HOW TO LISTEN TO A MIX OR MASTER FOR REVISIONS

First, I’d like to say that this article was inspired by a conversation that took place on the Six Figure Home Studio Podcast. This podcast episode was directed at producers/audio professionals looking to escape “revision hell” and to streamline the revision process so that, in the end, an artist would receive the best possible result from the mixing or mastering engineer, through clear and organized communication.


I felt it prudent to do a write-up that made this info more available and actionable for bands and artists who might need the advice. Most mixing and mastering engineers will typically give you 3 revisions, at which point they may charge an extra fee. Not every engineer has this rule, however it should demonstrate the need of having clear and concise mix or master revisions. The last thing you want to do is muddy the waters with conflicting revisions, revisions from more than one person, and general disorganization that will lead to unclear expectations.


No one wants to waste time or to waste effort! So, here we have some very basic tenants of listening to mixes and masters for revisions.


Familiarity is Key

Before you can even begin to listen to and critique a mix or master ask yourself one important question – how well do you know your song(s)? And I don’t mean “do you know your parts” or “do you know how the song is arranged”. I mean, how well do you REALLY know your song and how it sounded before sending it off for mixing and mastering?


This may seem like a moot point to some, especially because there is bound to be at least one person in your group who has sat with the song so much that they are sick of hearing it! However, this becomes an important point when it comes time for revisions. If anyone wants to have a say in revisions for a mix or master, they should at the very least be familiar with the production of the song, flat out.


The Listening Process

Even writing that heading makes me laugh a bit. “What the heck is a listening process? And why do I need it? I know how to listen.” But do you REALLY know how to listen? Here’s what I’m getting at. As we all make our way through the day, we are constantly listening to different kinds of audio, through different audio systems, at different volumes, in different environments. Not one song sounds the same as another, not every song sounds the same on different systems, and not every song sounds the same when you’re in different environments. So, does it make sense to only listen to a mix or master in one spot, on one system, at one volume? The answer should be a resounding “NO”.


Here’s what you need to do. First and foremost, you need to understand this process can take a bit of time. I know you’re excited about your song but this will pay off in the end. Listen to your song through multiple systems. This means listening through monitors, home speakers, computer speakers, good headphones, bad headphones, your car audio system – any place that you would normally listen to music. Listening through different systems gives you a broader understanding of how the song actually sounds.


As you’re listening to songs on each system take things a step further. Make sure you take the time to listen at different volumes. Loud, quiet, somewhere in between… you may find that elements of your song are less noticeable at high volumes while at lower volumes (when your ears aren’t being blasted off) they are more noticeable.


Okay now take things another step further, and I know that many of you will see my point in this example. I know for a fact that my ears react differently to music when I’m laying in bed vs. when I’m at the gym. I’m using the same pair of bad headphones in both cases, so why would it sound different? Because the environment in which I’m listening is different. The difference may be subtle, but it can give you a different frame of reference to critique a mix or master.


So, to quickly recap this section: Listen to your song on different systems, listen at different volumes, and listen in different environments. IT TAKES TIME AND IT’S WORTH IT.


Point Man

Okay, you’ve really done yourself a service by critically listening to your song and have a bunch of notes you would like to give to the engineer. Before you all bombard them with revisions, you need to appoint one member of the group to be the main contact to your mixing and mastering engineer. This ensures that any mix or master notes the engineer receives is from one single person, and that the likelihood of receiving conflicting revisions, or revisions that don’t reflect the views of the entire band, is slim.


There should be no instance where a member of the group has a revelation about the song and fires a message over to the engineer unhindered. Make it clear that any revision needs to be agreed upon by all members, and that the point man will be responsible for relaying the message.


One Thread

Not only should there be one point of contact for the mixing and mastering engineer, there should only be one thread of communication between the two of you. We live in a wonderful world full of smart phones, social media, and other platforms that let us communicate with each other. Do yourself a favour and just CHOOSE ONE to use. You don’t need email, text message, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. Before you know it, you could be in “revision hell” trying to keep a line on each discussion. Just use one thread and stick with it.


This helps ensure that any mix or master notes will not get lost or forgotten about, and that clear communication remains strong.



Checklist

1. Familiarize yourself with the song

2. Go through The Listening Process

  • Listen on different systems

  • Listen at different volumes

  • Listen in different environments

3. Compile and agree upon revision notes

4. Assign one member as the Point Man

5. Pick a communication thread and stick with it

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