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Producer’s Corner: Studio Monitor Basics – Part 2

Hello to all you platinum producers. It is good to be back. I have been working on a couple projects and had to take some time away from my desk. I am back in the saddle and am ready to roll. If you get a chance please check out my new and improved website at www.tunemanproductions.com. I have a lot of music there and some studio examples for your listening pleasure. I have a couple hip-hop tunes in the studio section and the accordion section. Look for "Special K" and "Godfather Blow Up." Okay, so let's continue with monitors.

Your listening position can dramatically affect your final mixes. Since volume decreases with increasing distance from the sound source, if you sit closer to the left monitor than the right one, for instance, you will not hear the right one as loudly. Your natural tendency in the mix then will to be to turn up the volume of the right monitor so that the sound hitting your ear sounds balanced. Unfortunately, when you play your mix back, your listener is going to hear too much right channel and the mix will not be good. Always sit dead center between your monitors.

Also, near-field monitors are named so because they are meant to be listened to from a near distance. Typically you should sit about 3-6 ft. away. If you sit closer you won’t get a proper sample of all the sound waves. If you sit further away you will hear too many sound waves bouncing off your room. These are called reflections and they will fool your ear into thinking your mix has more reverb and brightness than it really does.

Finally, you want to sit at a height that has your ears smack dab at the mid level of your monitors. Always make an equilateral triangle between you and your monitors. In other words, if you place your monitors 4 ft. apart, then you must sit 4 ft away, dead center between the two monitors. The following graphic illustrates the proper listening position.

The Ideal Listening Environment in A Recording Studio

Can I mix with headphones?

Well, you can drive without a license but it isn't a good idea. Mixing with headphones is a recipe for disaster and it doesn't matter how much you paid for your headphones. The human ear is a very complex organ and the outer ear has a lot to do with the way our body hears sounds. This outer auricle or pinna as it is called, collects and shapes all the sounds we hear. Once you put headphones on and "inject" sound directly into the middle ear, you have eliminated a major part of the ear from your listening environment.

Mixing these sounds will give you an artificial interpretation of your recordings and your mixes will suffer. The term "monitoring head phones" refers to an engineer monitoring, or listening to the sounds he is recording. Do yourself a favor, don’t mix using headphones.

Does volume affect my mixes?

It is important that your mixes sound good at any volume; however I am here to tell you that if your mix sounds good at soft and medium volumes, it is going to sound good when you pump it up. Conversely mixing loudly will more often than not give you the illusion that your mixes are better than they really are. Check this out” Years ago the Reverend James Baker noticed that teenagers became very emotional at rock concerts. He deduced that it was the throbbing sound that caused this energy, and he was correct. James Baker was a pioneer at using sub woofers in his church. He did it way before it was popular in rock concerts and pimped out SUVs.

His experience provides an important lesson for engineers. When the music is loud we feel pumped up, super-charged, energetic. High volume will cause us to ignore important details and get caught up in the emotion of the throbbing beat. For that reason, mix at sensible volumes and groove out after you press your master.

So how loud should I listen?

In addition to ruining your mixes, loud volume will ruin your ears and destroy your hearing. Medical authorities have established 80 decibels as the safe listening volume over an 8-hour period. Since most of us mix for long periods at a time, 80 decibels (dB) is the sensible level.

For your information, the sound generated by an electric blender is about 80 dB from 10 feet away. The sound of a passing train is about 90 dB. The sound of rain on the street is about 70 dB.

At increased volumes, hearing damage will take place in a shorter period of time. A typical set of modern powered monitors can generate levels as loud as 135 dB. At this sound level, ear damage occurs in a matter of minutes.

An even louder message!

When digital recordings first hit the marketplace, many people complained that they sounded harsh and brittle. Most attributed this phenomenon to digital technology (CDs). As it turned out this was only partially true. It is true that digital recordings are brighter than analog recordings but a further look into music culture revealed another culprit, one that had nothing to do with technology.

Oddly, the age of digital recording coincided with a time when many of the recording artists from the 60s and 70s were no longer performing but instead were producing. As we came to find out later on, the loud music of the 60s and 70s caused widespread hearing loss in many of these new producers.

Since it is the high frequencies that are first affected in hearing loss, many of these producers were overcompensating for their hearing deficiencies. They added extra highs so their recordings sounded good.

What they didn't realize is that for the normal listening public, who didn’t have hearing loss these recordings were too thin, tinny and brittle sounding. Peter Townsend of “The Who” is one of many artists who has acknowledged his high-end hearing loss.

People, do yourself a favor: monitor at sensible volumes.

With that, I will leave you all with a few final tips in the table below. Until next time, mix a hit!

Recording Studio Monitor Tips

Tommy V

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