A major trend in the world of music production today is the demand for equipment and software to be as streamlined, mobile, and accessible as possible. While this is fantastic on a large scale — putting creativity in the hands of more people — there are absolutely some aspects of the craft that can get thrown by the wayside during these major industry shifts.
One of these sorely forgotten pieces is the vast importance of high-quality monitors when mixing and mastering. With a major focus in the market currently being to make music production possible from anywhere, it’s surprising that there still has not been any reliable solution to incorporate the ever-important monitors in this stride for accessibility.
But why is this a problem? Why can’t I just use headphones?
There’s a common misconception among new producers that the necessary piece for mastering is a nice pair of studio headphones. This is not true.
While a decent pair of headphones is a great investment for any producer to make, using headphones to master — even the nice ones — will leave your final mix sounding a bit… off.
Headphones give a producer a false sense of stereo awareness, meaning that while they can hear the subtleties of their mix, the average listener will not, and this difference in output quality will result in a disconnect between what the producer created, and what the listener hears.
Using monitors can help to counteract this effect, because the L + R outputs work together to create one, constructive and full soundscape, as opposed to headphones, which split the sound directly into your ears, which essentially act as two separate inputs in this case.
Monitors vs. Speakers
Another common misconception surrounding this topic is that monitors and speakers are interchangeable. Speakers are the bluetooth or wired speakers that the average person uses to listen to and enjoy music, and monitors are the wired speakers that producers use while recording and mixing. While the terms do mean (relatively) the same thing, they are slightly different, and this difference will end up having a huge impact on your final mix.
Aside from bluetooth causing latency, speakers are often designed to improve the output sound for the best listening experience, and while this is great for leisurely listening to tunes, it’s not ideal for mixing your track. Quality monitors, on the other hand, offer what’s known as a “flat frequency response”, meaning that there are no changes to the output, which gives a producer the true sound of their mix, without any false sense of an increase in quality.
Hearing your mix out of flat speakers will help you balance and optimize your mix for multiple platforms and outputs, giving your music more consistency across different media.
Hear it from a pro
We asked up-and-coming Hip-Hop and EDM producer and audio engineer, Cade Zube, if and why he felt it was important to use monitors for mixing and mastering, and here’s what he had to say:
“Monitors are the connection between you and what you’re making. It’s important to find quality monitors that have a flat frequency response so you can hear your music at a neutral level. Certain speakers may have a low end boost or certain EQ sets to ‘enhance’ the sound. Mixing with a flat frequency response will ensure a balanced mix that you can use as a base reference when playing your music on other speakers.”
Want to hear this advice in action? Check out some of Cade’s work: