Mix translation is one of the most important aspects of music production. Often a mix sounds great in the studio but not when played on other speakers. The truth is that most listeners are using small cheap speakers to listen to music. This means that your mix needs to sound great on earbuds.
As part of our company's research, we interviewed over 100 audio engineers. 85% of these engineers told us that mix translation was their biggest problem. Engineers spend hours bouncing mixes between their studio, car, laptop, and home stereo. This guessing game results in wasted time and added frustration. Soundways developed the Core Production Workflow to help engineers deal with mix translation.
The Core Production Workflow optimizes translation across all playback systems. This workflow helps engineers focus on the most important area of a mix, the audio core. In the past, engineers have used NS-10's and small speakers to hear the core. While these speakers work for some mixing applications, they also introduce distortions.
Reveal is the first plug-in developed for listening to the core. Place Reveal on your DAW's master bus. Turn on Critical Listening mode when performing EQ and level adjustments. Listening in this way ensures that your mix will translate to all listening systems.
Tip #1: Improve Room Acoustics and Monitoring
An accurate monitoring system and listening environment are essential for optimizing mix translation. Studio monitors should be full range (20Hz - 20kHz) and as linear as possible.
Room modes can introduce problems in low frequencies. Room modes are a collection of resonances and usually exist between 20Hz - 200Hz. Use bass traps or absorptive acoustic treatment to reduce the effects of room modes.
Early reflections and flutter echo can cause problems in mid and high frequencies. Use a mix of diffuse and absorptive acoustic panels to reduce reflections.
Tip #2: Stay Focused
Use Soundways' Reveal plug-in to listen to the audio core. Smaller consumer listening systems often represent this range in an unpleasant manner. An engineer must solve problems in the core for a mix to translate.
Place Reveal on your DAW's master bus. Turn on Critical Listening while making level and EQ adjustments. Listening in this manner allows engineers to make the most precise adjustments.
Tip #3: Harmonically Balance Bass
Balancing bass can be one of the most challenging aspects of mixing. LowLeveler works with Reveal to solve the problems of bass translation.
Place Reveal on your DAW's Master Bus. Place LowLeveler on your bass instruments (Bass Guitar, Kick Drum, Toms). Now turn on Reveal's Critical Listening mode and listen.
You may find that the bass has disappeared. Raise LowLeveler's Upper Bass (Harmonic) until you reach an appropriate level. Now turn off Reveal's Critical Listening mode and adjust LowLeveler's Low Bass (Fundamental).
Working in this way will harmonically balance your bass instruments and optimize translation.
Tip #4: Minimize Masking
Masking occurs when several instruments occupy the same frequency range. Some instruments will overpower others, making them hard to hear.
Panning is one way to deal with masking. If you find that two instruments occupy the same frequency range, try panning one 100% left and the other 100% right.
It is important to clear space for the lead vocal in a mix. An arrangement may feature several instruments occupying the same frequency range as the vocal. Use an EQ to clear some space. Try cutting 3kHz away from the instruments that are clashing with the vocal.
Sidechain compression can also reduce masking. This technique is often used when a kick and bass instrument fight for space in a mix. Place a compressor on the bass instrument and enable the sidechain input. Route your kick to the key input of the compressor. Adjust the threshold, attack, and release time to reduce masking in a subtle manner.
Tip #5: Eliminate Harshness
Addressing harshness is another critical component of mix translation. Harshness is the result of an unbalanced audio core. The best solution to harshness is the Core Production Workflow.
Place Reveal on your DAW's master bus and turn on Harshness Listening mode. You may find that in this context your mix sounds brittle and harsh. Try cutting some frequencies between 2kHz - 5kHz to reduce harshness.
Using these tips you will be able to craft mixes which translate accurately to every speaker system. Happy mixing!