Mixing mirages

Okie…how many of you experience listening to the same mixdown and each time it sounds a little different? Level imbalances…pitchiness? Same monitors and same speakers but on different occasions they seem to sound in tune and in balance and other times not.

Arghh. Does boosting mid and highs adversely affect the pitch harmonics?


I put it down to my mental state, tired ears, temperature and humidity in the room and probably many other factors I can’t bring to mind right now. Frustrating, innt!


Ear fatigue is the main culprit, especially if you mix at high levels. As you listen, the frequency response curve of your ears changes rather dramatically, even in as short a time as an hour.

Get yourself an SPL meter (about $35 from Radio Shack – IMHO, the cheaper analog one is better than the digital one). Bob Katz recommends mastering at a standard level of 83 dB SPL©, which is the standard for the movie industry. Personally, I believe in mixing at significantly lower levels – as low as you can stand. For me, that’s 60 to 65 dB SPL©.

Mixing at lower levels, you get:

- less ear fatigue
- less ear damage
- mixes that sound better at all levels

The reason for the last item: When mixing at loud levels, you hear more quiet parts than you do at lower levels. So, there might be a very important (but not central) part you can hear just fine when mixing loud. But when you turn it down, you lose that important backup part.

Mixing at lower levels avoids that. It makes the job SEEM harder, because you have to work a bit more to get all the stuff you want heard clear in the mix. But this means that the mix will still sound great at low levels. And, I find that a mix that sounds great at quiet levels, sounds TERRIFIC when I crank it up.

Of course, you have to periodically check the mix at loud levels, because there might be noise or interference between two parts that isn’t noticeable at low levels, that does appear when you crank it up. Once you detect a problem like this, though, you can usually fix it working again at low levels and rechecking at higher levels.

Finally: take periodic quiet breaks! When we’re working on a mix, it’s hard as heck to break away, but it’s important to if the session is longer than an hour or two (as they usually are!) During a quiet break, sometimes I put on a CD I like (at lower levels than I’ve been working), and other times I prefer silence.

The quieter your mixing room is, the quieter you should be able to run during mixing. Your ears are extremely sensitive instruments. Even old, damaged ones like mine!

Im concerned that Im striving too hard for perfection.
Im starting to feel really self concious about the vocals and so I’ve been re-recording vocal comps. Some days its sound right and other times Im just horrified. When is enuff is enuff?

When is enuff is enuff?

For me, when a trusted individual (usually my wife), who understands what I'm trying to acheive, and what I'm capable of says "enuff". Then it's enuff.


Enuff is enuff when you are satisfied, after doing a couple different mixes walk away, wait a day or 2. Then listen, keep what you like, if you play that particular mix for 10 different people, you will get 10 different opinions.


I have two feelings about any project. My performance is never up to my standards, and all I seem to hear (most of the time) is all my mistakes and imperfections. So I keep trying to improve until I hit the point of diminishing returns. I can pretty easily tell that point because it’s when I also get tired of working on that song.

Then, when I’ve wrapped it up and I listen to it, I’m surprised that it worked out as well as it did, and feel pretty good about it. So, while I never quite meet my own standards, I still manage to do better than I have any right to expect.

If you want to keep getting better, it’s important to be able to listen to your work critically. (And obviously, you have no trouble doing that!) But it’s also equally important to recognize and feel good about your progress. If you don’t get any positive feedback, it’s a negative experience. So, play both sides and don’t dwell too long at either one.

Here’s another thing that’s fun – especially for younger folks, who are generally improving much faster than us geezers. Listen to a recording you made a year or more ago, but haven’t listened to much. Like that cassette stashed in your dresser top drawer, or a scratch recording you never did anything with. Most likely, you’ll have a response similar to mine. You’ll notice how much better you are now in general. But you’ll also hear something you did at the time and didn’t even notice that sounds just great. There’s a lesson in that, Grasshopper.

Jeff…its funny you mentioned that.
I was thinking about when I was 11 back in the mid 80’s I always knew I wanted to make an album. Living in tenements very modestly, I “invented” multitracking by basically using a cassette recorder my dad had since the 70’s and using my best friend’s recorder and overdubbing by playing and recording against each other. :D
The degradation and the pitch loss due to different cassettes was bad enough if it weren’t the splicing of the CASETTE tapes. I actually used cellophane tape because it didnt skip like regular tape.
Funnier part is that we didnt have any real drums so using a tuppleware and placing an aluminum foil under the rubber lid turned into our snare drum and pot pans as cymbals and a huge tuppleware as a bass which actually sounded more like a tom.
I sang, my best friend played a homemade kazoo with wax paper and a comb and his little brother played the homemade drums.

"baby baby come to me…yer pretty face is what i want to see"

The bridge to this ludricrous song was utilizing the wedding march tune which no doubt violated copyright laws


Long way indeed:D

That old cassette with that mix is at my folks house somewhere stashed in piles of boxes…and it will NEVER be released :p

I have a few old back-to-back cassettes myself, from the early to mid 70’s. Nobody gets to hear them but me & the dog, and if the dog could talk, we’d have to shoot it. I also remember using my trunk as a bass drum, a 1940’s Royal “portable” typewriter case as the snare, etc. Fortunately, the drummer did have real sticks and a bass pedal! (That old typewriter got my mom through college, and me from junior high through college. Long since been dumped, though – it made an awful snare!)

We could probably start a new thread: what’s the craziest thing you’ve beat on to make music?


FWIW, I think us hacks tweak too much just because we can.
Somebody famous (Picasso ?) once said something along the lines of ‘art is never finished, just abanoned’, which I think goes for most of us.

If I listen to old tapes I always find something of musical value in there, even if the tech aspect of it sucks big time. I had a lot less options using a 4-track Fostex, an SM 58 and a Zoom 9000, but was equally more efficient. There was a limit to how far you could reasonably take things with the equipment at hand, so you just wrapped it up and moved on. There’s a lesson in there somewhere :)

It’s also funny that whenever learjeff, being a tech-head geeky kind of guy, talks about musicianship, I, being the proverbial gut-feeling guy, nod & think 'hey - that’s me :)

Tweaking forces you to understand the fundamentals of the lowest denominator. Doing things the hard way by tweaking helps you not to rely the quickie feature especially if one doesnt exist.

learjeff, being a tech-head geeky kind of guy
Aw, shucks -- you're just trying to butter me up! :p