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How to calibrate your studio monitors

Recording studio control room

Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Monitoring is arguably the most important part of mixing. Without being able to hear the music properly, you won’t be able to mix it. Your monitors, room treatment, and your positioning are all critical factors in ensuring you’re able to deliver mixes that translate to different speakers.

Calibrating your monitors helps your ears to become accustomed to a standard level of volume, which enables you to listen to sound in your environment more accurately. It’s also another great way to preserve your hearing.

Since you’re listening to everything at the same SPL, your brain can judge the levels more accurately. You’ll become much faster at deciding when something isn’t leveled correctly, which in turn will make your mixing decisions not only more accurate but also much easier.

Calibrating your monitors is the process of understanding and setting the level coming out of your DAW relative to the SPL that’s leaving the speaker. This lets you know that when your mixer is set to unity or your output level is at a marked spot (more on this later) that you’re able to hear the volume level your speakers are calibrated to.

You also have to make sure that both speakers are accurately reproducing the same level of audio. No two pieces of electronics are the same so just setting the two volume controls to the same level isn’t enough to ensure consistency between both speakers.

In order to calibrate, we’ll need to use pink noise. Pink noise is a tone that consists of every frequency band at exactly the same level. This makes it the ideal tool for many types of acoustic measurements, including speaker and room calibration.

To calibrate your speakers,

  1. Turn the independent level controls on the back of each of your studio monitors all the way down.
  2. Set your interface output to unity if there is one. If it doesn’t have a unity level, then you can choose where you’d like your output knob to be when you reach the desired level you’re calibrating to. Mark the spot on the output knob with a white china marker or a piece of console tape.
  3. You’ll need to set up a track in your DAW with a tone generator to output pink noise. Most DAWs have a tone generator built in. Set the level to -18dbfs (you can use -20dbfs if you want more headroom). If you did step 1 correctly, then you shouldn’t hear anything yet. (We are calibrating to -18dbfs because it is considered to be the equivalent of 0 dB VU, which is the sweet spot for analog gear)
  4. Now you’ll need an SPL meter. If you don’t have one, I recommend buying one, but you can also download an SPL meter app on your phone. You’ll need to make sure the SPL meter has a C-weighted scale. Unlike the A-weighted scale, the C-weighted scale does not cut off the lower and higher frequencies that the average person cannot hear, which makes it more suited for calibration purposes.
  5. Point the SPL meter at the sweet spot in the center of the speakers where you would typically have your head. Make sure the meter is at about the same level as your ears.
  6. Pan the pink noise all the way to the right so it’s only coming out of the right speaker. Start turning up the volume knob on the back of the right speaker until the SPL meter reads 78-85 dB SPL, depending on what you decide to calibrate your speakers at. I’ll be calibrating my speakers at 80 dB. If you’re sitting closer to your speakers, you can calibrate them lower. Renowned mastering engineer Bob Katz likes to monitor at 79 dB.
  7. Now pan the pink noise to the left and repeat step 6 with the left speaker.

You’ll now know where to keep your monitor’s output level to ensure you listen at the desired level!

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8 things you can do to help preserve your hearing

Ear with protection from loud noises

Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Be aware of noise levels in your environment

Loud noises are everywhere. The construction site across the street, the local bar on a Friday night… I’ve even been to painfully loud restaurants. I’m probably stating the obvious for most readers, but for those that don’t have ear protection or carry protection with them, I highly recommend it. There are many occasions where I’ve been saved by having a pair of earplugs with me. Your ears are an essential tool; without your ears, you wouldn’t be able to hear all those sweet plugins you bought on Cyber Monday.

Use an SPL meter

It’s helpful to frequently check your mixing levels, so you’re aware of how loudly you’re monitoring. It’s easy to lose track of how loudly you’re mixing after seven hours in. It’s happened to me where I’ve been 8 hours into a mix and then realized I’ve been monitoring at 100 dB for the last hour. It sounds stupid, but it happens.

I like to leave an SPL near my mixing station. If that’s not possible, I’ll check the app I have on my phone, although I’m not sure how accurate they are. Fletcher Munson says 80db is the ideal monitoring level, but I say, screw you, Fletcher Munson. I like to monitor at all levels; it’s good to be aware of what level you’re monitoring at and how long you’re doing it. Healthy levels of noise for shorter periods are not harmful to you; it’s the long extended period of time at higher levels that will do damage. I like to monitor loudly at certain times, but most of the time, I try to spend time at lower volumes on smaller speakers such as NS10s or my newly purchased iLoud Micro Monitors.

