A bit of a more technical post for you today. But still very important if you’re interested in sharing your music with the world.
One of the most important parts of the mixing and mastering processing is translation.
For those of you who don’t know, “translation” is the ability for a mix to sound good on any system, or any speakers.
And let me tell you, it can be tough. It’s hard to make a mix translate well.
I remember when I first started mixing. I would mix on my nice headphones, and everything would sound great.
And then I would play it on my laptop speakers, and wonder what I’m doing with my life.
It sounded awful! The vocals were too loud, the guitars were harsh, and I couldn’t hear the kick drum.
Now, some of those problems were because I wasn’t a very good mixer. But they’re also common problems for a mix that doesn’t translate well.
So how can we make our mixes translate better?
Well, I want to share a few techniques with you that I hope will help. In the end, it just takes a lot of practice. Do lots of mixes. Try to make them translate. You’ll get better.
But here are some techniques to speed you up:
1. Good Monitoring Setup
In order to make your mixes translate, you need to be able to hear them well.
For example: let’s say your speakers don’t have a “flat” response, and they boost the low end of your mix.
Probably when you mix on that system, you’re going to turn the bass down to make it more balanced, right?
Except now when you listen to your mix on other speakers, it doesn’t have enough low end, because you turned it down. In other words, your mix doesn’t translate.
So when you’re mixing, you want to be able to hear everything clearly. If you’re using monitors, then this means:
- Treating your room for early reflections (sound bouncing off the walls) with absorbers
- Treating your room for “room modes” (bass frequency buildup and cancellation) with bass traps
- Have a good set of speakers with a nice flat response
Keep in mind that with acoustic treatment and speaker quality, a little can go a long way. Read more here: Getting Started with Acoustic Treatment.
If you’re using headphones, the good news is that you don’t need to worry about all that room treatment stuff.
The bad news is that mixes done on headphones don’t tend to translate as well.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t get good mixes that translate using headphones. It’s just harder. I would recommend getting a decent pair of monitors if possible.
But hey, do what you can with the gear you have. If all you can get are headphones, mix on those, and don’t let anybody stop you!
Make sure that whatever you use, get to know your system. Often we tend to do all our mixing in the studio, and all our casual listening on some other system.
Listen to music in the studio. Get a feel for how it sounds. Learn what good music sounds like on your system. It will help.
Ok, so we have good monitors and a good sounding room. The next step is:
2. Levels, EQ and Compression
When we’re talking about translation, setting the levels, and making the right EQ and Compression choices are critical.
Learn them well. Learn what the different frequencies sound like. Listen to the compression in songs that you enjoy. Figure out how to balance the levels of your tracks well.
It may sound simple. And I guess it is. But that doesn’t make it easy.
Again, it’s gonna take practice. But when you’re mixing, focus on getting the levels, EQ, and Compression right. You’ll be well on your way to a good mix that translates well.
3. Reference on many systems
Play your mix in the car.
Play it on your phone.
Play it on crappy speakers.
Play it on headphones.
As you’re playing it in different environments, listen for issues. Things that bother you. Take notes.
And then, go back in the studio and fix those issues. When you’re done, go listen to it in your other environments again.
If you can get your mix to sound good on a wide variety of systems, then you’re getting close to good translation. After all, that’s really what translation is, right?
4. Use a reference mix
This is something I never used to do while mixing.
But using a reference mix can be so key to making your mixes translate.
Pick a professionally mixed song that is similar in genre and instrumentation to the song you’re mixing, if you can. If not, just pick something.
Listen critically to the song, alongside your mix. (Make sure to level-match them first!)
How loud are the guitars? How much low end is in the vocal? How much compression is on the drums?
The reason for this is simple. The pro mix probably translates well. So if you use it as inspiration, then your mix will be closer to translating well, too.
You knew that was coming, didn’t you?
This all comes with practice. There are no shortcuts.
Do lots of mixing. You’ll keep getting better, and your translation will improve.
Think about these 5 tips when you’re working on your next mix. Hopefully they will help you get there faster.
What are some ways that you ensure that your mixes translate? Leave a comment!