How to 'blast' music on speakers for mixing, living with parents
February 27, 2014 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Hey music people I'm wondering if you maybe have figured out a solution to this issue I'm having. Basically I need to master/play electronic music on my studio monitor speakers, usually at a VERY LOUD level so I can hear if all the frequencies are where they should be. I'm living with the folks and they got super pissed when I was doing that in my closet. So I moved outside with the speakers facing away and they were still pissed. Keep in mind this is all in the middle of the day.

So, besides renting a professional sound proof studio, how can i play the music as loud as I need to without pissing them off? I'm considering insulating my closet with egg cartons and foam and stuff, but will that really make a big difference? Or I'm also considering building/buying some kind of mini tool shed for outside or something and going nuts with the insulation in there. any other ideas? Does anyone actually master on headphones? Seems pretty improbable. Or is there a public place in the city where I can just blast it? Its a wonder home musicians are even able to ever make anything happen! Ideas/thoughts/ways to persuade the parents into understanding why i need to blast it?
posted by wavecal22 to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Well, you don't actually need to blast it, 90% of the time.

Mastering/mixing protip: If you want to know if the frequencies in your mix are balanced properly, listen to your track as quietly as it's possible to on your speakers. When you listen to a track that's super quiet, it's a lot easier to tell if your mix is out of balance.

Egg cartons don't do anything but make your room a deathtrap in case of fire.

Turning a tool shed into a studio may or may not be a great idea, depending on the dimensions and materials involved. Check the Home Theatre Shack and Gearslutz forums for advice on that. Those forums have a wealth of knowledge and experience that will be able to help you figure out if your shack is a suitable room or not. Making a good sounding room or a room that doesn't leak a lot of sound is a lot more complicated than you would think.

People do reference-grade work on headphones all the time. The Sony MDR-7506 headphones have been a staple in TV/film production for twenty years. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones are more popular with electronic musicians. Using headphones also means that your nice monitor speakers are never going to sound like crap because they're too close to the wall or they're on the wrong side of the room.

Now, there are absolutely downsides to mastering on headphones, and you absolutely need to listen to your music on as many speakers as possible. But if you're serious about your music, you shouldn't be mastering your own music anyway. You need to get a pair of outside ears to handle that.
posted by Jairus at 3:41 PM on February 27, 2014 [16 favorites]

Home musicians rent practice spaces and think Yamaha's Silent Brass are a godsend.
posted by Brian Puccio at 3:44 PM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

No soundproofing will be enough.

Mastering headphones exist, but they're mostly useful when your audience is a headphone-wearing audience.


I suspect that you are playing it far louder than you need to. Why so loud? I could recommend a set of near-field reference monitors, and a reference sub, and you could master at reasonable levels. Because even if your target system is hundreds of thousands of watts, then um, er, on preview: what Jairus says. What matters is hearing the subtle differences when you're using your rig very quietly.

If you care a lot about the bass, then the size of your largest woofer does make a big difference. That's why I advise the purchase of a reference sub. Because quiet listening when your monitor's woofer is an eight-incher will absolutely be misleading.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 3:45 PM on February 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of my best friends is a home music producer and touring Dj that has been evicted from two apartments because of noise. The only answer he's come up with is moving to a trendy apartment complex in Santa Monica with neighbors that have a high tolerance for house music.

Tbh, unless you're doing this professionally, just mix in headphones until you need to do the final mix.
posted by empath at 3:54 PM on February 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

You’re probably making it louder to make it sound better. You want it to sound good when it’s quiet, then it will most likely sound good loud. Now, I do need to hear it loud sometimes, but not the whole time. And word on the street is the louder you make it the more your room comes into play, and I’m betting you don’t have a great sounding room. Put the speakers close to you and turn it down.
posted by bongo_x at 3:56 PM on February 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I sent this to a friend of mine who's a recording artist with her own home studo, Dara Korra'ti. Here's what she has to say:


Okay, first: you should not be mixing at "blast" levels. You should not be. It produces a worse result, both because it injects a false sense of excitement which may not be justified by more normal listening levels, and secondly, because if you can't hear it at normal listening levels, you can't hear it at normal listening levels, and therefore it's inaudible to the ordinary listener. Doesn't matter whether it's there or not if it can't be heard. If you have these problems, your problems are in your mix, not your total volume.