Take breaks during long sessions to give your ears a rest

Pretty self explanatory and not very revolutionary, but it’s still something people forget to do. Take breaks; it’s always a good idea. Sitting down for 3 hours without stopping is not only bad for your ears, but you’ll also start to lose perspective on everything. I would recommend trying to take a five minute break every hour or so; go outside, go for a drive, or do something else. You won’t only get a mental break, but your ears will also benefit. It gives your ears time to recalibrate. Another cool trick is to flip the left side with the right side, so your channels come out of the opposite sides. Since the stereo field switched, your brain will recalibrate itself and give it a new perspective, and you’ll hear things that you didn’t before.

Use proper protection

Get a good pair of earplugs. Heros and other cheap alternatives are great for what they use them for: cheap disposable protection for when you’re sleeping or getting an MRI. They work great for that sort of thing; they don’t work great when trying to hear anything after putting them in. If you’re planning on being an audio engineer or a musician, invest in a solid pair of earplugs. I use Earasers which are only $40, and I highly recommend them, but $400-500 is a small price to pay to avoid future hearing problems.

Don’t overuse protection

That’s right… you can be too cautious. Greg Scott mentions his experience on the UBK Happy Funtime Hour podcast in episode 101. Scott found himself wearing his earplugs too often, which brought on a problem called hyperacusis. Since he would wear earplugs all the time, the brain starts to turn up the volume. The issue is when you take earplugs out, normal level sounds are now painfully loud.

Know the signs of hearing loss, be vigilant, and see an ENT

No matter what age you are, you always need to be vigilant about your ears. Pay attention to your volume levels; are you listening at louder volumes than usual? When people talk to you, are their voices getting increasingly difficult to hear? For a full list of things to consider when wondering if you are suffering from hearing loss, you can check out this article on

Regardless of if you’re experiencing issues, if you’re a musician, audio engineer, or producer, then you should be getting your hearing checked, some say as much as yearly but at least once every two to three years.

Be aware of the side effects of  your medications

Certain medications can negatively affect your hearing, and some even have tinnitus listed as a common side effect. Make sure if you’re being prescribed medication to tell your doctor that you’re a musician or engineer and your ear health is a high priority. You’ll need to weigh the benefits and negatives with your doctor, but always make sure they are aware of your situation so they can take the appropriate measures to ensure your ears stay healthy. To ordinary people, a little tinnitus or a small loss of hearing isn’t a big deal when it comes to fixing other aspects of your health, but to a musician, our ears are everything.

Manage stress and anxiety

I’ll start by saying if you struggle with stress and anxiety and haven’t looked into ways of helping yourself, then you should do that first and foremost.

Stress and anxiety can affect all different parts of your body, and this includes your hearing and ears. It can not only cause hearing issues but exacerbate ones you already have. According to Calm Clinic, issues related to anxiety that affect your hearing include:

  • Trouble focusing on sounds
     Anxiety and stress can be painful; it can be sudden and intense; it’s hard to concentrate on anything in these moments, and that holds with sound. You can’t mix a record when your brain is somewhere else and constantly being distracted. Mixing, recording, and writing music requires both your body and mind to be present.
  • Unusual sounds and auditory hallucinations
    People who suffer from anxiety disorders may start noticing sounds and noises that others don’t, such as creeks, bumps, buzzes, ticks, etc. They can also hear sounds and noises that most people don’t. Many also experience hearing clicks, pops, or noises that aren’t there. There’s no real explanation for the connection other than your brain is probably just processing information poorly.
  • Tinnitus
    Tinnitus is a chronic ringing of the ears. Anxiety can increase the loudness of the ringing and your perception of it. Many audio engineers and musicians will end up suffering from different levels of tinnitus eventually in their life. Anxiety will only make it worse.

As a musician, audio engineers, or producers, our ears are paramount in being able to create our art effectively. Unfortunately, using our ears can lead to damage and affect our ability to create. Luckily, with small changes and taking a bit more precaution, we can prevent most of the avoidable damage that comes with the trade.

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Does zipping audio files affect the sound quality?

Home studio desk with Pro Tools

Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

I’ve been recording and producing music for almost 15 years now. I’ve sent clients files in every form possible: USB drives, hard drives, WeTransfer, Dropbox, Google Drive, Hightail, You Send It…if it’s free, and you can use it to send a file, then I probably have. A lot of these services automatically zip audio files when sending a folder. I’ve honestly never thought about how zipping audio files affected the sound quality until recently when I was working with another engineer who claimed to hear a difference.

