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Struggling with mixing: New monitors or AI?

Manaberry

Active Member
Hi everyone.

I've been struggling lately (more like for few months tbh) with my tracks, especially on the low/mid range frequencies. I still have to learn a lot on the EQ/Mastering side but... I have this feeling... argggg.. the feeling that my monitors are good, but not that good for what I'm aiming for.

That feeling has been confirmed when I started to read a book "Mixing secrets for the small studio" from Mike Senior. Now, I have a second feeling: "Did I buy my first monitors too quickly...and without that much research because they were popular?" The answer is "YES".

I've two Yamaha HS-7. I'm well used to them now (got them a year ago). My studio is a bit treated (no flutter, the sweet spot is well preserved from unwanted sound waves). It's a nice product.

On the Audio Interface side, I'm still running with a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2nd Gen. So the overall price of my monitoring solution is $500.

It seems a higher quality monitors would help me on my adventure to greatness. But it means a pricey monitor. I've been thinking of Focal Shape Twin (French stuff yaay).

I'm creating this thread to get your opinion on the situation. I know we all have different ears and the choice of a monitor is a matter of personal taste. I've got only one pair of speakers in my whole composer's life. Some pros here heard a larger choice of high-end products.


I usually work at low db level, to be able to compose for hours without any ear's fatigue.
Most of the time, I do use my DT-770 Headphones to check the reverb, stereo and the overall mix of my tracks. I like my DT-770 but I would like to have my monitors being able to do that on their own sometimes..
90% of my music work is orchestral. The rest is Jazz/Funk/Pop stuff.


Here is my questions:
- I've been making music (full time) for a year now. Are my ears and needs evolved to a point I should consider to get a new pair of monitors to continue my journey?
- Is my Audio Interface too cheap to send a very clean signal?
- Am I deaf to a point I can't properly use my $200 HS7?

Thanks for reading and helping.
Best
 

dasbin

New Member
Don't worry about your interface at all. It may not be the best but in the scheme of things it's going to be the very least of your worries.

I'd recommend getting your monitors measured and quite possibly applying some corrective EQ (by someone with a lot of experience in doing so). I've yet to meet a monitor/room that can't be improved by careful use of corrective EQ, except maybe Genelecs which do it themselves.

If you can't afford to do that or find someone to do it, I would at least apply some careful EQ to smooth out the bumps that others have found in HS-7's. A quick Google image search for "Yamaha HS-7 frequency response" will show you some response charts. I would look at cutting that 800Hz bump and maybe trying to fill in the 110Hz and 9Khz gaps, depending on your room.

The last thing I would say is that it takes a very, very long time of intentional practice to get to a point where you can consistently make great professional-sounding mixes. I'm over 15 years into a full-time career in sound engineering and I feel like I've really only hit that point consistently in the last few years.

In the meantime, compare your mixes constantly. Like every 10 minutes of working on your mix, listen to a commercial release you think sounds good in the same genre. This is basically the most helpful thing you can do to avoid settling into long-term issues like low-mid buildup like you mentioned.

Low-mids need a lot of attention. I need to cut them on basically every track I make. They are naturally amplified by rooms, by proximity effect, by most consumer speakers, by air absorption taking away highs relative to them. Then, lows and low-mids sum much more easily when stacking tracks than higher frequencies, because it's so much easier for all the longer wavelengths to become relatively phase-aligned. It adds up quickly.
 
OP
Manaberry

Manaberry

Active Member
Thank you very much for your input. I've no option to measure my monitors for now so I assume I have to deal with it. I've been listening to a lot of favorite goal sounding track from my favorites composers. I've messing somewhere for sure.

I will take your advice on listening every 10 mins a reference track. It could change the game on my mixing.

I might have the budget for new speakers soon. Should I keep my money or go for something more precise even If I tweak my speakers with an EQ?

Obviously my room is not perfect, and no rooms will be until I get a decent flat. Focal says that the Shape Twin could get a better result within a "not perfect studio room acoustic". Commercial line or fact?

I guess a huge part of the work is on the low freq like you said. The stacking freq is kind of my regular problem, and when it's fixed, all the high make the music tasteless.
I'm planning on working another set of microphones positions choice with the new libraries I installed and start all the stuff from scratch by carefully selecting what I need.

Thanks again for your reply!
 