Don't just take my word for it. Mike Senior talks about this extensively in his book, Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio, and Wayne Wadhams touches upon it in his Musician's Guide to the Recording Studio, as do many others. This is not the pro way, and it is not the effective way. (Not to mention what it does to your ears over time...) In short, you are doing it wrong - but are to be commended for asking and trying to find out.

Relatedly, I can't recommend either of those books highly enough. They're both at many libraries, go borrow or buy copies and read them.

As to conditioning a small room on a budget, I have a whole series of articles on that at my band blog:

Egg cartons do exactly zero. Most foams do very little. But there are ways you can do this properly, and for astonishingly little money. I have a howto video on making nearly-free sound baffles which are surprisingly effective:

Other techniques involve the use of sound-insulating rock wool and Corning 703 panels and other materials.

As to the specific question of "mastering" on headphones - I think you mean mixing, not mastering; mastering is a separate discipline into which I will not go here, but Wayne's book has a couple of chapters on it you might find useful. But in case you meant that: nobody I know masters on headphones generally; you need different listening configurations and the ability to change between them rapidly.

Mixing, though - many people, including me, will mix, at least in part, on headphones. Also, a lot of editing happens on headphones. Lots of editing.

But you need the right kind of headphones. You need headphones specifically built for this, which fortunately does not mean the most expensive; there's a good set from Shure you can get for $100, new. I talk about that here:

Anyway, I hope this helps you get started a bit. Believe me, as a musician, I know it feels awesome to crank your shit, but - mixing isn't the time. It sounds like it helps, but it actively hurts your mix. Mix quiet. Once you like it quiet, you will love it loud.

Good luck.


There you go, I hope that helps!
posted by KathrynT at 4:10 PM on February 27, 2014 [55 favorites]

Although I would think egg cartons would be great for diffusion, so they could help the sound of your room. But not for soundproofing.
posted by bongo_x at 4:17 PM on February 27, 2014

Hi! I'm a sometimes-professional indie and electronic music writer/producer living in a small house with a wife and three kids and neighbors close enough that they can hear everything I do in my home studio unless it's on headphones.

1. Mixing/Mastering in the closet or outside won't give you a good master no matter what. To master with speakers, you need an optimized room and just the right speakers. Anything less and there's no point to not just doing it on headphones. A well-known electronic artist with whom I work recently moved his studio setup to a really amazing space - like, the most beautiful studio setting you've ever seen. It turns out the room doesn't sound right for the speakers. So nothing he's done there has been mixed or mastered in that room - because it won't work.

2. Here's what I do: I do my own mixes and masters on a pair of the old German AKG K-240 headphones. They're industry standard and I know them well enough to know what the mix will sound like on other setups when I mix with them. Then, if what I'm doing is going to be used for really professional stuff, I send it out to my guy for professional mixing and mastering.

3. I have a friend master my professional stuff because a) I don't have the right room to do it, but he does, b) I don't have the $500,000 in speakers and mastering gear he's got, and c) even if I did, I'm not a mastering engineer and my ears are good enough to know I'm not good enough at mastering, no matter how good my gear and room were.

Does anyone actually master on headphones?

For the kind of mastering you're talking about? Yes, absolutely. I assume you're using Ozone to master, right? Ozone and a pair of good flat studio cans will give you a better master than blasting a pair of consumer-grade speakers in a closet.

Ideas/thoughts/ways to persuade the parents into understanding why i need to blast it?

