How to Make Your Mixes Translate
When we talk about making mixes translate, we often assume that all we need to do is check the sound in the car, on earbuds and a variety of monitors. This is a good last step, but if you jump into it too early or too often, you’ll be going round in circles and making your mix worse. If you’re struggling with your music not sounding right on other systems, referencing like this probably isn’t the best solution. Today I want to share with you the method I’ve used for years to guarantee that my mixes will translate. Spoiler - it’s really easy.
One advantage pro mixers have is that they know their monitoring system inside out. They mix tons of songs on it every week, so they can hear exactly where something needs to go before they even begin balancing the levels or applying effects. If you want your music to translate well, you need to develop this level of intentionality by learning your own monitoring like the back of your hand.
Obviously if you’re only working on your own music, you won't have a dozen songs to play with every week, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn your monitoring just as well as a pro mixer does. Here’s what to do in two steps...
Step 1 - Invest in monitoring you can trust
90% of the time I’d recommend some really high quality headphones over studio monitors. If you don’t have a professionally treated room, you’ll always be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to speakers. You might have heard some people saying you shouldn’t mix on headphones, but in this post I explain why that’s a load of rubbish. It’s still important to reference on speakers every now and then, but for really critical listening I’d stick with the cans. Of course, if you are willing to have your room professionally treated you might want to make studio monitors your primary system for playback.
Step 2- Listen to music
Sounds too easy right? But, I know for a fact that a ton of artists and producers only ever listen to their own music on their headphones/monitors. The issue with this is that if you rarely consume music on your primary pair of mixing headphones, you’ll never truly know what your mixes should be sounding like on them. This makes it difficult, or even impossible to get things to translate well because you have no clear end goal in mind. Without knowing what commercial music sounds like, where different frequencies sit and what the stereo field is usually like on your monitoring, you can’t be as intentional as you need to be. My advice is to use your mixing headphones to consume as much music as possible. Listen to them when you’re chilling out in the evening, when you’re commuting, when you’re doing chores. This way you’ll begin to learn exactly what a balanced mix will sound like on them, without even trying. It will just happen subconsciously while you listen to your favourite songs! This is exactly what I did when I was starting out in music production. I had a pair of Audio-Technica headphones and part of my evening routine was just spending an hour listening to music, purely for entertainment and a bit of me-time, but doing this meant that whenever I put them on to mix, I knew exactly what my end product should sound like. I could spend less time guessing and have a clear direction in mind from the get go. I also needed to mix in 3 different studios and occasionally away from any studio at all, so this gave me consistency no matter where I was.
Checking your mix on other systems is important, but if you only use your main monitoring (be it speakers or headphones) for creating music then you should definitely try using it for more consumption. Put on your favourite albums and enjoy them so that you can subconsciously learn what your mixes need to sound like and get better consistency, translation and overall quality from your music!