If you mix on headphones a lot or don’t have access to studio monitors on a regular basis, then this is for you.
Headphones have their place in every mix that I work on and I’d encourage you to use them as well.
When do I use them?
Even if I’ve completed 80% of my mix on my studio monitors, I find headphones invaluable for checking the level of my delays, reverbs, other effects and also for mix translation.
When I’m on the road, headphones are an absolute must for me to get my work done. Plus, it’d look a bit strange if I took my studio monitors out of my carry-on bag on a plane or train!
How I started mixing on headphones
When I first started mixing, I couldn’t afford monitors; most likely because I was spending most of my money on guitars! The only time I had access to decent monitors was either when I was working in my college studio or when I was in and out of other studios while cutting my teeth as an engineer. Every room was different and I found it hard to get reliable, consistent results.
This was long before I discovered how easily that would have been avoided by using my one hack that guarantees a unique, pro sounding mix (yes, you should download it… it’s free!).
In 2008, I was picking up a new guitar in Guitar Center in Boston and I shared my frustrations about mixing with one of the sales guys there. He said I should get a good set of headphones and really focus on getting used to what music sounds like through those headphones and use them on every mix.
Of course, I initially thought this was a sales pitch and it was, but his advice was also invaluable and completely true. It turns out that my guitar addiction had the positive effect of getting me on the right path as a mixing engineer… Yep, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
I still use those exact same headphones on every mix. Now, I’m sure you’ll want to know what headphones they are, but this article is not about gear – it’s about the concept and getting great results for you!
If you really, really want to know, leave a comment below.
So, here are the secrets to mixing on headphones:
- There are a few articles out there talking about how Andrew Scheps (Adele, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hozier, Audioslave) sometimes mixes on the road on headphones. He has said himself in interviews that there’s “no magic to it” and that he’s able to mix well on headphones due to experience. So, with that in mind, you’ll be able to get great mixes on headphones once you can mix to a high standard in general. You can’t bypass the fundamentals. Keep mixing!
- If you’ve never mixed on headphones before, start your mix on studio monitors to begin with. Even by getting your fader mix together on monitors that you’re used to, you’ll be in a much better position to move forward and finish the mix on headphones. This applies even more if you travel a lot. I understand that studio monitors or speakers aren’t available to you all the time and it’s better to live your life and do the things you want to do while continuing to work and not be tied to a studio. So, getting good at mixing on headphones is a must for you.
- Listen to a lot of music on your headphones. By listening to a lot of music on your studio monitors, you get a great idea of their frequency response and the acoustics of the room in which you’re mixing. The exact same applies to headphones except the room is taken out of the equation. By listening to a lot of music through your mixing headphones of choice, you’re in a much better position to make mixing decisions about your own mixes.
- Use references. Tying in with the point above, what better way is there to get used to mixing on headphones than to use your reference set? This is the set of tracks you bring with you everywhere to get used to a new room, test out different listening environments, test out monitors, and of course, to help you get comfortable with mixing on headphones.
- Once you’re happy with the finished mix, take off the headphones and play the mix through your laptop speakers, iPhone, TV – whatever you can use to get an idea of what it will sound like up against a reference mix or your reference set. It will be a lot more beneficial if you loudness match the tracks first, and in the absence of studio monitors, this is a great way to see if your mix translates well from your headphones to other devices.
Give it a go and see what works for you. If I’m going to be mixing on headphones, I really like using monitors to start my mix and then finish on headphones if I’m travelling. Like I already said, I use headphones on every mix in some shape or form, so it makes sense for us to get used to mixing on a pair of headphones that you’ll use time and time again.
Now, I’d love to know…
What’s your secret to getting a great mix on headphones?
Leave a comment below!
professional sounding mix every time…