I was a bit taken aback because I never thought about how zipping would affect the sound quality. I’ve always done it, I’ve always seen people do it, and I’ve never heard a difference. I want to think in the last 15 years I’ve been trying to do this recording thing that, I would have heard the difference.

There’s an easy way to find out if there is truly a difference after zipping, a null test. A null test is a process of bringing two files into your DAW, leaving them set at the same volume and settings, and inverting the polarity on one of them. If they are exactly the same, then you won’t hear anything, and the audio will completely cancel out, which tells us there’s absolutely no difference between the two files. If you do hear anything, even the smallest amount of noise, after inverting the phase on one of the files, then there is a difference, and the files have been affected.

Null testing two of the same files, one zipped and one not zipped, is easy. Take an audio file that’s not zipped, duplicate it, zip the copied file, bring both files into your DAW on separate tracks, flip the polarity on one… Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Scientific proof that zipping audio files does not affect the sound quality in any way at all. Some people even suggest it’s safer to send files zipped than unzipped because when it’s zipped, it’s harder for the file to get corrupted in the process.

Any time you’re compressing the data of a file, whether you are using different formats or compressing using a format like Zip, there are lossy and lossless forms of compression.

Lossless compression allows you to recreate the file exactly as it was originally saved. It finds redundancies and patterns in the file to break the file into smaller parts so it can be put back together at a later time.

Lossy compression is different. This type removes “unnecessary” bits of information to make the file smaller. This is how an mp3 file is compressed into a smaller file and why it also negatively affects the sound quality.

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What are the different types of compressors?

Racks of audio gear

Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

FET, Opto, VCA, Vari-MU…’ve probably heard these names to describe types of compressors, you sort of know which type is right for what, but what do they really mean? Each name represents a different type of circuit design that the compressor uses to react to the signal you put through it.

Before I list each type and what they do, know that compressors all serve the same function. You can use them as a leveling device or just for tone or saturation. However, if you choose to use a compressor, know that each style is like a different flavor. It takes time and ear training and a lot of A/B comparisons to distinguish between each.

Here are the 6 most common types of compressors used in music production

Universal Audio 1176 -- Different types of compressors


Field-effect Transistors, or FETs,  use an electric field to control the gain of the unit. The most popular example is the iconic 1176. FET style compression has a super-fast attack and release capabilities, which really allows you to shape the transients. This makes them a favorite on drums for many engineers.

The drawback to their fast speed is there isn’t much range. A fellow engineer once described the release settings to me as being either “fast or faster.” The fastest release setting on an 1176 is 50ms, and its slowest release is 1100ms. The fastest attack time is a blazing fast 20 microseconds, and the slowest is a not-as-blazing-but-still-pretty-damn-fast 800 microseconds. Regardless of the lack of flexibility, it still sounds great on just about anything you put through it. Guitar, bass, vocals, drums, and keys have all found their way through an 1176 with great results.

The 1176 is synonymous with FET compression, but some lesser-known FET compressors include the Daking FET III, Chandler Little Devil, and the popular 1176 Clone by Warm Audio, which I’ve heard great things about.

Universal Audio LA-2A


These compressors use a photocell as a detector and a light bulb or LED to determine the gain reduction. The light will glow depending on the strength of the signal passing through it and reduce the gain accordingly. These compressors are much less sensitive to transients and peaks due to the lag experienced by the photocell. Contrary to what it might seem because of how fast the speed of light is, opto compressors are considered to be slow and smooth.

Most opto compressors don’t have total control over the attack and release settings, like the LA-2A, which is arguably the most well known and highly regarded compressor of all time. The attack time is frequency dependent which is very likely the main reason these units have such character.

Popular optical compressors include the Universal Audio LA-2A and 3A, Avalon AD2044, and Warm Audio WA-2A.

SSL Bus Compressor


If you could choose one compressor to use for the rest of your life, your best bet would be a VCA style compressor. They are known for their fully controllable circuits allowing you to really fine-tune each setting. VCA compressors are valuable in every aspect of production, whether it be tracking, mixing, or mastering. They can be entirely transparent while still adding the glue a mix or drum bus needs. Drums sound great through these compressors because they are very good at transparently taming sharp peaks.

