HOME & AWAY
Technical Articles/October 11, 2013
If you’re working in an unfamiliar studio, what precautions do you take to prevent your mixes coming out sounding like dull, bass-heavy foghorns or thin slices of white bread? Have you made sure you’ve tuned your ears and your thinking to the new environment? Hope so.
Since most recording engineers tend to work in only one studio environment nowadays – home primarily – their capacity for travelling to ‘away games’ seems to be diminishing.
AWAY, BUT NOT LOST
The main trick with mixing ‘away’ is getting comfortable with the tonal balance of the studio monitors as soon as possible. Setting up your own speakers is pretty useful in this regard if it’s at all practical, for the obvious reason that it eliminates the most basic point of difference between your own environment and someone else’s: the monitoring… well, sort of.
The problem with this theory is that, in different environments, your own monitors can sound quite different. It’s an important fact to acknowledge actually, because there’s only one thing more dangerous than using someone else’s monitors in a foreign environment, and that’s assuming your own monitors will sound identical everywhere you go. They won’t.
It’s certainly a good starting point nonetheless. It makes you feel comfortable from the get-go, seeing your old mates parked in front of you like loyal co-workers. To me the idea of sitting in front of some yellow-coned KRKs, for instance, would immediately have me reaching for the sick bag. No offense to KRK loyalists, I just don’t like them much – at least I didn’t the last time I encountered them.
But speakers don’t sound familiar anyway if there’s nothing familiar playing through them.
Without doubt, the single most important thing to bring along with you to any ‘away game’ is a CD, or collection of songs that are known to you in a deep and meaningful mixing sense. Ideally, these should be songs that sound great out there in the big wide world – commercial hits even, though that’s not critical. Regardless of their pedigree, the most important thing about these songs is that you listen to them regularly during your time at the console.
Don’t leave them in the suitcase; don’t leave them on top of the CD player. Put them on constant rotation, and make an effort to ensure their output is comparable to the listening level of your mix. Patch the CD player into one of the console’s external inputs so that any time you hit that switch, there’s ‘Jump’ by Van Halen (or whatever the hell it is you like to A/B with) playing on the monitors.
In the end, the A/B switch is the most powerful tool you can establish in a studio. It allows you to instantly compare your work with something else, and in the context of a foreign environment where the room, the speakers, the console and the outboard might all be alien to you, it’s both comforting and highly informative. Don’t hesitate to set this A/B switch up as your highest priority.
Mixing in a studio that’s new to you, especially a new commercial facility, has its hazards and pitfalls, but provided you take a few basic precautions like the ones mentioned here, you should be fine. All that’s left to do then is apply your skill and enjoy the ride. And remember, you’re one of the lucky ones, so make the most of it.