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Tech Tip Of The Day: Level Matched A-B Comparison

Why don't my mixes sound like the Pros? What can I do?!?

By PSW Staff October 7, 2010

Provided by Sweetwater.

Q: I’ve been mixing for a while now, and I loke to think I’ve paid my dues.

So, I’m hoping you can give me some advice, because lately my mixes are really frustrating me.

Why don’t my mixes sound like the Pros?

A: There are numerous books, videos, interactive tutorials, and articles written on this subject, all providing good and valid information, but when all is said and done, somehow our mixes don’t always come up to professional standards.

The truth is, basic EQ settings, Pan positions, and general advice on compression will only take you so far.

Mixing and recording is (as you’ve pointed out) a dues-paying field where secrets are partially exposed in print but rarely are they fully disclosed.

And, while we dig for the more arcane secrets of creating a commercial mix, sometimes the answers are so obvious that we fail to see them.

Before we jump onto a bit of advice which we think you might find useful, keep in mind that the simplest of concepts are often the most effective, and the even the simple concepts are often not easily executed.

This is our greatest asset: the ability to observe and learn from our observations. In music, we observe with our ears.

Setting an EQ to boost 5dB at 3.5kHz doesn’t mean anything on paper or on a console, and especially if it’s on two different consoles.

Unless you hear the effects of the settings on specific sounds, they are just numbers.

So what’s the secret tip to getting a professional sounding mix? There are many, but here is where it starts: It’s called level matched A-B comparison.

Listen to great sounding commercial CDs at an equal volume to your mix – compare your mix to the other CDs and adjust according to what you hear over your monitor system.

For every four hours of mixing, spend one hour within that time listening to your “competition.” While this can be intimidating, think of it as having a million dollar reference guide at your disposal.

Many pro engineers listen to commercial CDs – because they know that when they submit their mixes to record companies, the sound has to be competitive with the ‘hit sound’ on the radio.

Noted mixers such as Tom Lord Alge use this technique. In his own words, “…it can help to put up records that you like, compare them whilst you’re working and try to copy the sound. I’ve done that.”

Like we said, though the concept may seem simple, it is anything but. Give it a try, we’re sure you’ll see the benefit!

As always, we welcome input from the PSW community and would love to know your thoughts on the subject! Feel free to let us know in the comments below.

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