VCA stands for voltage controlled amplifier, but one VCA doesn’t necessarily sound like the next. Since parts can be sourced a lot more cheaply than the other compressors on this list, most low quality/prosumer units use a VCA circuit.

Legendary VCA mix bus compressors include the iconic SSL G Series and the Empirical Labs Distressor.

Fairchild Model 670 Vari Mu Compressor


In a Variable “Vari”-Mu design, the gain is controlled by a vacuum tube. The first types of compressors were Vari-Mu and were designed for use in broadcast. The need came from trying to level out inconsistent speech on the radio. Usually, going from a whisper to yelling would require an engineer to ride the fader live, and human reflexes are only so fast. It wasn’t until later that the studio adopted the use of compressors.

The unique quality of Vari-Mu compressors is the ratio of the gain reduction is increased as you hit the unit harder; this is musically pleasing when you lay into it more aggressively. Vintage Variable-MU compressors are also great for saturation, as the tubes and large iron transformers all have unique qualities. Popular vintage Vari-Mu compressors include RCA BA-6A, Altec 436, and UA-175. The most popular modern Vari-Mu is the Manley of the same name, which is used very prominently in mastering studios across the world.

Neve 2254

Diode Bridge

Diode bridges have been used in radio for automatic level control for a long time. Diode bridge audio compressors offer fully configurable parameters. Some compressors designed in the ’60s used this basic design, but you don’t see many used in modern compressors. Units that aren’t designed well can be noisy due to the diodes’ low signal level.

Diode bridge circuits allow for the compression curves and the attack and release to be designed independently of the compression element. These compressors are tonally distinctive because of the diode’s harmonic distortion. These designs are flexible and can add a pleasant, colorful character.

Famous examples include the Neve 2264, Neve 33609, and newer examples include the Rupert Neve Shelford Channel Strip compressor.

Fun fact: The 33609 we have at Sabella Studios was incredibly taken from HBO studios when they decided to throw them all out and go digital.

Great River PWM 501 Compressor
Great River PWM 501 is one of the few modern units that use a PWM design.

PWM, or Pulse Width Modulation

I admittedly didn’t even know what a PWM compressor was before writing this article. Gregory Scott, a compression guru from Kush Audio, recommended I add a section on Pulse Width Modulator circuits. After a bit of research, I found out why I had never heard of a PWM or used one… because not that many exist. According to Scott, “there are only a few because you truly have to be a rocket scientist to design one, aka Dave Hill or whatever geek at Pye did theirs.”

A Google search turned up an essay written by Dave Hill of Crane Song. In the essay, Dave explains that all compressor circuits have good and bad characteristics. He goes on to say, “in designing a compressor with as few artifacts as possible, the gain control choices are limited. PWM has been used in vintage compressors and also modern devices. If one takes that idea and uses the latest technology, it is possible to build a compressor with very little negative sonic artifacts.”

VCAs let a percentage of energy through depending on the control voltage. The problem is that when the control voltage changes, you start to hear bad sounding artifacts. If there were a switch to control the energy on the output, you’d be able to give a more accurate average control voltage, which would lead to a more sonically pleasing unit. The PWM circuit turns the control voltage into a high-speed variable-width switch that controls the energy that is outputted.


What is the difference between hard and soft knee compression?

Soft knee compression gradually attenuates the signal after it has passed the threshold, while hard knee compression attenuates the signal immediately after it has crossed the threshold. Soft Knee compression is thought to be more musical because it’s not as abrupt and abrasive; hence the name soft.

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How to properly check the phase when recording drums


Phase, phase, phase. Ahhh, what can I say about phase? We all love phase! Not.

In my earlier years of recording, I used to post mixes to home recording message boards with the hope of receiving positive feedback. I made these early recordings at home with a small interface I’d purchased, which came bundled with an early version of Cubase. After finally getting the hang of using a DAW and after a few unfinished demos, I eventually had a track ready to post for mix critiquing. The first reply I got back was,  “drums sound phasey.”

I knew I forgot something… except I didn’t know what the hell phase was. Did he mean the CAD drum microphone pack I got for Hanukkah didn’t yield major label results right out of the box?! I wouldn’t have put it on my holiday list if I had known that!

All kidding aside, I went to google and searched for “What is audio phase?.” After reading a few websites, I still had barely any idea of what the hell it was and certainly had no idea on how to prevent it. Sure, I understood why it happened, but how was I going to fix something that I couldn’t even hear? I thought the mix sounded pretty good, and I certainly didn’t think it sounded phasey like recorderkid442 on the home recording message board had said.