Henu

Senior Member
I've two Yamaha HS-7. ...running with a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2nd Gen.
I've mixed a couple of dozen albums with HS-8 and Scarlett 18i20 2nd Gen- latest time today.
My room is treated (to an extent) and I'm running Sonarworks on my setup. We've all been in the same situation where you are now, but it's usually not about your monitors.

It takes a LOT of time to make things sound good by default- it's a long road and goes usually like this:


Phase #1. The mixes sound like shit compared to the references. There's too much bass, too much highs, everything is a mess and it's either completely scattered dynamics-wise or doesn't breathe at all. There's stereo widening everywhere, delays fighting over overbright reverbs and you just want to throw a brick through your computer screen. Your Virtual Mixing Analog Distortion Tape Satanizer makes everything a bloody hell, but as the big boys are also using the analog stuff and talk about saturation and big bottoms, you do it too. At best, it sounds like a cheap metal band demo from the late 80´s.

Throw the books away. They're only messing your head for now. Get back to the computer and start working.

Phase #2. You realize you're doing too much with the processing and try it tone it down. You start to think that maybe your analog emulations are doing more harm than good. The mix is still a bit muddy, but it breathes better now and doesn't hurt your ears as you decided to use a stock EQ instead of Sven Svate's newest emulation of rare 60´s vintage dog Multec clone. You feel it's not that different from the unmixed version and start to clean too much of low mids and hi-mid resonances. You clean them too much, but at least it's better than in phase #1.

Phase #3. Now you are more careful with the processing, and don't do too large cuts or boosts. You're trying to avoid all that extra-one-knob-amazer-plugins and whatnot exciters and choruses. It sounds better, but not good. You spend a ton of time to fix a lot of things. Somehow, after spending four days with one song, it all starts to lock together and you manage to pull off something you don't hate. Then you start adding the one-knob-superizers and chorusing excitedelays and ruin it finally with tape saturation and whatnot. Note to self: This is not yet the time. You need a stock EQ, one decent compressor and that's it.

Phase #4. Fluctuate between #2 and #3 until it's only #3 all the time, (but without the last phase with plugins you don't know how to use properly). It's not supergood, but a listenable mix where nothing jumps out in it's all badness. You start to experiment with Sven Svate's analog emulations and realize that in small doses they can actually bring something cool out. Then you remember the golden rule- whenever you find you've dialled the right amount of that extra oomph/saturation/sparkle/FX...BACK IT OFF. You do so, and you manage to pull the mix together. The only problem is that it still takes that four days to do one song and it's all about happy accidents.

NOW THIS IS THE PART WHEN YOU START READING THOSE BOOKS.
(Because now you actually can take advantage on them.)


Phase #5. The more time you spend practicing and just "doing it", the more you realize that the best stuff comes out when you're not overthinking. Pan everything and balance roughly FIRST without touching a single plugin. What sounds good? What sounds bad? How does it compare to your reference material? What needs to be tamed down or what needs a bit polishing? Does this track need an EQ? Not really, but you can just put a low-pass filter if you really insist. No, you don't have to try out five different compressors on those overheads. In fact, you don't even have to compress them at all. When the overall sound is done, you start to polish small things. Maybe now it could be time for that one-knob-superizer? And how about that small 16th note delay for a little movement for the guitar? And if you're brave enough, throw some more of that analog emulation beef for some tracks.

Phase #6. You sit to the computer with confidence, make cuts and curves like a pro, and god help if there's a client you love to impress them with confident "sure, I can do that, just a sec..." grin. When the client leaves, you spend hours on tweaking small things to make the track really shine. Then you get carried away, crank the living shit out of the drums, overprocess the vocals and put too much of those delays everywhere. But hey, that's life. You'll notice it the next day and are happy you didn't send THAT version to the client. ;)

Phase #7. There is no phase #7. It's mostly something between 5 and 6, sometimes even 2 on a bad day. The more you do, the more you practice and the more you learn how to listen your monitors, the less there are those #2's and more of #5-6. There's not a single mix I've done what I think is perfect, and there probably never will be. This was taught to me my mentor, who I consider the best ever in his own genre and has done mixing for living since the late 80´s. It's all about learning, trying new things, and most of all- learning to fail fast and to realize what works and what doesn't.

