As explained earlier, monitoring is nothing more than listening to what you’ve created (or specific parts of it), and trying to hear what is good and what is not. It is a vital part of the mixing process, as the room you’re in and the speakers you use to listen to the music can modify the sound a lot. But what may be even more important, is improving your ability to correctly judge your own sound work.
Obviously, listening to music and/or playing an instrument yourself gives you a better musical hearing. But that is not all I’m talking about here.
Mixing music is all about optimizing recordings to sound good together. If you can’t identify when something’s wrong and what may be the cause, you’ll just be randomly guessing at what could work. There isn’t just a set of rules you can follow for this, it is all about experience and experimenting.
Whenever you’ve just edited something, play through the whole piece of audio. Preferably with your eyes closed and no other distractions. Don’t try to listen for that specific, just let the sound reach you. Once you’ve finished listening, you should decide for yourself: is this what I want? Is this better than what I previously had? Is this an improvement? Why is this an improvement, or why not? Answering these questions will give you more insight into what works well for you and what not.
Also, as they work more and more on a song, people have a tendency to focus too much on a single thing and overlook others. If you’ve been trying to get a specific piece of audio just right for a couple of hours, then that might indicate that you’re being too harsh on yourself and it was fine a lot of versions ago. If you’ve been editing a single instrument all day, you might be overdoing it or just doing things that aren’t necessary, and you should stop and work on something else or listen to the song as a whole to get the complete picture again.
All computers have a set of speakers, but those are generally not ultra-high quality. While they will do the job if you’re just playing around a bit and trying stuff out, if you want to come close to any really professional mixing you will need to buy a new set of speakers.
I won’t give you a list of recommendations, just a few things to keep in mind:
- Yes, speakers cost quite a lot of money. Don’t be tempted to buy cheap ones just because they look good or sound fine for all you know. If you listen to cheap ones, and then to the pricier ones, you will hear the difference.
- However, there’s two things that can change with a price increase: the speaker will be able to play louder sounds, or the speaker will be able to play more sounds, more balanced. Working from your own room or studio, you don’t need speakers that can produce the volume needed for a festival concert. You need the ones that have a more balanced output, and a higher range of frequencies it can play beautifully.
While a nice acoustic is a desired attribute of a room when recording, you want to listen to music with the least reverb from your own room possible.
If you put the speakers as far as you can from any walls (facing towards the center of the room), you’ll already notice some difference. However, there’s still objects in the room (you, your chair, your table, tools, microphone, etc.) that might influence it. You can’t just remove them if you need them, so put them out of the sound’s way as much as possible.
But that still won’t cut it. There will always be reverb from regular walls, sitting in a bigger room won’t help (because sound travels extremely fast). If you can afford it, put foam or other isolation material on all three walls directly affected by the sound from your speakers.