from Ed Brown, Creative Director, KSHE-FM, St. Louis, MO
Here's an addendum to the "Mix Minder" tip that was passed along by Kevin Sanderson [July '92 RAP - Tips & Techniques]. If you don't have a pair of Close Field Monitors (the technical name), go to Radio Shack, or Wal-Mart, or any really cheap electronics store, and buy a pair of crappy car speakers. Your thirty-dollar investment will pay off with better "true-to-life" mixes. If you don't have thirty dollars, here's the poor man's test:
Lay your headphones on the tabletop in front of you. Now, turn the monitors off and turn the headphone volume up until you can hear the audio. CAREFUL! Don't blow out your cans! Just turn 'em up enough to hear the audio. Now, start checking that mix. If you can understand the words and still hear the music and effects, you've got a great mix that will stand up under even the worst listening conditions.
I do have a pair of Radio Shack's finest, and I still use this test anytime I have a question about the mix.
One other good test is to listen only from the cue speaker. This is usually a mono source and will give you a slightly different balance due to the mono sum factor. I always use the "MONO" test when I'm producing spots for other stations, agencies, or television. By the way, these tests should only be conducted by professionals in the safety of a studio. Never attempt these at home!
Editor's Note: While we're on the subject of mixes, try setting levels in the order of their importance in the mix. For example, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the most important track will be the voice track or tracks. Set levels on them first with all other elements off. Then bring up sound effects -- both natural sounds and synthesized sounds like zaps and lasers. Once those levels are set, rewind the tape and bring up the music. The results of mixing this way are more consistent mixes, and you will find yourself having to re-adjust levels less often because your "primary" tracks will set the reference level for the entire mix.