I hope some of this was useful for you! In all seriousness, don't buy new gear- buy Sonarworks. Then find your spot from those phases I wrote down, find out the worst traps and landmines and get mixing while trying your best to avoid them! ^^
 
OP
Manaberry

Manaberry

Active Member
Shiet... I'm between Phase #4 and #5. Still working on my sound because my musical taste evolved. Some happy accident happens to me sometime, but the good things are done because of knowledge and experience.
I'm glad to see I'm in the right spot to read the book. I'm pleased with some of my tracks but I know they do not fit in the commercial quality box yet.

You did resume a lot of things very well. I feel less alone, and I'm thankful for that! I still need to go to my car to check my track... and that's why it starts to drive me nuts. I guess Sonarworks could help on that part indeed or a mid-range mixcube maybe? I know, I know... Another piece of gear, but it looks to useful for that purpose..

I guess my biggest recent mistake was to compress and reduce the volume of the overall low freq instead of cleaning better this range on concerned tracks.

Anyway, thank you for your input. I start to see something in this tunnel!
 

David Chappell

Active Member
It's almost certainly problems with the room - it's crazy how much the room affects the quality of the sound. I'd suggest looking into some sort of monitor calibration software, such as sonarwork's reference 4. That's what I went with and it's probably the single thing that's made the most difference. I have a similar setup (scarlett 2i4 and KRK Rokit 5s) and, while I'm no mixing engineer, I'm certainly confident enough in the quality of my mixes now that I've started using sonarworks.

Aside from that, I've learned with orchestral, and even trailer, 80-90% of a mix comes from a good arrangement alone. Having sonarworks correcting for the room at all times certainly helps with that :)
 

bill5

Active Member
- I've been making music (full time) for a year now. Are my ears and needs evolved to a point I should consider to get a new pair of monitors to continue my journey?
That's impossible for anyone but you to answer, but I very seriously doubt it. It's not like you're mixing on $8.95 ear buds.

- Is my Audio Interface too cheap to send a very clean signal?
You should know the answer to that by now, but generally speaking, hell no. That's a very good quality AI.

- Am I deaf to a point I can't properly use my $200 HS7?
See my first response.

I think when you said " I still have to learn a lot on the EQ/Mastering side.." that probably gives you your answer. IMO the most common mistake people make starting out is thinking they need better (i.e. pricier) gear. They don't. You will likely see a tiny improvement IF THAT by doing so. Focus on learning your craft, i.e. both playing and listening/mixing. That will give you far better returns. And best of all it doesn't cost anything (except your time). :)
 

NekujaK

Member
All great advice in these posts. The only thing I'll add is this simple exercise... mix gradually. First, take a recording of a single guitar and try to craft a sound that brings out the best in the instrument. Once you feel you can handle that successfully, try the same with a solo bass. When you've got both of those under your belt, try a few other instruments individually. Make sure you go thru the entire process of renderng a final track and listening to it on a stereo, in your car, etc. You might be surprised how challenging it is just to get one instrument to sound excellent.

When you're reasonably adept at individual instruments, and are familiar with their sonic characteristics, try mixing tracks that have pairs of instruments playing together. Then only graduate to adding more instruments when you feel you understand how to successfully mix the current configuration.

It only takes 3 or 4 instruments playing together for things to start getting quite complicated. But if you've done the work to get to that point, you'll have developed a decent foundation for taking on the challenge.
 

Nick Batzdorf

Moderator
Moderator
I've come to rely on having more than one set of speakers as additional references. With the new video card I bought to run the latest macOS on my machine, I'm even able to send audio over HDMI to the TV I use as an auxiliary monitor.

While my primary speakers are the easiest to hear on - mainly because they're really good, but also because they're 4' away from me - all the other pairs reveal something different.
 

Henu

Senior Member
simple exercise... mix gradually
Just remember that in 8 times out of 10 your solo-processed, now-wonderful-sounding instrument makes your mix should like a complete mess when you hit the solo button again and hear it with the other instruments. So while @NekujaK 's advice is good, he forgot to include this caveat which needs to be said as well.

Couple of good tricks to consider as well:

- Get cheap multimedia speakers for referencing and listen to the sonic balances through them.
- Mix at least 50% of the time in mono. You'll get the balances better faster and more accurately.
- Hit play... and walk away from the room. Go make some coffee and take a leak. Don't listen to the song- use it as a background noise. When you walk back to the room while the song still plays, you'll notice very quickly what's sticking out of the mix in a bad way. (This is an awesome trick which works for me very often.)
 

