How to listen to mix or master
…and make amendments
Ordering mixing and mastering online instead of an attended session raises some issues related to your perception of the mix, being away from the studio and your engineer. This article will help you to make the right decisions and send the list of amendments, which will improve your final mix or master and not ruin it.
Respect the professional decisionThe first and foremost thing to understand is that most of the mixing and mastering decisions are made on purpose. There is always a reason to cut some annoying frequencies or to make some instruments sound quieter than the others etc. There are, however, some artistic choices, which you would like to preserve in the final mix, and that’s what you should explain to your engineer.
Demo mix or masterWhile working on the track, we all are getting attached to our initial mix. However, it is not necessarily the best mix version of your track. Sometimes your sketch gives a rough idea of a concept behind your music, the sound you are aiming for, and the mood of your composition. But the devil is in detail, and getting used to your original mix may affect your decisions while listening to the studio version. A clever mixing engineer would pick up the concept points and make your record sound accordingly, implementing all his professional skills to achieve the best possible result. You may miss a thing or two while creating your music, but a skilled audio professional will make things to sound right.
Forget about loudnessNowadays, there are quite a few loudness standards in the industry, implemented by different streaming and audio distribution platforms. In simple words, it means that you shouldn’t judge the loudness of your mix or master in the first place. If you are comparing to a reference track, bring them as close as possible to the same level and then make a comparison; otherwise, the louder mix will compromise your judgements.
Where to listen?All sound systems sound different. All the rooms sound different. Everybody hears differently. These three statements should stay in your mind while listening to a mix or master. Not everyone has acoustically treated room with a high-end audio system installed, so you have to use what you’ve got available, but try to start with the best. Let’s say you’ve got a hi-fi in your living room, good quality headphones, your car stereo and a Bluetooth speaker. Select the one you have the most listening experience with; the audio system, which you used the most for listening to music. Then you can compare to the other records, knowing how they sound.
How to listen?Adjust the volume to be similar to an average conversation volume in the room. Don’t push it too hard. That will keep it as linear as possible with less harmonic distortion. The medium playback volume will give you a good listening experience together with the right frequency response image of your hearing. It tends to change when loudness increases.
What to pay attention to?While listening to you mix or master for the first time, don’t dig too deep into details. Try to get the overall sound image and get used to it. The first impression is crucial. The first thing you will hear is the acoustic stage and the main instruments. They will drag your primary attention. Vocals, solo, snare drum etc. Decide, if you like the tone of them, the volume, mix placement and the overall concept.
Reference tracksCarefully select your references. You shouldn’t compare the sound of an acoustic ballad to a hard rock track. Style, tempo and vibe similarities between your music and your reference track give you a more adequate comparison.
Knowing what you wantIt is good to know how would you like your music to sound. Mixing and mastering may change the sound of your song dramatically, so you need to provide to your mixing engineer a clear vision of the sound concept.
Band or solo decisionIf you are the only one who takes the decision, then you may skip this paragraph, but if there are more people involved or the whole band, then make sure that they followed the same listening guidelines and discuss your amendment points. Do not finalise the list unless everybody is happy.
How to write a good list of mix amendmentsBe specific. Never write something like “I don’t like the snare sound” because it does not point an engineer to any improvement direction. You may say: “I would like my snare to be more aggressive (smooth, distant, punchy, roomy, etc.)”. When you request an amendment, you have to make sure that an engineer will understand what instrument and what part of the song you are talking about. It is better to use timecode instead of the “second part of the chorus”, “build-up”, and “bridge”. Try to keep the sequence of amendments in line with the time, don’t jump from intro to solo and back again, it helps to understand the sound concept of each part.
Each song is unique, and we have to work together to produce the best possible result. Your listeners will judge it at the end of the day. Online mixing and mastering require full understanding between the studio and the client.