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Why You Mix in the Morning and Not at Night

  03/02/10 21:16, by , Categories: Sound, Studio Sound, Ed Lapple, Take It From Me , Tags: barefootmusicnews, dan grigor, edward lapple, fatigue, fletcher-munson curve, frequencies, hearing, midrange, mixing, monitor speakers, sound recording

By Edward Lapple

If you are like most musicians that have recorded and mixed their own songs, you have probably experienced this.

You finish your session late at night and then you do a killer mix. It sounds great and you are thrilled. Thrilled, that is, until the next morning when you play your hot mix for your [Label / Agent / Band-mates / Friend / Significant Other / Mom / insert name here]. Incredibly, your multi-layered mixing extravaganza sounds like it’s all coming through a trumpet and being played over your cell phone.

What happened? All of the individual instruments which you could discern with such clarity at 2 AM have homogenized into midrange at 10 AM. The lead guitar is lost behind the snare, the horns sound like a buzzer in the corner, the backing harmonies are not there at all and your vocal is somewhere inside of the rhythm guitar. What has gone wrong? Have you gone deaf or stupid or both?

Click and Slide to Learn What Went Wrong

You have run afoul of fatigue and the law. The fatigue comes from hours of listening to progressively louder monitors, and the law is something that was stated by two fellows named Fletcher and Munson.

First, let’s address the fatigue problem. I don’t care if you’ve had three lattes a half-hour before you mix and you’re hopping around the control room on one foot. If you have been listening to the monitors for more than a couple of hours, your ears are starting to suffer from fatigue. And, as each minute passes, your ears are getting more fatigued. For verification of this, just note the position of the volume control for the monitors at the start of a session. Let’s say that the pointer on the knob is in the 10 o’clock position when the session starts. I’ll bet that six hours into the recording process you will find that the monitor volume control has crept up to 3 or 4 o’clock. As your ears get more fatigued by listening, you need to keep increasing the volume for it to seem as loud as it did half an hour before. By the end of the night, those things are screaming, but to you, the volume seems about the same as when you started the session.

Now for the law: this law was devised in 1933 by Harvey Fletcher and W. A. Munson. If you want to get bleary-eyed just Google these boys and read about their research. However, here’s the skinny on how it applies to our mixing problem. The subjective equalization of the ear changes with volume. The lows and the highs are much easier to hear at louder volumes. A Fletcher-Munson Curve illustrates that, as hearing fatigue causes you to crank it up, you will hear the bottom and the top with much more clarity. The end result is that, when you listen to your mix the next morning with fresh ears, at a normal human volume level, you are going to hear all of the mid-range instruments with what will seem like the lows and highs filtered out.

So now you know why what sounded so awesome last night, sounds so awful this morning. If you mix in the morning - or, more precisely, at the start of your session - you should get a better-sounding mix.

Another tip to achieve a good mix is to be sure to listen to the final mix on a small set of “near field” monitors. Then you have an idea what it is going to sound like on John Q. Public’s stereo system, which is a lot different than your big studio speakers. You might even want to drag in a couple of speakers from a five-year-old Nissan Sentra and hear what your mix is going to sound like coming over the radio and into a car.

Remember, it doesn’t matter how good a job you did playing and tracking if you lose it all in the mix. so be careful and do it right. The last thing that you want to do is approve a late-night mix and have it sent to duplication only to receive 1,000 CDs that sound like a bad call on a cell phone.


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Comment from: Jill Levinson
Jill Levinson


03/04/10 @ 05:24
Comment from: a strauber
a strauber

Also, you should listen to your mix at a variety of levels..

I do a lot of mixing at cocktail party levels..

If i can hear everything at a low level, it all works out..

04/04/10 @ 14:36
Comment from: Martin Stebbing
Martin Stebbing

One way I have found that will help you out is to monitor at low levels - you need speakers and amps that can deliver the goods at a lower level - and to avoid mucking about with the volume knob too much.
I also like to set up a boom box or auratones/ minimus 7s Studer 1/2 track speaker (glorious mono!)or some kinda small speaker system to check out. the trick is to match the level (relative of course) to the main monitors….. I long ago gave up using far fields or “bigs” which are there purely to rub the ego of the band. I usually go turn the buggers off….
regular breaks help. Less coffee, no coke, and pot is an after session treat if you roll that way. Try to maintain an even air temp and humidity as these affect the acoustics….. I find that if I have to raise my voice at all that my monitors are too loud… If you have some half deaf half wit who must rock da house leave the room until they have it back in their pants. A few seconds of mad volume will screw you for a whole day! Most peeps get it after the 5th time of you leaving the room!
Nice piece though!

04/04/10 @ 18:39
Comment from:

One of the last things I do in a mix is listen at conversation levels, a volume you can have a conversation over. Also I run the TV or something in the background to provide the conversation. I like it when my mix cuts through the room noise a little.

Great stuff Ed, More More More!

04/07/10 @ 15:15
Jeffrey Immediato

Pretty great revelation about a situation that always seems to occur. A very wise man once told me when you’re done with a session, play the recording thru a single speaker device…you’ll know if you really got it then.

04/07/10 @ 16:47
Bill Wayan

Things sound better when you are tired-your defenses are down as are your standards. Leave it for a while, come back when you are fresh. Nice post.

06/01/10 @ 17:51

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