When it comes to audio production and mixing, the human brain plays a fascinating role in how we perceive sound. However, it can also fool you and lead to poor mixes if you aren’t careful.

In this post, we’ll delve into the science behind our auditory perception and explore some essential tips for using audio plugins effectively in your mixes. Understanding how our brains process sound can make a significant difference in achieving the desired richness and depth in your audio creations.

You can still make great music without diving deeply into these concepts, but understanding them can help you avoid common mixing mistakes if your mixes aren’t quite up to par.

The Louder Illusion

One common misconception in audio mixing is the belief that making something sound louder equates to making it sound better. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Some plugins that claim to add richness and depth to a sound may simply make the sound louder. It’s crucial to balance levels to truly assess what a plugin is doing to your audio. Many effects might make something louder but not necessarily better. Check your levels often to ensure you aren’t making a sound worse instead of better.

The Brain’s EQ Adjustment

Our brains are remarkably adaptive when it comes to processing sound. As we increase the volume of what we’re listening to, our ears’ EQ (equalization) curve actually changes. This means that low and high frequencies are boosted more than mid frequencies when we hear things at a louder volume. This phenomenon should be kept in mind while mixing to avoid overcompensating for perceived deficiencies in your audio.

The Importance of Mixing at a Consistent Volume

To ensure accurate and consistent mixing, it’s essential to have a set mixing volume. This helps you make reliable judgments about the elements in your mix and how they interact with each other. Consistency in volume provides a stable reference point for making informed decisions about EQ, dynamics, and effects. You don’t want a volume that is fatiguing, and you should take breaks to reset your ears. Not doing this can lead to poor mixing decisions due to overcompensation in volume and EQ.

Accurate monitoring is key to achieving the best mix possible. One way to maintain consistency in your monitoring setup is to check your sound levels at around 83dB SPL (Sound Pressure Level). This level reportedly gives the best results. Smartphone apps can provide a rough estimate of SPL, but it’s important to note that they may not be highly accurate. However, they can still offer consistent results in their inaccuracy, allowing you to make reliable judgments about your mix’s dynamics.

Using Limiters or Clippers for Peak Level Control

To prevent your audio from going over your chosen peak level, consider using a limiter. Limiters are valuable tools for controlling the dynamics of your mix and ensuring it stays within desired boundaries. This helps maintain clarity and prevents distortion, especially during the mastering stage. Sometimes using a hard clip can handle transient spikes better than a limiter and allow for more headroom. Just remember that a little goes a long way with both tools.

Using Plugins Wisely

If you’re tempted to boost EQs or volume levels, consider using a new plugin for each process. This approach allows you to maintain a clean and organized mixing workflow. If you revisit your mix the next day and it doesn’t sound right, you can easily revert to your previous settings by removing the most recently added plugins. Eventually, you won’t need this technique as your mixing intuition improves, but any time there is an issue, this is a good way to correct it.

I hope these concepts help you make better mixing decisions in the future.

Happy music making!

Jason



If you are benefiting from these posts, you will absolutely love my 2 bestselling books:

The Mental Game of Music Production
The Process for Electronic Music Producers

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Happy music making!
Jason

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