Parsifal666

I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.
Spend money on an online engineering course, which will do you worlds better than blowing it on new gear.

Trust me on this, the time you put in studying will make you stand out above the mob (and that's something you'll sorely need in this big ole day and age).
 

vgamer1982

New Member
the golden rules of mixing for me, opinions vary but...
1) they called them balance engineers back in the day for a reason, most of it is about balancing well-written and recorded tracks, not EQ, compression, and so on
2) most mix problems are actually arrangement problems
3) a great piece of music badly mixed will still be compelling, a less great bit of music well mixed still sucks
4) most online mixing courses suck
5) if you see someone with like 400 plugins in their session and they're slapping stuff on without much seeming regard, some of those "epic music mixing" tutorials are just idiotic. if you want to watch someone mix properly look at the mix with the masters thing with Alan Meyerson
6) the old adage of "use your ears" ALWAYS applies, a lot of it is learning not to mix but learning to listen to what's actually there vs what you think is there
7) I'd take a well-treated and tuned room with a pair of $300 speakers any day over a $30k monitoring system in a crap room
8) It's really 90% about the room, in terms of tech
9) what you're really mixing for is the Fletcher-Munson curve, loudness is perceived incredibly differently by the volume level it is played at, so the old pink noise mixing technique isn't actually the worst way to learn
10) it's largely about being able to balance, and then correct for frequency masking. compression is part of balance, first and foremost, unless you're trying to saturate or make the sound itself different, which is totally fine but you see people slapping compressors on things where they just haven't balanced it properly....so start off by trying to balance simple individual elements...violins against basses. solo against strings. etc. etc. etc....then group them and add the next thing in....and so on.
 

vgamer1982

New Member
ps mix mindfully and musically. what do I want to hear at this point in the track? does this sound please me? Does it sound bright/dull/boxy/wide/narrow.....what relationship does it have musically to the rest of what's going on? mix in groups, mix in stems...if you solo the winds on any decent orchestral mix they balance internally. most stems balance internally in a good mix....
 

Mike Fox

Senior Member
Whenever i run into mixing issues, it's usually due to the composition itself.

Btw, the size of your monitors and the size of your room make a HUGE difference. I went from using JBL's in a standard sized room to a very small room. The JBLs somehow turned to a muddy mess in that room. I switched to iloud micros, and they are amazing for small to average sized spaces.
 
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Dietz

Space Explorer
the golden rules of mixing for me, opinions vary but...
1) they called them balance engineers back in the day for a reason, most of it is about balancing well-written and recorded tracks, not EQ, compression, and so on
2) most mix problems are actually arrangement problems
3) a great piece of music badly mixed will still be compelling, a less great bit of music well mixed still sucks
4) most online mixing courses suck
5) if you see someone with like 400 plugins in their session and they're slapping stuff on without much seeming regard, some of those "epic music mixing" tutorials are just idiotic. if you want to watch someone mix properly look at the mix with the masters thing with Alan Meyerson
6) the old adage of "use your ears" ALWAYS applies, a lot of it is learning not to mix but learning to listen to what's actually there vs what you think is there
7) I'd take a well-treated and tuned room with a pair of $300 speakers any day over a $30k monitoring system in a crap room
8) It's really 90% about the room, in terms of tech
9) what you're really mixing for is the Fletcher-Munson curve, loudness is perceived incredibly differently by the volume level it is played at, so the old pink noise mixing technique isn't actually the worst way to learn
10) it's largely about being able to balance, and then correct for frequency masking. compression is part of balance, first and foremost, unless you're trying to saturate or make the sound itself different, which is totally fine but you see people slapping compressors on things where they just haven't balanced it properly....so start off by trying to balance simple individual elements...violins against basses. solo against strings. etc. etc. etc....then group them and add the next thing in....and so on.
I would subscribe to most of these points you made, especially the "balancing engineer" and the "90% room" thing! :)

I would like to add that the most important question during a mix is, "Louder than _what_?!?" Or actually, "... in relation to what?" What I mean to say is: Every mix defines a new universe of its own to some extent, as there is no "absolute loud" when there's nothing quiet in relation; there's no "absolute bright" when everything is bright; nothing is "dry" when everything is upfront. And so on ...

A well-balanced mix is all about creating good relations between individual signals. That's about it! :)
 
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