I’ll start by saying that asking for advice on a message board can be good and bad. Regardless, you must proceed with extreme caution. Posting my question did introduce the concept of phase to me, something that would have otherwise taken me longer to learn about. And that person was right. My recordings were out of phase. But you should still be careful. With every correct answer, there are so many more wrong answers.

Since starting Audio Hertz, I’ve had beautiful interactions with a lot of people, but I’ve also had some interactions with people that are not very knowledgeable and have no problem arguing their incorrect points. Now, this is okay, I understand it is just a by product of the internet and anonymity, but it can do damage to your learning process if people are giving you the wrong information.

I’ve seen terrible cases of this in real life scenarios as well. I had a friend that went to our local Guitar Center to buy a small interface. The Guitar Center employee talked him into purchasing a Presonus preamp, EQ and compressor by saying it would dramatically improve his sound. The salesman told him if he wanted to have a professional quality recording, he needed to have this unit. What the hell is a compressor going to do for my friend who, just moments before, didn’t even know what one was? Nevertheless, my friend bought it and couldn’t shut up about how it was the best thing he’s ever heard. The truth is he didn’t know what the hell he was listening for. And that, my friends, is how bad information gets spread around.

I’m going to skip any technical explanations or definitions and just give you the information that I feel you need to know. Phase cancellation happens when you combine more than one signal of the same source, such as using multiple microphones on a drum set or using two microphones on one acoustic guitar. As sound waves reach different microphones at different times, phases issues can occur, which will make certain frequencies vanish from your mix

First, we need to find out if you’re overheads are in phase with each other, then if everything else is in phase with the overheads, then if the individual elements are in phase with each other.

The easiest way to tell if something is in phase or out of phase is if when you flip the polarity, it should sound worse (when the phase relationship is worse, you’ll hear less low end and smearing of frequencies). That means that the microphones have a good phase relationship and when you flip the polarity, it puts turns that good relationship into a bad one.

I struggled with this for a long time, and I really wish someone had just written out a fast and easy method to check the phase properly. It’s obviously harder to judge what’s in phase and what’s out of phase when you don’t even know what it sounds like, so I highly recommend doing some experiments on your own. Take two mics and a speaker playing music. Start by mic’ing the speaker with both mics lined up perfectly parallel to each other so they’ll be completely in phase. Then put on headphones and begin to move the microphone further away from each other a few inches at a time. You should be able to hear the phase relationship changing for the worse. Once you know what phase cancellation sounds like, you can accurately judge what is in and out of phase. Set up your drum mics and follow these easy steps to correctly recorded drums.

Given to Greg Scott (owner of Kush Audio) by Joe Barresi. As heard on the UBK Happy Funtime Hour podcast.

  1. Put overheads up at unity gain, panned center
  2. Flip the polarity (by pressing the phase button on your mic pre or using a plugin) on one side, it should sound better when the polarity IS NOT flipped, it should retain more low end
  3. Keep everything panned center and bring up the snare, flip the polarity and make sure it sounds better when the polarity IS NOT flipped, pull the fader down to 0 after
  4. Bring up the kick drum, and flip the polarity, does it sound better? If so, then leave it flipped, if not, then flip it back, now pull the fader down to 0
  5. Bring up the toms, and flip the polarity on the toms, does it sound better? If so, then leave it flipped, if not, then flip it back, now pull the fader down to 0
  6. Mute out overheads, bring up kick and snare, and flip polarity on one, it should sound better when the polarity IS NOT flipped.
  7. Keep doing this until you find the correct configuration where everything is working together

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What’s more important microphones or preamps?

What’s more important microphones or preamps?
Sennheiser MD 421
“A good preamp can make a bad mic sound good, but a bad preamp can make a good mic sound bad.”

What do you buy first, a good mic or a good preamp? If you’re a new engineer looking to start building your studio, this is a question you’ve likely struggled with. If you’re a more experienced engineer and you haven’t asked this question yourself, you’ve probably heard it asked on one of the many audio message boards, forums, or Facebook groups.

The overwhelming consensus seems to be that purchasing a good microphone is a better idea than sinking your money into a preamp. This seems to make the most logical sense, especially to an inexperienced engineer. The microphone is the one capturing the actual sound waves, and it has to be the most important! The preamp is only adding volume. How much can that really improve the sound?

