Last night, I decided to do the final mixdown of the latest piece while sat in my living room, through my internal speakers. I recorded a bunch of sounds that used my low pass filter, because it’s really got a very nice, Moog-y sound. What the sounds don’t have are high frequencies, because of the filtering. Which means when I went to mix them, there was nothing at all coming out of my speakers.
It happens to be the case that, as laptop speakers go, mine are particularly bad. But, judging from the statistics of people reading this blog, most of you aren’t on mac either. When I got this computer, I told myself that the terrible internal speakers didn’t matter, because I would never use them and would always plug into better speakers. That’s what I told myself, at least. The reality is that I sometimes listen to stuff, even noise and other non-pop music, through the internal speakers. And it’s not reasonable to make somebody a commission and then dictate that they have to use special speakers to listen to it. I’m going to have to record a bunch of new stuff, with higher frequencies in it.
This issue of mixing for laptop (or earbuds or internal phone speaker) was first brought up in popular music by Bjork in her 2001 album Vespertine, which was specifically mixed to sound good on a mac laptop. In the 13 years since, all of pop music has followed her. If you’ve ever wondered why bass lines seem to be missing from most top-40 dance-y singles, this is why. They don’t sound good coming out of an internal laptop speaker or internal phone speaker and a lot of ear buds distort them.
Of course, all of pop music is, on some level a response to technology. singles are the length that they are partly because of the durations of wax cylinders – the first recording medium. But as a bass player, a tuba player and a composer, I have some nostalgic feelings for low notes. I think the answer to the conundrum is to mix carefully – make sure the piece sounds good coming from just laptop speakers, but leave in the low tones, so when people put it through better equipment, they get a nice surprise.
If you or someone you know wants to make a commission and don’t care about laptop speakers, let me know, and I’ll subwoof it up! Otherwise, you’re getting music engineered to sound good no matter how you play it. Noise music commissions make great gifts for people, whether they’re low-fi or high-fi! If you order in November, delivery is guaranteed in time for Hanukkah or Christmas!
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