Your speakers probably suck.
They’re not 100% flat. They’ve got a narrow sweet spot. They do weird things in the crossover range (no, I can’t hear it either). And even if your speakers are pretty good, they’re only as good as the room their in. And I can guess how good that is.
Yes, I know you want to buy better speakers. It’s on the list. As soon as you get that awesome new plugin. And that sample library. And then there are those bill to pay. And Moog just released a tiny new synth that’s almost affordable.
So, realistically, you’re pretty much stuck with your crappy speakers. For the time being, at least. Does that mean you’ll never be able to engineer great mixes? Does that means all your efforts are in vain?
Of course not. There are two strategies you should use to make the most of the speakers you’ve got: Knowing your speakers and using other speakers.
Knowing your speakers.
You can do some great mixes on ordinary speakers, but you have to know them. In fact, knowing your speakers is far more important than the quality of your speakers. Quite simply, you can do great mixes on ordinary speakers, but you’ll struggle with “great” speakers that you’re unfamiliar with.
And just like most aspects of engineering, the truth isn’t sexy. It’s easy to do, but you have to do a lot of it. It’s listening (ok, sometimes listening isn’t aways easy). Listening to as much music as possible. Listening to as wide a variety of music as you can. And listening as often as you can get in the studio. Your mind will automatically build and adjust its expectations for how music should sound. And you’ll find yourself getting closer with each mix.
Using other speakers.
What, you were expecting some voodoo magic? If your speakers aren’t telling you the whole truth, don’t rely on them. Check your mix on other speakers. In other room. Even in the different listening positions of the same room. Get different perspectives.
It’s just like listening to a story by someone you don’t fully trust. You’ll check other people’s accounts of what happened before committing to your own understanding. It’s the same with speakers. Maybe you listen to music recreationally outside your studio – either on iPod earbuds or headphones – bring them in and check your mix.
Now, this is not to say that you don’t need better speakers. Better speakers are better (as long as they’re in an appropriate room). Get them when you’re ready.
But don’t think your gear determines your skill. It’s the other way around.