Your budget is a huge factor in the answer that I would give you. Though I believe the preamp is the more important stage of the signal path, a microphone may be the better choice for someone with a smaller budget. You can improve the sound more, with a more modest investment in a microphone, than you can in a preamp.

A cheap Radio Shack mic through a cheap preamp is going to sound significantly worse than a Shure SM58 through that same cheap preamp. You only had to spend $100 to gain a significantly better sound. Now let’s go back to just having the Radio Shack mic. Say you decide to buy an 800 dollar Neve clone preamp. You spent $800, yet I’d bet that the SM58 through the cheap preamp sounds better than the Radio Shack mic does through the $800 Neve clone. It’s going to take a lot more money to make that Radio Shack mic sound good with a preamp than it would by just purchasing a new microphone. But the Radio Shack mic, through a $4,000 vintage Neve 1073, might sound pretty cool. The price tag is just a tad bit out of most of our budgets.

To put it simply,

A good preamp can make a bad mic sound good, but a bad preamp can make a good mic sound bad.

Does that mean I’d rather record with a Radio Shack mic and a 1073 over an u87 and Presonus preamp? No, not at all. But it does mean that I give higher importance and priority to the preamp than I would the microphone.

I think we all agree, like with everything in audio, different scenarios call for different answers. But generally speaking, If I could only have a really good mic or a really good preamp but not both, I’d take the preamp.

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8 things that will help your mixing that have nothing to do with mixing

Having a clean workspace

An organized space reduces stress and helps you to focus entirely on the task at hand…. making good records. Clean up your desk, throw out that old McDonald’s cup and Doritos wrapper, and pick up that gross pair of underwear. You’ll be amazed at how clearly you can think when you have a clean work area. Spending just 5 to 10 minutes prior to mixing, making sure you don’t have a messy desk and floor is a great way to get your brain ready to focus.

Organizing sessions

I’ve mentioned this in my post 5 mixing mistakes I used to make and how to avoid them, but it’s so important that I feel it’s worth stating again. Make sure you’re set up for the session before you even get started on mixing. Bring up your tracks (preferably on a day you’re not going to be mixing) and set things up as if you are your own assistant. Label and color code tracks, make sure your edits are clean with crossfades, print tracks you need to be printed, and set up your effect returns and your buses. You should have all of this done prior to getting started. This is easy when you have a mix template set up and ready to go.

Preparing beforehand

Make sure you know you won’t have to do anything during the time you set to work. I also like to set a start and stop time. This helps me keep myself disciplined as well as safety protection for overcooking a mix. I know I do my best mixes within 4-5 hours. Since I know this, I like to stop after 4 hours and take a long break so I can reevaluate the mix after with fresh ears.

Most of us mix at home in our bedrooms. Working at home is difficult because you’re at home and you’re easily accessible to all your distractions. Your roommate calls for you, your kid starts crying, and your favorite TV show comes on… things can be distracting but not if you make sure you put away all of these things beforehand. This brings us to…

Turning off distractions

Turn off your phone, or TV, lock your door, barricade yourself in– whatever you have to do to ensure that there is nothing there that can distract you. It’s a luxury to get to work in a separate studio environment. Having a separate room to work in lets your brain know that when you’re in this room, you are going to be working rather than working in a place like your bedroom where you eat, sleep, and do “other” things. Your brain likes habit, and if it’s used to working in one place, you’ll be able to focus better.

Getting plenty of sleep

It’s easy to take sleep for granted. The older I get, the harder it is for me to go without sleep. The more sleep you get, the easier it is to focus for more extended periods. You’ll also have more stamina which will allow you to work longer and, in turn, will make you more productive.

Taking breaks

Every hour or two, I like to take a 5 minute break and step outside and give my ears a break. I like to freshen up my ears by listening to new sounds and hearing something a bit different. I don’t listen to music or like to talk too much, but if it’s nice out, listening to the birds chirping or even just the cars passing by allows me to reset my ears so I can get back a fresh perspective.

Minimizing your sound intake before

Other than reference tracks, I try not to listen to music on a day I will be mixing to keep my sound intake to a minimum on mixing days. I don’t listen to the radio, and I tend to make sure I keep volumes low for everything until I’m ready to start mixing.

I will admit I like to start mixing louder than most people. I like to feel the drums and bass when establishing initial levels. Eventually, I’ll switch over to NS10s and lower the volume to a more reasonable level to fine tune and do a majority of the tweaking.

