It’s Not You, It’s Your Room
Bounce the mix. Go to the car. Bounce the mix. Go to the car. Descend back into the mixing room, hoping you didn’t just mix yourself out of a great song. Repeat until the sun disappears, as well as your hair.
I would do this well-practiced ritual maybe 20 times a mix. It’s the physical form of watching the spinny-wheel of death on your computer. Just endless.
Listening to your mixes through your car speakers is a great technique, which I continue to do, but now I only go back a few times a mix and move on.
So, what is the magic bullet to keep your process effective and moving?
Room treatment! For me, getting unstuck from this endless second-guessing cycle was most notably due to making my space free from unwanted sound reflections. Even if you have great speakers, without giving some sort of thought to this, your ears will continue to be fooled by frequencies building up or canceling each other out in your room.
Acoustics are complicated. Wall materials, density, and even temperature and humidity can play into how sound is absorbed or reflected in a room.
For example, a low E on a bass guitar can have a wavelength of over 13 feet. If you’re in a space that can’t accommodate that, you’ll have trouble mixing low frequencies — and that can throw off your entire mix.
Room treatment vs. sound proofing.
So what’s the difference between room treatment and soundproofing?
A lot of people get this mixed up, but there’s a big difference. Soundproofing is about blocking sound from entering a space, a process that involves tearing down walls and rebuilding. It’ll cost you a pretty penny, and if you don’t own your space, you just can’t do it.
But room treatment is all about balancing the frequencies that are created within a room. We’re enhancing the space, and anyone can do it.
Keep in mind, no room is perfect!
Every space has nodes and nulls, which, respectively, either build up and amplify the frequencies or cancel each other out to make them sound quieter than they actually are. Acoustic treatment helps even out those nodes and nulls to give you an accurate perception of the music you’re hearing.
At some point in everyone’s music career, we all will have to think about this at least a little bit.
The good news is a little bit is all you have to do to start.
I wish I would have known about the secrets behind all of this earlier. After I dove into the world of room treatment, my mixes got better so much faster, and I’d like to help save you some time if I can.
Luckily, we don’t have to spend years analyzing sound waves and the psychoacoustic elements of sound frequencies. There are professionals who understand and, perhaps more importantly, have simplified it so that we don’t have to.
If I was a cheerleader, I would absolutely be shouting, “Give me a G! Give me an I! Give me a K!”
The GIK Acoustics team has helped me design and prioritize treatments for the last two studios I’ve built. And I can’t sing their praises enough. There are some great room treatment companies out there (e.g. RealTraps.com and ioAcoustics.com) but GIK Acoustic offers great products and a lot of free education tools that have been extremely valuable to me in each of my studio builds. They’re easy to connect with, they’re professional, and they have quality products. Right now, I have a combination of GIK, ioAcoustics, and custom made bass traps in my studio.
Working with a budget
GIK has a completely free service that helps you understand your room and how to best treat it.
I actually used their guidance from this free service for a long time before I was able to invest in their recommendations. If you visit their website, you can enter information about your space and they’ll get back to you with recommendations on how to treat your specific space. (No strings attached — really!) They’ll even help you prioritize the most effective items first if your budget doesn’t allow for everything.
Do your future self a favor!
I’ve been working remotely as an engineer since before it was cool. I used to work in an untreated bedroom, staring at a basket of laundry while plugging away. It wasn’t ideal, and besides it being a poor sound space, I didn’t feel like a professional producer when I looked around me. Believe it or not, the way you feel in a studio also makes a difference, and sound treatment makes your studio feel amazing.
To be perfectly blunt, spending money on room treatments is not fun. I’d rather invest in a new instrument or microphone, but if I had to build a studio from scratch, I would invest in room treatments and speakers first — especially if I was planning to do my own mixing. Doing this will save you time, money, valuable energy, and it will make your music sound much more professional. So either way, if you’re ready to invest or not, use GIK’s free service and thank me later!
Geek out corner
They also offer a free room analysis and recommendations. No catches and no purchase needed. They’ll help you even if you decide not to purchase from them: GIK free advice.
For more fun wavelength information, feel free to also geek out over this chart about wavelengths.