You're not going to persuade them. You might build an acoustically-optimized, soundproof out building like you mention, though. But that's a lot of work, what with building the extra floor and double walls, drop ceiling, the soundproofing high-tech layers, and all that. Seriously, it's a TON of work and can get very expensive very quickly. Just building the soundproof door that doesn't let noise escape through the cracks is a giant pain in the neck and gets really expensive.
posted by The World Famous at 4:32 PM on February 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

And don't lose faith: I was recently at a huge EDM show watching the crowd go nuts to a track that was recorded while a baby slept in the next room. It's not the norm, but it can be done.
posted by The World Famous at 4:35 PM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Aside from all the other points mentioned above, if you're at all serious about making a career out of music (and even if you're not), protect your hearing while you still can. Blasting music will destroy your ears permanently. Those minute frequency differences you're listening for right now at top volume? You may never be able to hear those particular frequencies again.

The most important thing is to get a sense for how the environments you mix and master in compare to the environments and systems where your music is played. It's about having the confidence to know that if something sounds a certain way through your headphones, you have a sense how it will sound in a packed dance hall or a crappy car stereo.
posted by zachlipton at 5:08 PM on February 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Stop listening to whoever's telling you you need to mix OR master really loud. That's exactly backward.

Listen to the pros in this thread and elsewhere -- don't destroy your hearing while you're still young by doing something that doesn't even help your mix!

I know we usually get pissed around here when people answer a how-to question with "actually, you shouldn't want to do that," but this is really a case where you shouldn't want to do that.
posted by kalapierson at 5:52 PM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

It doesn't hurt to really blast it now and again if it gets you pumped up and excited about making music, but you definitely shouldn't be working that way.
posted by empath at 6:02 PM on February 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Almost everyone has already said it... but i composed, produced, and mastered my own album on CD. Me and my bandmate did everything except for actually pressing the disk, including the art/design/etc.

The only time i ever listened at this volume was after i was already satisfied with the mix.

Does anyone actually master on headphones?

I did 90% of the composing/producing/mixing on nice headphones(shure e4c and sennheiser hd280 pro, now i use ultimateears superfi.5 and the same hd280s).

I have double stacks of these. I never felt that i needed a sub, and they're perfectly fine for monitoring and accurately hearing frequencies throughout the range even at "my roommate is asleep, although a heavy sleeper" volumes. Mix on headphones, compare on speakers. I just never felt the need to play really loud unless i was like "Ok, i like this now. It feels tentatively finished. I want to play it really loud and dance around in my chair and be silly because i've been at this for 6 hours and my ass hurts" and that's just because i'm a ham.

Basically buy some nice headphones, and some actual studio monitors and stop cranking it up so goddamn loud. Speakers that can produce very low frequencies at a low SPL are much more impressive and useful for mixing than just cranking it, and give you a more accurate result anyways.*

"Reference levels" are a thing for home theaters, not music mixing. I found myself cranking it up because i felt like it, not because it actually was needed. So yea. It also helps that some much more professional people in here are agreeing with me...

*which is part of the reason the original advent loudspeaker is still my favorite playback speaker for just chilling and drinking a beer. Not so much mixing, but trust me you will grow to appreciate accuracy at low volumes.
posted by emptythought at 6:13 PM on February 27, 2014

Just realized i missed a key point:

The speakers that sound the best at high volumes/SPL tend to be less accurate at low volumes, and less accurate with regards to SNR/etc. Which is to say, little quite details like string plucks, the "edges" of synth pads, the definition of hi hats and crashes, and many other things end up sounding either distorted or aliased or both depending on the speakers and the amplifier driving them(i'm looking at you, mackie 450/thump type powered PA speakers).

Inversely, speakers like actual powered studio monitors like the ones i link lose definition and will often even begin to overheat their amps at very high volumes i would consider "blasting it". I've actually blown out nice monitors this way when i simply felt like blasting music in my house and used them for that...

So yea, coming to the same point, the solution you want isn't "how do i play loud" but "what do i need to play quietly and get the definition, balance across the response range, and clarity i need to do my work".
posted by emptythought at 6:19 PM on February 27, 2014

Response by poster: Hey, thanks to all of you for some input, some really useful knowledge has been given. For the record, I'm using alesis M1 520 speakers, and my headphones are sony mdr-v6.

