I was at a friend’s studio last night to collect the files for some mixes, have a chat and to hear some of their new recordings. My mate opened up his Pro Tools session and was about to hit play, when he turned with a grin and asked me at what level did i wanted it played back at? – i.e did i want my face melted off or not? I replied equally in jest ‘why 83dB SPL of course’ – to which i got a nod and a finger shoving the fader to… ‘somewhere about there?…’
This got me thinking…
Now this post is nothing to do with any lack of knowledge about reference levels for monitor calibration but everything to do with the idea that even if you’ve calibrated your monitors correctly or have just set a subjective comfortable listening level (both of which are equally valid), that you must check your mixes at all levels – i.e keep whipping the monitor controller constantly up and down while mixing to make sure your mix works at every volume… i’m going to tell you why I think this makes the task of mixing even more difficult and much slower…
Mixing music is a highly subjective task where artistic creativity is king, one man’s meat is another man’s poison and you would think there would be no place for such things as absolutes. Surely the idea of any kind of rigid framework within this process would be complete anathema to building the creative inspiring mix? No so. Just as a Painter who works on a canvas, knows where the edges of the frame are and that helps him define his creation within those boundaries, when mixing music we also need our own kind of canvas – a stable background upon which we can be free to create.
I have read loads of articles on mixing which advocate the check-it-at-all levels thinking and i believe they are wrong. For example, lets say you have spent the time calibrating your monitors and you are quite happily beavering away on a mix, tweaking here and there and generally making it sound great at 83dbSPL, when you suddenly think ‘ wait!… i must see what this sounds like when i turn it up!’
So you turn it up.
Then you spend some time tweaking it at this new louder level till it sounds great again. Then you turn it back down… and spend some more time tweaking it back to where it sounds great at 83dB SPL…. then you turn it up again… and you spend some time tweaking it at this new louder level till it sounds great again. Then you turn it back down again… and spend some more time tweaking it back to where it sounds great at 83dB SPL…. and so on…
I think you get the point?
So, my advice would be – regardless of what monitor level you choose to begin your mixing at, don’t touch that dial!!!
Resist the temptation to adjust the monitor level to make the track sound exciting/dramatic/punchy/fat (or whatever else you are not feeling from your mix). Adjusting your listening level will subjectively enhance only your own personal listening experience. It will do nothing to improve your mix.
Just as the Painter doesn’t decide to change the size and shape of his canvas half way through painting his masterpiece, if you work hard to make your mix all of things you want it to be at a fixed monitoring position, it will always sound the way you wanted it to, regardless of where it is played.