14 JULY 2017
written by Mike
MIXING ON HEADPHONES
During my studies, one rule that was always passed onto us by the teachers was – never mix on the headphones!
The mix should always be done in an acoustically treated room with expensive monitors. It’s the only way to make the piece sound good in every environment.
After the studies, I joined a private school for music production, taught by working professionals – same deal there. The mix must be done on SSL desks, with Dynaudio speakers in a room designed for a quarter of a million pounds.
“Well, it is what it is,” I thought to myself.
After that, I got a job in a sound department at a movie studio. Eight mixing theatres, two with Dolby Atmos sound. Safe to say – everything sounded fantastic there. I worked with most talented dialogue mixers in the country, real veterans of audio mixing.
The rule – never mix on headphones!
Professional mixes must be done in deluxe rooms with the expensive set-up. Even my editing studio had a surround system of calibrated Dynaudios. I got used to that comfy chair and top of the shelf editing and mixing system.
Then, I left my job.
I knew I wanted to go freelance and work from home. The issue was real, I’ve cleaned the dust off my Focusrite interface and Adam monitors and was ready. The problem was that my set up is in the bedroom, no acoustics, no high-end studio design.
Mixing gig was out of the window.
Or was it?
After 18 months with Casefile (and other projects), I learned that rules could be broken and be shaped.
I’m proud to say that I mix on headphones.
Yes, I said. Get over it.
I figured that most people listen to podcasts on their phones, on cheap ear-in headphones. So number one goal should be to make it sound as good as possible on that platform. Casefile needs a good mix, a good balance for score and narration. I can’t lie, it is tricky, and I still make mistakes. But so far the unique approach worked quite well for the podcast and my production practice.
I do the first edit on speakers. The first edit is cutting out mistakes, working with creative breaks and pauses, making the narration as a whole.
I do the second edit on headphones. This takes place in iZotope Rx, and it is in-depth cleaning process. I’m not able to hear every little lip smack on the monitors and Sony MDR-7506 headphones are brilliant in revealing details.
When I write music, I do it on monitors.
When I mix the cues, it’s all on headphones.
Then the first mix – I do the first run on Sony MDRs. I try to balance the score and narration, but the issue is that these phones are closed-cup.
They cut out external noise and give amazing, however not a real representation of the mix.
Why not real?
Well, it’s only a small percentage of people who listen to the podcast on these kinds of headphones. Most use ear-ins with their phones. Plus the listening is usually done during the work commute, at the gym or work.
That’s why there is a second pass on the mix. And that’s when I use cheap ear-ins. I have a few pairs as each sounds slightly different and I change them during the mix. I make the adjustments to the score and narration.
And that finalises it.
Yes, I will still check the mix on the monitors, on other mediums but the primary goal is to make it sound good on cheap ear-ins.
There is also an issue of exporting to MP3 format. The mix will sound different when played as compressed MP3 in comparison to what I’ve done in Pro Tools. So I keep that in mind during the mixing process too.
Is it a perfect process? Of course not, but as the saying goes ‘if it sounds good, then it’s good’.
The point I want to make is that times are changing and technological progress means that bedroom producers have now much more power than in the past. Yes, it’s great to have a dedicated room for your work. Acoustically designed for high-end systems. But a laptop and pair of headphones will work too, and it shouldn’t stop you from trying.
Of course, let’s not forget that it’s the mastery of skills that matter the most. Don’t worry about the set up as much, improve where you can but what’s most important – get to work!
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