I totally understand what you are saying about mixing at low volume. it makes perfect sense to me. The only part I feel a bit confused about is-how are you supposed to know if the frequencies will still sound great when the amplitude is magnified by a large degree, such as the powerful funktion one speaker stacks we all know and love?

the main 2 issues I find are:

1. not sure if low volume kick/bass mixing will still sound accurate at louder volumes.

2. I'm extremely sensitive to higher pitch frequencies- so me 'blasting' the speakers' is my way of checking whether the high frequencies become too overbearing at loud volumes. It seems as though even at quiet volumes, they might sound okay, but when much louder they can seem more prominent and intruding.

perhaps this is just an issue of getting to know my speakers better, or perhaps there are some tricks for knowing when certain frequencies will sound worse when played loud?
posted by wavecal22 at 6:33 PM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

The only part I feel a bit confused about is-how are you supposed to know if the frequencies will still sound great when the amplitude is magnified by a large degree, such as the powerful funktion one speaker stacks we all know and love?

Part of it is learning to really know your headphones and monitors well so that you know how sound on them translates over to different speaker and amp setups. Another part is using mixing and mastering tools that analyze the frequencies and give you a picture of what the frequencies are.

My professional EDM friends have all been using the same headphones for decades, not because they're the best headphones, but because they know them and know how they translate over to the big house systems. The Sonys you're using, for example, are great headphones, but they're really not flat enough to satisfy most people who do mixing on headphones. BUT one of the biggest producer/DJs I know uses Sony MDR-7506, precisely because he's been using them since he got his first pair more than 20 years ago. I use AKG-K240 for recording and mixing because that's what most of my collaborators use and it's what I've been using forever, so we all know we're hearing the same thing.
posted by The World Famous at 7:02 PM on February 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

The only part I feel a bit confused about is-how are you supposed to know if the frequencies will still sound great when the amplitude is magnified by a large degree, such as the powerful funktion one speaker stacks we all know and love?

Your speakers turned up as loud as you can get them will not sound like a funktion one speaker stack. You learn that by listening to a lot of dance music and going out clubbing a lot. One way to do that is by DJing -- you'll spend a LOT of time doing both, and you'll learn how songs sound in headphones, on your home system and in the club and can compare.
posted by empath at 7:32 PM on February 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, another thing you're going to mix mastering at home is how echo-y big club spaces can be. You'll keep loading more and more stuff in your mix and lots of reverb to make it sound richer, and then played in a club, it'll be a muddy mess because of all the environmental reverb. It takes a lot of imagination to do a solid mix down for dance music.
posted by empath at 7:36 PM on February 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, your own speakers blasting in your house are going to have about as much relationship to a club's sound system as you screaming in your bathroom is going to have to an opera singer. Different equipment, different responses, different controllers, different everything.
posted by KathrynT at 10:16 PM on February 27, 2014

for what it's worth, i'm an acoustical consultant and several people in my office have hung "egg carton" foam on the walls around their a joke.

mixing/mastering technique aside, you're looking for materials with high transmission loss, not necessarily absorption. as for the diffusive efficacy of egg cartons, geometrically they'll only interact with frequencies around 4k (wavelength ~ 3") and up, and even then it's a very simple periodic structure that can cause coloration. In a shed, I'd sooner cover the walls with wool blankets if you want to deaden the space or mitigate flutter/comb filtering.
posted by maximum sensing at 5:53 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've actually, with a friend, built a studio in an outbuilding.

It was two months of sheer unadulterated hell and not something you want to do without a professional directing it. Just go ahead and trust me on this, ok?

Stop mixing at crazy loud volume, get some flat response headphones, and get someone with a real studio setup who knows what they're doing to handle your final mixdown and master.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:06 AM on February 28, 2014

You don't need to mix at very loud volume. Mixing at loud volume will mess up your hearing and do more harm than good to your mixes.

You do need to mix on studio monitors, not speakers, and you need to learn them. Studio monitors are flat - intentionally flat. If you try mixing for a certain kind of speaker, you're going to create horrible mixes that sound atrocious on anything else. If you mix on very flat monitors, you'll create mixes that translate well onto any speakers.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:01 PM on February 28, 2014

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