Setting the mood

It might sound a bit silly, but dimming the lights, turning on your lava lamp, or lighting a candle can do wonders for the mood and vibe of your studio or mixing space. This allows you to feel more creative. I’m not a superstitious guy, I don’t believe in ghosts or aliens, but I do believe in being able to feel and sense a vibe. Mixing is all about feeling and making sure you have a good mood set with appropriate lighting, scent, or whatever else it is that really helps you connect and feel the music. A better environment will allow you to achieve better mixes.

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The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon

The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon

We’ve all had this problem: we finished a mix that we spent 20 hours fine tuning & tweaking, made every .5 dB adjustment that needs to be made replaced every snare hit with seven different perfectly tuned snare samples that we got from Steven Slate, we have five parallel compressors on the mix bus that’s adding just the right amount of glue. Then, we finally bring it in our car so we can make sure it still sounds rocking and… It sounds like shit! What the hell happened?

There have been times in the past when listening to a mix in the car has brought me to tears… I’ve contemplated giving up recording music after hearing a bad mix in the car. But why? Why does this happen? Why don’t our mixes translate to car speakers?

Well, there’s no single answer to that question. Like most audio engineering questions, the correct answer is, “it depends.” However, I can give you advice that will help you get better at accurately judging how mixes will translate to different sound systems. The first issue, and it’s probably the one that affects most newer audio engineers, is the acoustic treatment of your mixing environment.

If the acoustics of the room you’re mixing in sound bad, your mixes will never translate properly. It’s like trying to measure something with a tape measure that doesn’t have any numbers. You can’t mix well if you don’t know what you’re hearing. Let’s say your mixing room has a significant frequency build up at 250 Hz. Because your room accentuates this frequency, you go to an equalizer and cut 250 Hz to compensate. Well… now, when you go into your car, there’s not going to be enough 250 Hz, and your whole track will sound thin.

The other thing that will help is listening to reference material on all of your monitoring devices. Find a few songs that you think sound good and are very familiar with, and play them in your studio, car, headphones, phone, etc. Actively listen to what each mix sounds like. Hone in on what you like and don’t like about the mix, then listen to one of your mixes. What is different between the two? Do you not have enough bass? Mid-range clashing? Are your vocals too shrill? It’s easier to tell what’s wrong with something when you have something to compare it to.

The truth is, this is not some phenomenon– your mixes are just bad, so they aren’t translating to your car stereo system. They won’t translate until you’re familiar with your room, your room is treated, and you know your monitors well. It’s insane that people purchase expensive monitors before putting up any treatment in their room. Treatment is far more important than the monitors you are mixing on. If you aren’t hearing your expensive speakers properly, there is no point in having them.

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8 personality traits of a great audio engineer

8 personality traits of a great audio engineer
8 personality traits of a great audio engineer

This job can be challenging. It can make you want to curl up and cry yourself to sleep, but it can also lead to some of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences you’ll ever have. Regardless of which one of those things you’re currently going through, having these eight personality traits will make your job easier and are traits every great engineer has.


Working with people is hard, but collaborating with someone on something creative and personal is harder. Collaboration is a balancing act; it requires a delicate dance. A ballet is happening between the artist and the engineer. When you see a producer who knows what he’s doing, it’s remarkable how well they control the session. As an engineer or producer, you’re not always going to love what the client has to say, but it’s how you react and manipulate the situation so everyone is happy and the product ends up the way you promised that makes you a great engineer.

Well organized

Be on time, have everything set up, and make sure the studio is clean. All sessions should be edited, labeled, and backed up multiple times. It’s the engineer’s job to ensure the session is running smoothly, and the more organized you are, the smoother things will be. Recording multiple songs requires a lot of time management. You need to be able to make sure you have enough time to finish the project on schedule. If you are consistently not completing projects on time and clients need to pay more than what you initially quoted them, they will not be happy and will be less likely to come back for future projects.


Negativity is the single most morale draining characteristic when in the studio. There is nothing that can bring down the energy of a session more than negativity. “That sucks,” “that sounds bad,” “that’s a stupid idea”…… Leave all of these thoughts at the door. This attitude will only make a bad situation worse and a good situation bad.


Trust me you don’t know everything and probably never will. There is always room to grow and always room to learn. The best engineers are incredibly humble and always learning and looking for new ways to improve their skills– that’s how they got to be so good. There was never a point in their career where they stopped and said, okay, I’m good enough I don’t need to read or practice or experiment anymore.


