Your mix might sound awesome through your purpose-built recording monitors or studio headphones, but what about in your car, on your laptop, over a Bluetooth device or even a puny smartphone speaker? When prepping your songs for the general public, it’s important that you include a number of different listening situations to ensure you’ve got it right. If it works on the lowest of lo-fi or the boomiest of rooms, it should sound amazing everywhere else.
Starting in the studio. We’ve frequently discussed the importance of optimizing your workstation for listening, such as using absorptive materials in the vicinity of your recorder, as well as correctly adjusting speaker height. If you’ve done your homework, all the signals in that center spot where you’re seated will be nice and crisp, making it easier for you to make a solid mix.
But therein lies a problem—your audience is more likely to hear the finished product in a comparatively substandard environment, or through speakers that aren’t exactly audiophile quality. Accordingly, your studio should just be the first stop when previewing your work in progress. While you’re in the “sweet spot,” though, focus on the overall balance of the material, ensuring that the vocals are present and, ideally, the instrumentation is evenly spread across the stereo field.
The lo-fi test. Once you think you have a decent mix, it’s time to test that assumption using an assortment of devices and spaces. Start by considering where your stuff is most likely to be heard initially—for instance, if you’re debuting a song via YouTube or on a streaming platform, you might want to preview the audio over a set of basic computer speakers (which at least offer some bass response and stereo separation), as well as laptop and TV speakers.
Of course, not everyone is going to stop what they’re doing because you’ve got a new song. This makes it imperative that you create a palatable mix for any number of mobile situations, whether it’s a relatively friendly car-audio system, or a decidedly one-dimensional smartphone music app. And don’t just assume your phone fans will actually use earbuds—to that end you’ll want to ensure the track is satisfactory even when played off a teeny handset. This is nothing new, of course; for years studio engineers would use a pair of tinny speakers atop the console to hear how the music would sound over a palm-sized AM transistor radio. All you have to do is download an mp3 to your phone—if the rough mix sounds decent through those puny ports, you’re probably on the right track.
The car test. One thing that a lo-fi device won’t reveal is a mix that’s either too bass-heavy, or lacks ample bottom. This can happen if there’s a bass deficiency at your workstation due to the room dimensions or the amount of sound treatment in your space, or if you frequently use headphones for mixing. To be sure you have adequate bass content, take your phone mp3 out of the house and into a moving vehicle, since car speakers tend to be pretty good at revealing just how much bottom you’ve actually got (and when doing so, be sure to set the receiver’s EQ settings to flat). You could also try patching into an old boombox, running through a Bluetooth speaker, or any other medium that accentuates low end. In addition to bass guitar or keyboard bass, focus on the sound and attack of the all-important kick drum, adjusting the level and equalization as needed so that there’s sufficient fullness and clarity throughout.