A Few Notes on Monitoring…

A Few Notes on Monitoring…

Some notes on monitoring…
People will get super crazy about EQing their rooms, buying insane monitors and investing in expensive headphones. In my experience, these all definitely help, but you can take your production and quality of sound a long, long way with a careful ear, lots of A/Bing and use of spectrum analysers.
Know what your monitoring system sounds like, figure out what its weaknesses are, compare a lot (like, lots…) with pro tunes, listen to your stuff (and pro tunes) on multiple sound systems, get familiar with spectrum analysers and produce on headphones as well as speakers. If you take all this into account, you can get very, very good results on cheap studio/monitoring setups. Here are a few notes on how to improve your overall monitoring and to be aware of what you are hearing.

  1. In my opinion, a decent pair of headphones (something aimed at the studio environment that costs more than about $150) and a pair of decent studio monitors (again, something that costs more than a couple of hundred dollars) is a more than adequate set up for producing and getting good results.
    • Headphones provide a “zoomed in” perspective on music and will allow you to hear things you won’t necessarily hear on even decent speakers in a good room. Drum tails, weird resonances and a whole host of other things will pop out at you after listening to something you’ve worked on with speakers only. Of special note are bassy elements; headphones have a way of not fully communicating the weight and size of bassy things, especially kicks I find. It takes a bit of time and effort to truly balance a kick simply on headphones, it’s much easier to do it in tandem with speakers too. Aside from hearing greater detail, headphones also allow you to get an overall, wider-range perspective on what you’re producing, almost like hearing something for the first time again. I recommend producing at least 25% of the time on headphones; I work with headphones more than this but 25% of the time or so will at least allow you to error check your work.
    • A decent set of studio monitors will allow you to produce freely and perhaps a little more easily than with headphones (less potential fatigue). However, with speakers, your room plays a large part in the overall sound you hear. Be careful to notice where the bass is audible in your room from your speakers and to take note of any echoes or delays imparted by walls. If you become very familiar with how your speaker set up conveys sound, you’ll get great results. I find working with speakers good for doing large-scale production work and using headphones for smaller details and accuracy.
  2. A/Bing your work with other professionally music is invaluable.
    • Although it can be demoralising, A/Bing your production with music from people you respect and look up to will teach you a lot. You can learn so many things about mixes, sound design, balancing and composition by noting how your favourite producers do things and trying to emulate them. There’s no shame in straight up trying to recreate something in someone else’s tune mix-wise or technically. There are ways to do things which are arguably better than others and hearing them and trying to work them out yourself is invaluable.
    • There are plugins which allow you to load up two files and quickly switch between them which can be useful but I like to just drag the file I want to compare against into my DAW and play it there. Just make sure there’s no master processing interfering with the file you drag in to compare with.
  3. Spectrum analsyers play a huge role in achieving a more professional and polished sound. You should always trust your ears first but there are some things which analysers will help you with greatly.
  • I use frequency spectrum analysers in two ways mainly: I have one at the very end of my master channel (Voxengo Span; amazing & free: http://www.voxengo.com/product/span/) as well as in-built ones in plugins such as FabFilter Pro-Q. The master one allows for big picture stuff whereas the one inside an EQ on individual tracks lets you get surgical.
  • There are three areas of the frequency spectrum I believe I used the help of analysers the most; upper treble (5khz+), low mids (150-500hz) and subbass (<150hz). I find these areas particularly tricky to control sometimes and A/Bing and studying some pro tunes (as well as experimenting with your own tunes on speakers and headphones) will allow you, over time, to get a sense of what is “right” in these areas and how much energy should be in these areas for individual tracks. Watch out for hi hats being too sharp, vocals being too bright, kicks and basses being too muddy in the low mids and, of course, subbass being too loud.
  • Spectrum analysers are SO USEFUL when it comes to working out correct subbass levels; put an analyser on your favourite tunes and see where their sub levels peak and sit at mostly. Great. Now you can copy that and apply that to your own tunes!
    Get familiar with some dB levels on an analyser and where common frequencies usually sit.