There is a time in every producer’s life when he makes something on his DAW, exports it, then on playback it sounds completely different than what he heard while making the track. It’s a very common problem. A contagion, if you will. So what is the solution to this?
Well more specifically, dual volume. We’ll come back to the dual volume concept in a bit. When you’re in your DAW and you are making music, you do so at one master volume. While your individual tracks might have a dynamic volume, your master level does not (this excludes automation you can set for a song).
This comes in handy because you certainly wouldn’t want your master volume to go up and down on a whim. That much is obvious. It becomes a problem when you don’t use any other volume levels once you are done with the arrangement process of your song. When you record and mix at a loud volume, your ears tend to ignore the louder signals after some time and focus more on the background tracks.
When you mix on a low volume, you tend to focus on the louder signals. This is great unless you just do one or the other. Let’s see an example. Below is my tiny external mixer.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about the mixer because I think I’ll save the details for a hardware review. Do you see a knob on the bottom right labeled “Phones”? That’s my headphone volume control. In this picture, it is in the 10 o’clock position, which is a fairly low volume.
This volume is mainly where I do all of my composition and arrangement work. It’s loud enough to hear background tracks clearly, while not loud enough to become irritating and muddy. I can hear almost everything very well. When I’m done with the arrangement, I’ll turn the knob up to about 12 o’clock to check for EQ, reverb, and background levels.
After that, I’ll turn it to about 9 o’clock to see if everything is loud enough to be heard at a low volume. This is mainly when I do most of the mixing work and make sure everything is balanced. Remember when I mentioned the dual volume method? Turning it to 9 and 12 o’clock respectively is my dual volume method.
Before I started using this method I would make tracks with deafening, muddy bass lines, or highs that would give even the most seasoned listener a migraine. Now, I don’t have to worry about that because I make sure that everything sounds good on a high volume and a low volume as well.
I should mention that I don’t release any music that I haven’t tested out on speakers, headphones, earbuds, and a car stereo. I’ll probably mention that again in another post, but it’s something everyone should do to make sure you have the best mix possible.