Reading the room
If you want your latest banger to hit hard on the dancefloor, there are several factors to bear in mind. Firstly, you need to understand the scale and magnitude of a club or festival PA system. Ever wondered why your favourite producer manages to release track after track despite a rigorous touring schedule? Think about it: by earning a living playing loud music to crowds, they have an instant platform to ‘road test’ their tunes. True pros are accustomed to big soundsystems, and know how their productions will translate to said medium. That familiarity and sense of scale is pretty tough to replicate – by simply hearing your own beats through giant PAs on a regular basis, you’ll tune your ears to the idiosyncrasies of club music, and how to refine mixdowns to suit that format. On the other hand, if you only ever listen to club tracks on your 5” studio monitors or earbuds, and never venture out of your bedroom, you’ll miss out on that vital ‘ear training’. So listen to music loud, evaluate your favourite productions on that scale, and analyse how they work viscerally. Then, once you’re back in the studio, cross-reference and listen to the same tunes on your monitor speakers – you’ll be able to decipher the elements that sounded great in the club, and how that should translate to speakers.
Back in the studio, you should already be referencing your work against well-produced commercial releases that you like. It’s one of the best ways to understand how the best achieve sonic consistency, and set yourself a benchmark to work towards when writing and mixing club music. Gather a pool of reference tracks, load them into your latest mix project, then flick between your mix and the reference tracks, comparing as you go.
As referencing is such an accepted technique nowadays, you may want to make the process more convenient by investing in a dedicated ‘mix comparison’ plugin such as Sample Magic’s Magic AB 2, Mastering The Mix’s Reference or MeldaProduction’s MCompare. Once loaded on your master bus, these plugins allow you to load in multiple songs, set up loop points, then A/B between your DAW audio and said tracks with the click of a button. Another oft-cited referencing tactic is the ‘car test’. Yep, bounce down your latest mixdown, call it up on your phone, then play the file through a vehicle’s speakers. Without regular access to large-scale monitors or a mate’s PA, it really could be your best option for evaluating your track’s context within a pseudo-‘club’ or similar environment.
Most noticeably, the car provides a revealing sense of ‘boom’ and left-to-right balance. With volume at a decent level, you can take in the bigger picture away from the studio, with emphasis enjoyably tilted towards the low end. In terms of left-to-right balance, the two-door speaker setup will give you a macro overview of the overall stereo image, highlighting pan positions and stereo on a real-world scale. Plus, unlike studio monitors, car speakers have a ‘homogenous’ sound designed to please listeners rather than expose faults – the same way that club systems do. The speediest and most practical method we’ve found for ‘car testing’ tracks is using a file storage app. On your music machine, throw a bounce of your latest tune into your desktop’s Dropbox folder; once in the car, connect via Bluetooth or oldfashioned headphone cable, then play the tune within phone’s Dropbox app. Alternatively, go old school and burn a CD.
The car test Unlike studio monitors, car speakers have a homogenous sound