Tag Archives for " cue mix "

Tips For A Great Headphone Mix

Tips For A Great Headphone MixPerhaps the greatest detriment to a session running smoothly is the inability for players to hear themselves comfortably in the headphones. This is one reason why veteran engineers spend so much time and attention on the cue mix and the phones themselves. In fact, a sure sign of an inexperienced engineer is treating the headphone mix as an afterthought instead of spending as much time as required to make them sound great.

While it’s true that a veteran studio player can shrug off a bad or distorted phone mix and still deliver a fine performance, good “cans” makes a session go faster and easier, and take out of the equation a variable that can sometimes be the biggest detriment to a session. Here are 3 tips from the recently released Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition that will make sure that the players and vocalists are happy with their headphones when the session begins.

1. Long before the session begins, test every headphone to make sure there’s no distortion and they’re working correctly (test with actual music).

2. Make sure there’s plenty of cable available so that the musicians can move around as needed. Use cable extenders as necessary.

3. Check to make sure that the cables are not intermittent (Nothing stops a session as fast as a crackling phone).

As far as the headphone mix is concerned, some engineers send the stereo monitor mix (the mix that you’re listening to in the control room) to the phones first and then add a little more of the individual instruments as needed (“more me”). This is a lot easier than building up individual mixes, unless that’s what the musicians request. Of course there are plenty of systems now available for the player to dial in his own mix, but it’s still a good idea to for the engineer to set up a preliminary mix for him. Some players just can’t aren’t able to set up a basic mix.

Whereas at one time each studio had to jerry-rig together their own headphone amp to power their cue mixes, these days it’s easy and fairly inexpensive to bu ya dedicated headphone amplifier from any number of manufacturers that’s easy to set up and sounds great. Companies such as Behringer, Furman, PreSonus, Rolls, and Aphex all make units that will work better and can be a lot cheaper than the traditional method of a large power amp with resistors strapped across it.

You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

More Headphone Freakout Solutions

more headphone freakout solutionsI’m always amazed how musicians react to their headphones and cue mixes while recording. Some are extremely picky, needing everything to be as perfect as possible before performing, while others can make do with just about anything that closely resembles a mix and a working headphone or two. Rob Tavaglione recently wrote a nice piece at ProSoundNetwork regarding “Headphone Freakout Solutions” that covered a few things that I never thought of, which prompted me to fill in a few more solutions and tricks that I’ve learned through the years. Here we go.

First from Rob:

  • Try flipping the phase of the mic. This might open up a hole in the center of the cue mix where the vocal can sit better both frequency-wise, and if you’re providing a stereo mix, panning-wise as well. Just remember to flip the phase of the track back for a playback or when you mix.
  • Try some open-back headphones. The isolation of the cue mix might seem too foreign to some players who don’t have a lot of studio experience, so open-back phones might make them feel more comfortable. Watch out for the level so you don’t get too much headphone bleed, or even feedback with vocalists.

Now some of my own.

  • Set a mix up for the players. In these days of personal cue mixers, you’ll find that some players just cannot dial in a mix to save their lives. They know what they want, but just don’t know how to get there. That’s why it’s always best if the engineer sets up a basic mix first, then helps each player tweak it as needed. Remember, in a situation like this, fewer choices work the best.
  • Give the drummer some isolation headphones. Drummers need their headphones loud (especially the click) because they’re usually right in middle of a big ruckus of their own creation. Save everyone some grief with leakage by having the drummer wear some good iso phones.

For vocalists and overdubs in general.

  • The kick, bass, and one main instrument should be prominent in the mix. The kick will keep the singer in the pocket, the bass is the key center, and keeping one basic backbone instrument high in the mix (like a piano or guitar) will help the singer find the pitch.
  • Eliminate chorus or modulation effects. Anything that varies the pitch even a little makes it really difficult for some singers to find the pitch center, so they end up not being able to sing in tune. That nice wide chorus on the keys might be a great effect, but a boring mono part will probably help the singer a little better.

Setting up a great headphone mix is an art in itself, but it’s so important to a player or singer’s performance. Follow these tips and take enough time to get the phones right, and you’ll have happy players, singers and producers.