Lost In Translation: How to Make Mixes That Sound Great Everywhere

There are few things worse than spending hours and hours on a mix, just to hear it somewhere later and hate how it sounds. Once the track is in the club or on iTunes there’s nothing you can do. But plenty can be done while mixing to make sure you’ll sound right wherever the song is played.
How a mix sounds on different systems is known as “translating.” How well a mix translates depends on a few factors: How accurate your monitors are, and how well you know their strengths and weaknesses.
No speaker is perfect, I don’t care what the people at Genelec and Augspurger tell you. Some may may be huge three-way mains with tons of low end thump, some may be tiny and tinny. A perfect, 100% accurate speaker simply does not exist, so while that is the goal, the next best thing is to find monitors you like and learn them. Be honest, don’t convince yourself your monitors are perfect just because you dropped a grand (or more) on them. Listen to your favorite records on them and learn what they really sound like.
Are your mixes sounding dull when they leave your lab? Your monitors may actually be too bright and are masking how much high-end you need to add (or, how much not to remove). How much you need to compensate will obviously vary from speaker to speaker, but if you compare to your reference music, you’ll be able to tell. If you have to compensate to the point it sounds unpleasant to you, there are a few options.
For one, you can buy new monitors — but, that is clearly the most expensive option. Maybe you took the speaker grill/covers off because it looks cooler. Yes, it does look way cooler, but because of the easily-blocked nature of high frequencies, it may be adversely effecting your listening. Lastly, an age old studio trick is to tape a piece of tissue paper over your tweeter. It may look a little funny, but studio vets used to working on the original Yamaha NS-10 speakers will appreciate it.
The biggest translation problem most small studio setups face is accurate bass. Small monitors are just not designed for the huge low end requirements of a lot of hip hop. Get comfortable with the limits of your monitors, and accept them. What you want to avoid is turning up your low-end so it sound right on your bass-deficient speakers. This will be way too much in the real world. You can also add a subwoofer, but be careful not to overdo it, because overcompensating in the studio will likely mean that your actual mix lacks the right amount of bass on a regular setup.
Voxengo SPANReliable metering will also help your mixes, especially zoning in on midrange issues. Ideally your mix will be well balanced across all frequencies. A good real-time spectrum analyzer will help you spot extreme peaks and valleys and not only correct them, but also help you learn more about your monitors. (Bonus tip: Voxengo makes a great spectrum analyzer called “Span” and it’s free. Check out and thank me later)
Once you’ve gotten your monitors sounding right and your mix sounding great on them, stop listening to them. Really. Always check your mix in multiple places; computer speakers, iPod earbuds, a car — really anywhere someone might listen to music is a great place to check your work. Think about where you listen to most of your music and listen there. If you notice big differences between your track and others you’ll know what to address. Remember, the mix may sound great in your room, but no one else is going to listen to it there so make it sound great everywhere.

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