Would you believe that music is like a language? You have a speaker and a listener and the sound is basically the conversation. When making music, all of your listeners need to be able to understand. In audio engineering, we call this difference between you and them translation. It happens because your equipment, ears, and room are very different than everywhere else.
Most people I meet are surprised by how dramatic this can be when it is actually demonstrated for them. So, I want to spell out how you can do something about it and run your own tests, to raise the quality of your work.
The first step is to know what bad translation sounds like. So record something complex without any processing – the more instruments, the better. It will be particularly evident if you have a lot of low bass frequencies from drums, sound effects, or a bass guitar on the track.
Next, if you can, set the volume levels of each instrument to just the right levels you want to hear them at.
When you are done, get the final version over to a completely different set of speakers, or a different room, or both. You can use headphones if necessary, but I don’t recommend it for this test.
Now give your track a listen and remember how it sounded while you were making it. Even better, try listening to them back-to-back as quickly as you can – on one system, then the other, back and forth.
At this point, you are probably amazed if you are paying attention. The difference between the two is likely massive. Yet how could this be?
They are identical, indeed. The problem isn’t you (though it is going to be your job to compensate for it), it is not the software’s fault or your computer or some setting. It comes from physics (acoustics) and speaker design. But you can overcome most of it fairly easily, with a bit of practice.
The key thing for you to understand is that the magical quality you are looking for actually comes from grasping the fundamentals, not from the little tricks you will pick up along the way. Those reduce wasted time and are what makes it look effortless with experience, but it is the basics you should be focussed on, not fancy plug-ins or new gear. You have to learn how to use it first before they will do you any good. It might take some time to sink in, for example, that volume spikes or peaks are not the same thing as hearing something that is loud.
Your work will translate better when it is more consistent and it will only be more consistent when you understand what it takes to make sound more consistent in the first place.