Monitoring on Headphones vs. Speakers

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Hey, welcome back. So, in this video, I’m going to be chatting about your mixing environment. So, when you’re starting mixing, one of the most important things that I think sometimes gets glossed over is the importance of understanding your environment, and understanding your monitoring systems. That’s one of the key, key things that all successful recording artists or mixing engineers do, is they have a strong understanding of the environment in which they work.

Now, if you’re just starting out, you may be recording in an imperfect space. I’m in an imperfect space right now, this is my bedroom. My bed is right over there. My whole setup here is just on the side of the room here, it’s not optimal. But unfortunately, some of us are just limited by budget and just life circumstance, and that doesn’t mean that you can’t get a great mix and get a great sound.

So, don’t let that discourage you, but when it comes to mixing, how you listen to…how you hear your tracks is critical, and I’ll cover the idea of critical listening later, but for now, it’s just important to understand that…I mean, it’s obvious.

Your ears and how you hear your music affects the decisions you’re going to make when you’re mixing. It effects, you know, if you’re going to cut certain frequencies or turn the volume up, or turn the volume down, or how you’re going to balance different elements of the mix. That is affected by how you’re actually hearing things, and that’s why understanding your environment and your monitoring system is so key.

So, the first thing I’ll say is you should, if at all possible, get a pair of studio monitors like I have here. Doesn’t have to be these ones, these were $300 for the pair, but get a pair of solid studio monitors. Now, there’s a lot of debate around this. I know a lot of people think, “Well, spend as much money as you possibly can on your studio monitors, and just do that because the sound’s so much better.”

I argue that if you’re a beginner, and no disrespect, you’re not going to be able to really hear the differences in a super high quality $2,000 studio speaker versus a $150 one, you’re just not going to be able to pick things out quite as well. So, my suggestion is always start with what your budget can allow, and again, don’t go cheap with it. Don’t get a pair of $20 speakers, but start out with what you can afford, and build your studio step by step.

So, if you can, get a pair of studio monitors, and why that’s important is because your music is designed to be heard in space. You’re not going to be always playing your music, or people, if you’re sending it to your friends or family, or selling it, people are not going to be consuming it always on headphones.

The idea is that you want it to be played in a variety of different venues. You want it to be played at parties, at dances, whatever, and understanding how it behaves in space is really key for that. Understanding how those frequencies and the things you’re doing behave when you’re actually listening to it in a space is much better.

Now, that’s not to say, and I think this is important, that’s not to say that you can’t mix a song entirely on headphones. You absolutely can, and if your budget or circumstance prevents you from mixing on a pair of studio monitors, again, don’t let that discourage you.

Should your goal be eventually to get in a situation where you have some studio monitors? Yes, I highly encourage that, but don’t just stop because you just have a pair of headphones. Just understand what the weaknesses of headphones are. The weaknesses of headphones are, well, one, your ears can get worn out more easily because we tend to turn things up a little bit more when we’re listening to headphones, and we’re listening to music.

Thing is, after time, your ears can get worn out and you’ll just hear things differently, you won’t hear things as clearly and crisply as you need to hear when you’re trying to mix. The other thing, too, is that headphones can lie to you. Headphones make everything sound great, because they just encapsulate your entire ear, it’s just this perfect surround sound.

Again, I talked to Trina Shoemaker who is a Grammy-winning engineer, and she mentioned, she’s like, “Headphones don’t really count because everything sounds great on headphones.” So, if that’s the only thing you have, you can do it, but try to get a pair of studio monitors if you can.

The thing I’ll say, though, for people who do have a pair of studio monitors, don’t forget about headphones, because on the flipside, headphones are very helpful for monitoring because they can help you pick out specific subtleties that you might not be able to totally hear if you’re just listening to your studio monitors. There might be some frequencies or some issues in your mix that you’re just not picking up on. That’s where headphones can come in.

So, I always recommend, hey, plug in the headphones and try to mix a little bit on them even if you do have a pair of studio monitors. That’s what I do.

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