix translates in such situations.
- Blind listening: it is usually easier to focus on sound when the brain is not being distracted by useless visual information. So, close your eyes or turn off your screen during playback.
You can obviously combine several of this methods, although you should probably avoid combining the blind listening when moving around the house...!
Next time we'll discuss one last method to approach critical listening in your home studio, probably the most important of them all: comparative listening.