The digital age has brought us the unbelievable ability to craft chart-topping albums from the comfort of our bedrooms, but bedrooms are hardly ideal acoustic environments…

We know that sound is heavily impacted by the environment it occurs in – the echo you hear in large churches, the pitch changes in large drums vs. small drums, and the ever-controversial “cupping the mic” technique are just a few examples of how sound transforms because of its surroundings. The space in which we make our music is no exception.

Being able to hear our mixes properly and accurately is the difference between mixes that sound great at home and mixes that sound great everywhere. While cramped bedrooms and reflective basements can bring on a slew of issues to prevent this, here are Wired Guitarist’s 6 Monitoring Mistakes To Avoid.

1. Poor Speaker Placement

Speaker placement has a huge impact on how you hear music. If your speakers are placed improperly, chances are you’ll hear when things are dead center, or hard panned to one side, with little to no perception of panning anywhere between those two points. You may also hear the EQ improperly, leading you to think there is more or less treble or bass than there really is.

When placing your studio monitors, your goal is to create an equilateral triangle. For those of you who dozed off in geometry like I did, this means a triangle in which each side is the same length, and each angle is equal to 30 degrees. Your speakers are going to be two points of the triangle, and your head is going to be the third.


(PRO TIP: In order for this method to be most effective, try to place your monitors at least 4 feet apart if possible, otherwise your stereo field will be too narrow, compounding the issue further.)

In order to have the most accurate EQ response as well, there are two important factors:

1)Where the speakers are placed in the room

2) Their height relative to your head.

In order to prevent bass build-up, you want to place your speakers away from any corners, preferably in the center of the length of a wall. If they are rear-ported (meaning there’s a specially designed hole in the back for the bass frequencies), you should also back them up from the wall about 12 inches or more. As for height, your ears should sit between the woofer and the tweeter (the main speaker, and the small one above it), but be sure to consult the manual as your speakers may be designed with a different height in mind.

Let’s break this down a bit for you:

1) Place your speakers at least 4 feet apart, in the center of the wall
2) If they are rear-ported, place them 12 inches or more from the wall
3) Adjust the height of your speakers so that your ears are in between the woofer and the tweeter (the main speaker, and the smaller speaker above it)
4) From the center of your speaker cone, take a measuring tape and check the distance between your speakers
5) Move your listening position (or speakers) so that you have the same distance from your head to each speaker cone, as you do from your left speaker to your right speaker

2) No Consistent Listening Volume

If you’re not familiar with the Fletcher-Munson curve, here’s the jist of it: the way we hear music changes based on the volume. The louder we play music, the more bass and treble our brains hear. It’s a weird quirk of the human body, and the reason we like to turn it up!

To compensate for this, the general recommendation is that we should listen to our music at 79-85db to hear the most “neutral” frequency response… that’s pretty loud. Most of us aren’t able to listen at volume levels that high without angering a significant other and a few neighbors.

If you can reach that level, then go for it! For those of us who can’t, there’s still a lesson to be learned here – pick a volume, and stick with it. If you’re used to hearing music at a consistent volume, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions when mixing or mastering. Raising or lowering the volume briefly to check EQ or volume levels is fine, but generally speaking, you should have a consistent playback level for the majority of your work.

A more modest listening level can still be just fine, as long as you’re consistent with that volume level, it’ll be easier to hear how your mixes stand up to others.

Which brings us to our next point…

3) Not Using References

No matter what environment you mix in – bedroom, small studio, headphones, or professional mastering studio – you shouldn’t be making decisions blindly. One of the most common mistakes I see beginners making is that they don’t have reference mixes to compare their mix to.

Having mix references can help balance out an untreated room or poor speakers, as you can try and match the overall balance of your track to the professional track. By following the reference track(s) as a very rough guide for levels and general EQ curve, you get your mix closer to the sound of that chart-topping hit, making informed decisions instead of ignorant ones.

This is also a fantastic method if you have to mix or master in a studio that you’re not familiar with, since you know how those tracks sound at home, so the differences will stick out for you on the new system.

Keep a list of reference tracks that you like. These tracks aren’t just a list of your favorite songs and artists, but should be filled with songs that contain something you love about the production.  Whether it’s a metal song with a huge, clear low end, or a pop song with an amazing vocal mix, if there’s something you admire about the production, bookmark that song for later.

(PRO TIP: Keep in mind it’s always better to have high-quality audio to use as a reference rather than compressed audio like MP3’s. Low-quality audio can drastically change the way you hear the music. If you can, buy the CD and rip the audio from it to get high-quality WAV, FLAC, or ALAC. Otherwise, try and at least buy high-quality MP3 or AAC online.)

4. Not Using Multiple Systems

A great mix has to sound great on any and every sound system, whether it’s $100,000 studio monitors, the PA at a bar, or an iPod. In order to make sure your mixes and masters are translating well to other systems, you need to keep a variety of other systems in your studio.

While most pro studios have several sets of monitors totaling thousands of dollars, you don’t need that in order to get a better perspective on your mix. Everyone has access to a cheap set of earbuds, and while you don’t want to do your main mix on them, they are highly valuable in hearing how your mixes translate.

Studio Monitor
For every mix I do, I listen on at least 5 different systems. For me personally, that includes my studio monitors, my car, my iPod earbuds, my studio headphones, and my laptop. 

Don’t forget to listen to your reference mixes on these systems too, in order to see how your mixes are stacking up across a range of listening devices!

Still not sure if your mix is good enough to release yet? Put your mind at ease… Check out our 5 Tips Before Finalizing Your Mix.

5. Not Treating Your Room

Alright, we get it, buying acoustic treatment isn’t cheap. But you know what is cheap? Making it yourself!

There are countless tutorials online about making acoustic treatment, and if you’re willing to put in the time to do a small amount of research, you can build thousands of dollars worth of quality acoustic panels for a couple hundred bucks. I even made enough panels to treat my entire room for $150, not bad huh?

Even if you’re on a $0 budget, there’s still room to improve. With a little bit of research, you can find free ways to improve the sound of your room. A closet filled with clothes can be a great vocal booth, a bookshelf filled with books can help with diffusion, a mattress in a corner can act as a bass trap. A little time spent online can yield huge amounts of knowledge to help your room sound its best!

Don’t go out and buy acoustic treatment from a big name company. Do yourself a favor and go DIY! You’ll get exactly what you need, you’ll spend way less, and your room is going to sound much better – and by extension, your mixes.

6. Not Using Room EQ Correction

This is by far the best investment I made for my home studio, and it’s also one of the cheapest…

The goal for a great monitoring setup is a flat response: every frequency is represented evenly and accurately. Ideally, you have monitors with an even, flat frequency response – it doesn’t boost or cut any frequency area too much. However, not only are monitors like that expensive but even if you own $50,000 monitors, your room can take that flat EQ curve and turn it into a roller-coaster.

So what’s a budding young producer to do about it? Turns out, it’s a pretty easy fix, actually.

Measurement Mic

Measurement microphones are flat response mics designed for capturing accurate measurements of a room’s EQ curve. By playing some sound through your speakers, the mic will pick up the sound and analyze that information, showing you the issues in your room. If you have too much 150Hz, or too little 783Hz, it’ll show you all of this on a graph. One you have this graph, you can build an EQ filter preset that compensates for any major cuts or boosts.

Think of it like using EQ to make your speakers and room sound flatter without having to spend tons of money on high-end monitors and acoustic treatment. You can get a measurement mic for under $75, and with an afternoon of reading and testing, you can have a great sounding room in no time, allowing you to be confident in your mixing!

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This article was written by Connor Gilkinson, our editor located in Canada.


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