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

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