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Kentucky Voicing, or learning how to mix with confidence regardless of your monitors.

Special Thanks to recording guru, Dave Moulton, for providing the information and term “Kentucky Voicing,” on whom this tech tip both paraphrases and quotes.

In the Tech Tip of April 29, “Basic Tips For Mixers and Remixers,” we discussed basic monitor setups to help create an effective listening environment. Now, to follow up, we’re going to discuss some techniques for and rules for monitoring that will impact positively on the level of your productions. As an addendum to that previous tech tip, we mentioned that if you lay your speakers on their sides, the tweeters should be on the outside. While this may be a preference for some mixers, it’s a configuration that we believe should be avoided. The reason is because, as you move from side to side or front to back in your “sweet spot” the relationship between your ears and the distance between the tweeter and the woofer changes, causing a phenomenon called comb filtering, or phase cancellation, which can affect the perceived spaciousness and color of the sound you hear. While it is a subtle point, the effect can be fairly dramatic and can lead to inaccurate choices regarding EQ and panning. When the speakers are returned to their “upright and locked position,” the distance between your ear and the relationship of the tweeter and woofer remains the same as you move side to side, and the comb filtering affects of moving front to back are minimized. (It is a subtle point, but we believe that attention to subtleties is the basis for great art.)

The first rule for managing our critical listening efforts is to always keep in mind that the monitors are now our musical instrument, and as such, in order to create a truly exciting musical experience for our listeners, it is crucial that you are comfortable and familiar with your monitoring system and have a fair amount of control over it. It’s not necessary to have “perfect” performance characteristics, but it is important that we know how our system sounds in terms of the range of end-users systems. First, be intimately familiar with your system and it’s behavior over a wide variety of program music including commercially successful recordings from all genres. Second, your monitoring system should have similar response characteristics with the types of monitoring systems so that we can hear what the creators/producers originally intended. Of course, since we all can’t afford Genelec monitors, which are designed to translate a mix accurately from system to system (theirs) as well as studio to studio, there is a cheap and effective way to get control of your monitoring environment and make it comparatively easy to work in other environments called, “Kentucky Voicing.”

To use Kentucky Voicing (quoted from Dave Moulton):
“First adopt a monitor that you can live with. This means (a) that you can afford it, (b) you can stand listening to it for extended periods of time, and (c) you find that you actually enjoy listening to your favorite recordings on it.

Second, thoroughly “learn” at least five or six of your favorite recordings (at least) on this speaker system. Choose well-known and successful recordings (Steely Dan, for instance). Memorize ‘the way they sound.’ When mixing your own work, work towards emulating ‘the way they sound’ on your speaker system. When mixing your own work, mix toward ‘the way they sound.’ This will give your recordings the best chance of sounding good over many different loudspeakers. (What you are actually doing is using a generally successful and widely known recording as a timbral reference.)

Third, when working on monitors other than your own, take along your ‘reference’ recordings and play them first, before you work on your own material. Get “the way they sound” in your ears, and, to repeat, mix toward that sound quality. If your reference recordings sound bass-heavy, for instance, mix your own work bass- heavy. This will tend to neutralize the effect of the colorations of the different monitors on your work.”

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