Can You Mix an Entire Song on Headphones?

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Question: Can you mix an entire song on headphones?

If life was perfect, everyone would be able to afford the best studio monitors, a perfectly treated space to mix music in, AND a nice pair of headphones to use.

Alas, life’s not perfect… so a lot of folks out there may ONLY have a pair of headphones to work with.

If that’s you, does it mean you are completely out of luck? Absolutely not.

  • The good news is, YES you absolutely can mix an entire song on headphones.
  • The bad news is, you’re going to run into some limitations.

Here are the limitations of mixing exclusively on headphones… and how to overcome them!

Limitation #1: Everything sounds great on headphones.

The low end sounds better, the spacing sounds better, effects sound better… because headphones just deliver the sound directly to your ears.

This makes it much harder to hear the mix objectively and make needed adjustments for balance.

How to overcome this limitation…

  • Listen to your mix on a second pair of headphones.
  • Mix at two volumes.

Having the extra information from a second pair of headphones gives you more opportunity to have your mixes flaws exposed.

Meanwhile, doing most of your mixing at one volume, then turning it down and checking it, can help protect you from the “everything sounds great because it’s loud” problem.

Limitation #2: Headphones tell you nothing about your track’s behavior in real spaces.

Sound waves can act pretty weird in space… but if they’re just going right from the headphones to your ear you won’t know that.

If you’re hoping to have your music played in many environments (including a bar, club, or friend’s BBQ)…

You NEED to have the best idea of how your track sounds when presented with real world acoustics.

How to overcome this limitation…

  • Listen to your mix on different speakers and in different environments.

Check your mix in the car, check it on those crappy computer speakers you got for Christmas in 1998… check it everywhere.

This will give you an idea of how things sound in a real space.

Limitation #3: Headphones will fatigue your ears faster.

The battle against hearing fatigue when mixing music never ends, and gets worse if you’re only using headphones.

How to overcome this limitation…

  • Mix at a lower volume.

This is a good practice even with studio monitors… but it’s more crucial when all you have are headphones.

Your ears will fatigue more slowly (and as mentioned before you’ll get a truer picture of the mix).

So if all you have is a pair of headphones, don’t worry… you can still make a GREAT mix!

I would encourage you to start working towards eventually getting a pair of studio monitors too though. That will only benefit you further as you improve. Still, remember to never let a gear limitation keep you from pursuing music!

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