Now that you have gone ahead and polished the song, there are a few other steps I recommend to make sure it is as good as it can be. One of the biggest challenges many producers face is not being able to hear the song as a casual listener or fan. We take our own knowledge of what went into the song and no longer have that honest approach. We develop bias and know what to expect.
Let’s review some important aspects to getting unique playbacks to further the process of making the song the best it can be.
I once read that playing your song back at a low volume is a quick way to determine if it sounds good. The concept is simple. A lower volume (we’ll say 25%) allows the loudest elements to stand out. This gives you an idea of what might be heard instantly to a first time listener. They might not notice the subtle layering and ambient background filling in the spectrum. They are probably first going to notice the louder drum parts and the layers in the lead that have the highest peaks.
This also comes in handy when checking the volumes of your various elements. Sound and noise effects can be big offenders here. When mixing initially, you may not even notice that the effect is too loud. You have already heard the leads and the melodies countless times and the sound effect is fresh to you. Sadly, without taking some time during this playback phase, you can easily miss an element that is simply too loud in comparison to the mix. The first time listener will notice.
On a flip side, this is a great way to tell what is too quiet in the mix. A common offender I hear when listening to other producers is some of their percussions are too weak. They might have too much power in the leads which drown out the kick or the snare. This might not be as noticeable at high volume, but may stand out more at lower volumes.
Also, loud volumes are dangerous to your ears and lead to ear fatigue faster. You stop noticing the small details and the song can even start to not sound as good. Be careful not to start adjusting too much when this happens. You liked it for a reason before, ear fatigue can definitely be the cause for you falling out of favor with the mix.
Headphones versus Speakers
If you have a good set of headphones and quality speakers, it might be a good idea to bounce back and forth from time to time. I personally create and mix new songs in headphones since I do not have industry standard monitors. If you are in a similar situation, or use speakers but don’t have really good headphones, that is ok. Later, we’ll cover other options to compensate for this.
I won’t get into detail about using monitors and the acoustics of your room or studio, but consider checking back and forth if you have the means. The song can sound a bit different and this might help locate so areas that need some attention.
Various Sound Systems
This is one of my favorite methods to catch areas that need more tweaking. Export your new song into a WAV file and test it out on different sound systems.
Here are some that I like to use:
- Studio Headphones
- PC Speakers
- Car Sound System
- A friend or family member’s audio systems
- TV Speakers
- Standard Radio
- Mobile Phone Speakers
- Cheap Earbuds
First off, it is not going to sound the same on all of these systems right out of the gate. Unless you have superior mixing skills, in which case, you can skip this next bit. Also, you don’t need to test on all of the above, but at least 4 or 5 will be beneficial.
So what are we listening for?
The obvious one for me is bass. Many of the lower quality sound systems will not have a strong bass output, their speakers just don’t process those low end frequencies. So consider if your song falls flat without this low end goodness.
Some songs are meant for DJ/Club systems and tend to be acceptable as bass songs, but even those should have enough excitement in the other frequency ranges to at least sound decent. Another thing, some systems are the opposite and have bass boosting. Check if your bass is too powerful since many listeners like using these extra boosts.
Another area of focus, like earlier, is volume control. Especially on systems that don’t have strong bass.
- Are there any clashing in the mids and highs?
- Are there any empty spaces in the frequency range that you didn’t notice before?
- Does it sound like certain parts get really loud compared to the rest of the song?
Use this knowledge to formulate some tweaks. We do not want to get too crazy here. Make the necessary adjustments to correct some of the issues from these other sound systems. Then afterwards, play the song back in your original source and then compare. Rinse and repeat as needed.
Note: If you experience the song volume shifting dramatically, it is likely caused by over compression. If you are applying your own, then you likely over did it. Dial back those settings and make sure it is not struggling on the lower end speakers.
Besides relying solely on your ears, why not enlist the help of others?
I like to share new songs on music forums and with friends and family. This gives me an outside opinion from both the other music creators and the casual listeners. They provide valuable insight, but in different forms. You will learn to decipher what they mean with time.
Fellow producers will typically give you technical advice and provide some ways to improve. Whereas the casual listener will give you more straightforward feedback based on personal taste and what they consider professional sounding music.
Take both sources and really consider the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes the feedback is not valid, but consider it twice before you ignore it. Get past any of your own bias and make an informed decision.
Also, watch out for common trends. Your technical friend may say the kick is muddy and the casual listener might say the bass is too powerful. Both are saying something similar, just in different ways.
I am specifically referring to your ears. You want them to have a fresh listen after you are done.
It is good to take at least a full day from hearing this new song so it sounds newer when you hear it back. Surprisingly, you will notice little things you missed before, but that is good. It confirms that this step is helping and allows you to make the song even better.
All too often, I notice a slight fix that I need to make after coming back from a break. This method really works wonders. Make sure to use it before rushing out and posting your new song. You don’t want to have to keep pulling it down based on negative feedback because of simple mixing mistakes.
Give it Time
Another important tactic to making sure I really love a new song is to give it time. If I listen to it once a day for about a week, I am likely to hear something that starts to bug me. It can be something simple like a filter not opening up fast enough or a drum fill not having enough impact or an errant frequency in the lead.
You also really want to listen for parts of the song that get boring or that you want to skip over to get to the “good stuff”. If these concerns are coming up, you may want to really consider if the song is honestly done or if you need to spend some more time on it.
In the end, you don’t want to be endlessly fixing a song. Sometimes you have to face facts and save it in a folder that you may never open again. Or you might want to make a drastic change but feel the song is so good that it’s worth it.
I cannot tell you what to do in these situations, but keep in mind that you never want to get bogged down by one song. Quantity is important for your development. Choose wisely, but choose quickly, time is always moving along even when you are not.