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We have no influence on whether you actually have clean ears. But we can help you get a good overview of the importance of studio monitoring. Because after the joy of playing music and home recording, it's the next big step when you're tweaking your songs. Especially if you want to publish them. To make them sound really presentable, listen to your recordings through studio speakers at every step of the mixdown Only by monitoring can the whole sound structure, the whole frequency spectrum of your songs unfold with all its nuances and you can fine-tune them best. We'll now look at how you can achieve optimal monitoring at home and save yourself the expense of a professional recording studio. We spoke with Stefan Sagerer from Band Out Of Bavaria who has his own recording studio and also produces music.
You simply cannot avoid monitoring when making music. Whether on stage, in the rehearsal room or even in the studio if you record songs yourself. Monitoring means that you listen to yourself or your recordings via monitor or speaker systems. And if possible in such a way that you have an idea of what the audience is hearing. This allows you to adjust your sound and know exactly where you may need to improve. So that the best sound experience reaches your live audience, bandmates or listeners.
“Monitoring is the most important thing in the studio. Because what is later played on CD or any other platform, is monitored in the mix and ultimately reaches the listener. This is where what will later be played somewhere is formed. It's like in the cinema. When the movie is on, you want the full surround sound experience too. I think if everyone had good monitoring equipment in the studio, the quality of the songs would be much better from the outset."
You've already recorded your music and your DAW software (Digital Audio Workstation) is loaded with the tracks you want to mix into a song. Sure, you can hide behind your headphones and fiddle around with it. That would be okay if your music is only heard through headphones. But it is very important, for example, how the songs sound in a room and unfold there, how you experience the different frequencies there. And that you adjust the volume and spatial feeling of the individual instruments. So you get a steady signal and good sound quality. This is important, for example, when you refine your drum recording or when you mix the bass.
The good thing is that you can create studio quality at home with just a few resources. All you need is:
A monitoring system made up of these components is called a 2.1 system. It sounds simple and it is. What is not so simple: You should focus on high-quality equipment without running into huge debts. But when it comes to your monitoring system at home, it's worth investing a little to create the conditions for a good sound. This is especially worthwhile if you can save yourself an expensive recording studio for the mixdown.
“Once everything is recorded in the DAW, you or the sound engineer first listen to everything on the monitor system. For example, how does the bass drum sound? The hi hat? The cymbals? Then it's time to edit your raw tracks. Because the bass drum shouldn't necessarily sound like you're hitting a wet sack, right? There should be pressure somewhere. And then it's on with all the compressors and equalizers that you use afterwards. You use monitoring every time you have carried out a modification. So always. Because that reflects everything you do in your DAW."
Remember when you put small, rattling computer speakers on top of your desk and a subwoofer under your desk? That's pretty much how you do it with monitor speakers and the subwoofers. The differences from back then:
Tip: It is best to position the two speakers on stands behind the table in such a way that an isosceles triangle, the so-called monitoring triangle, is formed between them and you.
“The speakers should be away from the wall and away from the corners. In other words, the places where the frequencies refract, resulting in distorted reproduction. I had to put mine against the wall to save space. But that only works because I have acoustic panels and use bass reflex speakers for absorption. Tripods with foam pads underneath as absorbers would be an even better choice, so you get a pristine image."
When frequencies come out of speakers and refract on boundary surfaces (often walls), they can either amplify or cancel each other out. These so-called room modes mainly occur in square rooms and distort the sound pattern. However, you can reduce them with absorbers.
As mentioned before, anyone who has ever connected computer speakers will be familiar with the procedure. For everyone else:
All you need is an XLR cable or jack plug.
Besides the monitoring triangle, you also ensure clean monitoring by adjusting the level of the speaker systems and the subwoofer. It is important for there to be a balanced signal between the components and that they all run at the same level. For example, if the subwoofer was set to 115 dB and the top speakers were set to 60 dB, the bass portion of what you were playing would be over-represented and the image would be distorted.
“I always do this using my smartphone. First I calibrate the subwoofer, then the speaker systems. To do this, I set the subwoofer to zero, play as neutral a sound as possible, like white noise, and use any SPL meter app that shows the decibel level. Then you turn the volume up. In this case, I'm usually at 85 dB. But that depends on the size of the room. Then I repeat this separately with the two monitors, where I also set it to about 85 dB. After that, I no longer change the overall volume on the monitor system, but control it directly via the mixer or the audio interface.“
We know that fine tuning your recordings requires a lot of patience. Listen to every change via monitoring in the studio. Tip: Preferably on different playback devices. Just like your audience would hear your music. Then you'll get a good feeling for whether the effects make sense or not. You can tell if your sound is fat or still a little weak. The goal is a balanced overall mix that sounds good on all end devices.
Headergraphik©: Adobe Stock: evgenydrablenkov