Why Only One Reference Level Is a Big Mixing Mistake

vocal mixing

Here’s a tip I picked up about using contrast to make your vocals translate really well.

Mix translation, or making sure your mix sounds the same on any system, is a very important part of the whole mixing process.

Making your mix sound great on your system but suck on others is pretty useless. It’s not like you’re gonna invite everyone back to your house to listen to your awesome mix. You want them listen to it on whatever system they have.

And for that you need your mix to translate.

Because the vocal is the most important part of the mix I thought I’d give you a little tip on helping it translate.

Step 1 – Blast That Mix UP!

Mix your vocal at a really high volume.

Make everything really rock and mix your vocal like that. Once everything is really coming together and your vocal sits well in the mix it’s time for the exact opposite.

Step 2 – Turn That Mix DOWN!

Take your mix from 11 aaaaaaall the way down to 1.

There should definitely be different dynamics going on when your mix is very quiet. The bass will be much quieter at this point and your vocal might sound a little bit too loud.

Now you have two different reference points for your vocal sound and it’s time to tweak your vocals so that they fit perfectly at both extremes.

Avoid Only One Mixing Perspective

A constant reference level is very important to making sure your mix sounds the way you want.

But I would call it a mistake to not test your mixes at different volumes.

Because of how your ears work, you hear things differently at different volumes. Working at different volume levels helps you make the best mixing decisions.

Constantly going back and forth from quiet to loud will give your ears a new perspective and your mixing skills a different dimension. I use the vocal as an example because it’s such an important part of the mix, but this tip really applies to any instrument.

  • Larry Towers

    Minor quibble here. i would say that yes indeed there should be one reference level, which you always come back to, after reality checking at higher or lower levels. (As well as on multiple monitors if possible.)