Be aware of your surroundings. If a client isn’t enjoying themself or doesn’t like the sound of something, or is getting frustrated with a part, they’re not always going to tell you. Pay attention to how everyone around is acting and make sure you give them an environment that allows them to best do their work and be creative.

Eagerness to learn

In this rapidly changing industry, technology moves quickly, and if you don’t stay ahead of the curve, you’ll undoubtedly be left behind. Keep up with the news and the industry. Stay informed on what products are being released, demo them, and stay relevant.

The engineers that decided to learn Pro Tools before it was Pro Tools were the ones that had a head start and were able to land more work.


Be attentive. Be persistent. Do your job with care. If I tell an intern to patch two 1176s to channels 19-20, then I expect them to make sure that they’re patching them correctly. If you’re asked to do something, take an extra few seconds to double check your work. Making mistakes is okay and will happen, but there is no excuse for being lazy and not paying attention to detail.


Show up and finish projects on time, give accurate time frames for how long things will take, and answer emails, text messages, and phone calls in a reasonable amount of time. Being a reliable person shows that you care. It shows that you take pride in your work and are dependable, which is very important when clients trust you to see their project through and make their vision come to life.

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5 things they don’t teach you in audio school

5 things they don’t teach you in audio school
Audio engineering students


I hate the word “networking.” Having a lot of friends, being popular, having a good reputation, whatever you want to call it, it’s important and can make someone’s career. Going back to my previous post, “[Even more] Things I wish I knew sooner about audio engineering,” I used to be negative toward anyone or anything that I saw as competitive. The truth is I was just insecure about my skills and talents, and I felt putting other people down would make me better or at least feel better. Well, it turns out that didn’t work at all, and a better approach would have been to be friendly and kind to everyone.

I went to school with a talented producer. No one I was friends with others, but my school was so small it was hard not to know everyone. This guy ends up getting a publishing deal, moving to LA, writing for Rihanna, and then signing a record deal and bringing all his friends from college on tour with him as his band. This is only one scenario but being friends with someone was the catalyst of their career. One credit isn’t going to make you, but it can be a launching pad and set off a chain reaction. Get out there and make some friends.

Now, saying this and doing this are two different things. I’m sure a lot of you probably have heard someone say, “you need to network,” at least a few times. But what do they actually mean? How do I “network”? Just be friendly, approach people you wouldn’t usually approach, go out when you feel like staying in, and help people out if you have access to something they don’t. Print up business cards to hand out to people you meet and ask for theirs. Follow up on social media and keep the relationship going. These small things don’t seem like a lot, but if you keep doing it, eventually, they start to add up.


Be humble, don’t ask questions at the wrong times, be proactive. These are all things that will make you a good intern. It’s incredible how many bad, socially inept interns there are.

Bad intern stories? I’ve heard of everything from an intern asking to work with a client because he’s dropping a new mixtape to one trying to steal clients away from the studio. Don’t be an asshole, realize that people opening their doors to you are doing you the favor and not the other way around. Trust me, when you first start interning at a studio, you’re way more of a burden than an asset. They don’t need you to be there. Make yourself useful and ensure they don’t think you’re taking up more space than you’re worth.

Getting clients

Having the best gear or the best room isn’t enough. People have to want to work with you. Your work should speak for itself, but your relationships with people are what’s going to be the deciding factor on if people want to spend their money and time making art with you. This goes back to networking. The more people you know, the more chances you have of finding clients.

Interacting with clients

I can’t blame audio schools for this one, as this is another life skill that’s difficult to teach. It deals with how good you are with people… Are you easy to talk to? Do you seem enthusiastic? Are you fun? These skills are beneficial in all aspects of life. Someone that’s fun to be around and people generally find nice is going to get further no matter what industry they’re in. Some people are innately good at these things, and there are others who aren’t. These things are difficult to teach, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work on them. Try to be self aware of your interactions and work on things you aren’t good at. I never liked the small talk, but I realize now it’s an essential part of social interactions, so I make an effort to do it even if I’d naturally prefer not to.

Good taste

What guitar should you use? Does that section in the chorus work? Is that singer out of tune? Does that drum fill sound good?

There isn’t a class called “Good Taste 101.” Most people have a terrible taste (these are the people you’ll be working with, by the way). You can learn some of these things with experience, but for the most part, your taste and what you prefer as an individual are uniquely your own.

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