How about a little Q&A for ya?

First up:

QUESTION: I want to know how to make my music sound good on many systems (computer speakers, car stereos, etc.). A lot of times my music doesn’t sound good in my car but sounds terrific on my studio monitors and headphones. Commercial music seems to sound good anywhere. What are they doing that I’m not?

JOE: One word: EXPERIENCE.

If there was a magic pill, believe me, I’d tell you. Commercial music is recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered by professionals with thousands of hours of experience under their belts.

The key is repetition. Take those frustrating mixes and WORK on ’em until they start to translate better to multiple systems. Then move on to the next…

Next question…

QUESTION: How do I make a mix powerful bass-wise without being boomy, muddy, and flubby?

JOE: The low end can be what makes or breaks a mix. To mix low end effectively, you’ve got to be really familiar with exactly WHAT makes up that low end.

Is it just kick and bass guitar? Are there other instruments adding to the low end?

Once you identify your bass-heavy parts, then it’s simply a matter of using EQ to make room for each of them. Of course, if you do this the wrong way, you can make things MORE muddy (or perhaps you over-compensate and make the mix too thin).

If you want to learn to EQ like I do (and get mixes you’re really happy with), skip on over to:

www.UnderstandingEQ.com

You’ll learn my formula for how to EQ ANYTHING…plus in Video #2 I teach you a really cool, FREE way to train your ears to identify various frequency ranges.

  • Xan

    How to get more ‘portable’ mixes?

    Well there is much merit in what others have said here about getting to know your monitors with commercially produced music, but there is something else you can do too.

    TRIANGULATION! You need a couple ov other places where you listen to your mixes/masters other than the studio.

    These two other places should be quite different from one another. One might be the lounge stereo/surround sound system. And another might be that boom-box in the kitchen for example.

    Ov course one could include the car, but I have reservations about this due to the road noise, and the fact you must concentrate on driving rather than mixes!

    If you find a good compromise in a mix (and this is what mixes really are) between your studio and the other two systems you’ll find the mix will translate well to most systems.

    It’s a good plan for one ov those alternate “listening posts” to have a system that has almost an exaggerated bass response. So you’ll know if you’ve got some ov that nasty bottom end build-up..!

  • Nick Zimmerman

    It is all about how familiar you are with the environment you listen to commercial mixes. Most everyone listens to the majority of their commercial albums in their car. When you are that familiar with how commercial mixes sound in that space it is easier to compare your own mixes to them. You know how most kick drums sound in your car, how well the guitar cuts through the mix in your car, and can easily tell when your own mixes do not sound that way.

    As soon as I started listening to more commercial albums in my studio, on my studio monitors, I had a much easier time creating mixes that sound commercial. I know how the kick drum sounds in my studio on a commercial album and I know what the guitars sound like in my studio on a commercial album because I am constantly listening to commercial albums in that environment.

    • “…I started listening to…commercials albums…on my studio monitors…” – Amen Nick!

      I believe this is so important because a person must know what his/her studio monitors actually sound like. Most of us, when new to mixing, think our monitors produce the perfect sound and therefore our mixes will sound great on anything else because it sounds great on the studio monitors.

      The monitors I use accentuate the mids (even when listening to commercial albums) a bit more than I like but I know that, and so I don’t EQ out the mids in my mixes because I’m familiar with their output. When I take my mixes to the car, or home stereo or boom box they sound right.

      Know your monitors…because you mix by them.

  • Robert

    What´s your opinion on using a sub in your home studio? I have a treated room and my current setup (Genelec 8040) works fine for rock/pop.
    Lately I´ve trying to make club music (progressive house) but I just can´t get that “feel” of a club when composing/mixing. I’m planning on getting the Genelec 7060 sub to get a better feel for the low end. It´s expensive but I hope it will help me make better (more inspired) music…

    • Xan

      I am seriously considering experimenting with this. I don’t do dance music (much!), mainly metal, but I like the idea ov having something that will really show up the low-end content in a way that nearfield monitors simply won’t.

      I’ll only switch it on when checking for low end buildup, rather than mixing with it per se. As there could be issues around the crossover frequency.

  • Andrew

    How come everyone says “low end can make or break a record” (Aside from reading it in a engineers book. I know a lot of people who just quote from engineering books, but when I ask to explain why they say that they always rebuttal in saying because this pro engineer says so)? I hear a lot of music in different genres and in the end the conclusion I came up with is that: IT DEPENDS ON THE GENRE

    Hip hop music (Tons of sub bass and crazy low end. I don’t usually find that much high end even with a spectrum analyzer. Usually from a kick that’s been ridiculously layered). Of course this all depends on the song I choose from by which artist.

    Singer songwriter music (Usually find more mid to high frequency. Especially when it’s just a simple vocal and guitar track).

    Everyone obviously tries to fill the frequency spectrum for a very musical experience, but from my ears you can instantly tell that there are more emphasis to certain frequencies than others (or in other words compromises).

    Consequently, when people say “Hip Hop” I think of A Lot of Low end (So that might break a record if it missed that element and lets say I found little to no low end. I’d be disappointed cuz now I am not bobbing my head LOL).

    So why does everyone else say “low end can make or break a record”? Is everyone just focusing on negative words such as muddy when they say that phrase or are they also considering the genre?

    • You tell me. What’s usually the most difficult aspect of a mix? The low end.

      It doesn’t depend on the genre. Every single mix engineer has to deal with what’s happening below 250 Hz. THAT’S where a lot of the problems happen. So THAT’s why the low end can make or break a mix.

      Every genre has information below 250 Hz, and how you deal with that information generally makes a big difference in how the mix sounds.

  • DonB

    I can vouch for the Understanding EQ videos. Good stuff for beginners and experienced ears. I need to go back re-view/listen and do the training exercises again. It’s a set of videos you can use more than once.

    Question regarding different listening environments. Do you see a value in something like the Focusrite VRM box? It’s (just) under $100, so it’s not a big risk to try. I think I will try it. I sometimes mix with my really good headphones, anyway, and it helps me get perspective. Maybe this VRM box will add to that perspective…we’ll see.

    • Eric Jean

      Please let us know what you think about it.

    • Thanks Don. I’ve not used the VRM, but as you know I like to keep things simple. So for me, having all those different listening options would distract me. I’d rather have as few options as possible, and focus on making good mixes using THOSE.

      • Xan

        I think you would go through the different environments and settle on 2 or maybe three that you kinda like. So I don’t think the multiple options would be too much ov a distraction. I guess I am speaking for myself here. 🙂

        However, I hate headphones enough as it is and then listening to virtual speakers on headphones would no doubt drive me batty..! hehe

        The device itself sounds interesting though, and could have other uses such as in a mastering process or treating instruments to create ambience if you enjoy playing around with “re-analoging”… 🙂

        • Xan

          I just checked out the demo ov it. Does simulate different environments, I can see one severe problem though. You would have to be listening to it through some kind ov perfectly flat headphones or else the results would be irrelevant.

          And ov course, listening to it through speakers would be a no-no as you would be putting the ‘speaker effect’ on twice. Once with the device & again in reality.