Work on loud music quietly
When I was first starting out mixing, I used to work really loud all the time — because I wanted my mixes to sound exciting. I’d work loud in the studio, and then I’d take it to the car and listen even louder there. Still exciting!
And an experience I would have, recurringly, was that when I got the mixes into a more normal listening environment down the road — laptop, living room, background — they didn’t sound as exciting as I remembered them being when I was working on them.
I realized over time that, because I was listening so loudly, I wasn’t compressing things enough. I wasn’t compressing them enough at the channel level, the bus level, or the master bus level. I was just listening loud, and my ears were doing the natural compression that ears do in loud situations, so it felt compressed enough from my working vantage point.
Also, when you’re working loud, you tend to underbalance the lows and highs … which are critical elements to making a recording exciting-sounding! Punchy kick drums, shiny cymbals and vocals — a lot of excitement in modern music is conveyed at the extremes of the audible frequency spectrum. When you work too loud for too long, there are multiple traps that you can fall into.
These days, I tend to work loud for the first part of my process, when I’m getting sounds together — because the faux volume-related excitement is inspiring and fun for me. But at a certain point, I tend to turn my big speakers off entirely and finish on the Auratone and the NS-10s (and the phone and laptop speakers) — because that forces me to find the actual excitement in the mix, via compression and EQing and saturation and distortion and limiting.
It’s easy to make a mix pop at 105 dB; if you can get it popping at 65 dB, you are winning at life. You don’t want the most exciting thing about your mix to be the volume you’re listening to it at.
Whispering into the void — jamie