Like most people trying to make great sounding recordings at home, I’ve struggled with accurate studio monitoring since 2001. Each and every question I’ve asked myself during tracking and mixing is passed through a medium which has lied to me before. It’s hard to trust a liar so you simply throw up your hands and gamble. Every decision during tracking and mixing is sort of a hail mary. You pretend like your mixes are telling you the truth just to find yourself disappointed when listening on other stereos.
When I originally bought all my recording gear, I selected the Mackie HR 824s. At the time, just about everyone had something good to say about them. Fast forward 6 years later. You still find people here and there who love them, but I’d say that most of the fascination with the Mackie HR824 has moved on to some other “hip” new studio monitor. Because I knew that there were quite a few professionals who weren’t overly excited by the Mackie HR824s (but I knew some who were) I always wondered if they were the right monitor for me. Then again, I knew there were some great engineers still using the Mackie HR 824s.
About 3 weeks ago I had the huge breakthrough that allowed me, for the first time, to feel like I could trust my Mackies. It didn’t require any gear upgrades and in fact, the solution was sitting out in my yard covered in mud and leaves. (That’s another story!)
I did a mix about a week ago that is clearly the best mix in my life. Ironically, this was the “first draft” where I get lazy and don’t really try to over think anything. I simply got the drums to smack using some compression, got the bass guitar to work with the kick drum, and did very minor eq or effects elsewhere. I know the mix took me less than an hour. I don’t think I even used any automation.
When I played the mix on my computer speakers, I feel like I had succeeded. No, the recording isn’t 100% perfect, but for the first time in my life the decisions I made in the control room hold up when we listen elsewhere.. I 100% attribute that to my studio monitors being drastically more trustworthy.
Since every mix has sounded better and better with my more honest monitoring system, I’ve found that tracking is MUCH easier (most of the time). Instead of a link in the chain being a guessing game, I now know immediately if the tone is going to work on other systems.. That’s just one less thing I have to be unsure about. I kind of feel like that dude with the “male enhancement” drug. I’m always smiling. I feel like that hair club for men weuss who was insecure about his baldness and then got it fixed. (Yes, I am balding myself. No, it does not rank in my top 10,000 problems). I just feel confident now when I say “Yes, that guitar sound works”. This has lead to exponential increases in recording quality. I’m talking about the extra confidence I have in my studio monitoring.
Evidence Of More Accurate Monitoring
Yesterday I recorded bass tracks. The bass player was damn good and played a Schector bass which I LOVED. I kept hearing this boominess in the upper bass / lower mids. It was driving my crazy. It actually took me about 10 minutes to calm it down without killing the tone of the bass. I would have NEVER heard this in my previous setup. I’ve never had that hard of time calming the boominess of the bass guitar. Let me rephrase that.. I’ve never had a studio monitoring rig that would be up front and honest with me from the beginning that said “Brandon, we are friends and all, so I need to be the first person to tell you this. Your bass guitar tone is a little much in the 100Hz range.” In the past, my studio monitor situation was the friend that would pound my girlfriend that first chance he got. (That’s an odd picture) My old studio monitor situation would say “Brandon, it sounds good to me” even though he knew better. I’d have to wait for my home stereo friend to pull me aside and tell me about the problems after the fact.
Now that my studio monitors are illustrating problems up front, I’m able to make changes when I should. DURING TRACKING! The bass player knew exactly how hard he could dig in. If the tone got a little muddy, he knew to back down. We ended up doing quite a bit of tweaking on the bass itself to get it to sound right in the studio monitors. When I listen to that bass on my computer speakers, it sounds exactly like I wanted!
So, I just wanted to share my excitement of my improved studio monitoring situation. I wish I would have really taken the time to get my monitors right years ago. I probably wouldn’t be so bald, today!