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Fletcher Munson Curve: The Only Guide You Will Ever Need

Fletcher Munson Curve: The Only Guide You Will Ever Need

If you are a total music geek like I am, then you have probably heard of the Fletcher Munson Curve. If you have not heard of it, then you are missing out.

Why?

Because the Fletcher Munson Curve may just change your life.

Here is why:

The Fletcher Munson Curve is a concept which explains how humans hear different frequencies, and the curve can help you to understand the balance of frequencies in your music.

The curve can be complicated, but the concept is not.

The Fletcher Munson Curve Explained

When the volume of your music goes up, the music gets louder, right?

Pretty standard stuff. But, when you listen to music through your headphones or speakers, the perceived loudness changes. When listening to live music, our brains process loudness in one way, and when listening through a speaker, our brains process the perceived loudness in a different way.

The perceived loudness which we hear depends on the frequency of the music, and our brains will change the perceived loudest at different rates depending on the frequency.

When music is played at low volume, the mid-range frequencies become more prominent at the expense of the low and high frequencies. When music is played at high volumes, the opposite is true: low and high frequencies are more prominent at the expense of mid-ranges.

The overall tonal balance of a piece of music will remain the same even as the frequency balance changes, no matter what volume you are listening to.

The Fletcher Munson Curve serves to illustrate this phenomenon in graph form.

Now, you do not need to fully understand the science behind this curve (I know that I don’t), and you do not even need to understand the curve. What you do need to understand is how the phenomenon can affect your music and what to do about it.

So, here we go.

How Does The Fletcher Munson Curve Affect You?

When you are mixing your next masterpiece in the studio, you need to blend a variety of frequencies to achieve the perfect sound. You listen to it back, and it sounds wonderful (your music is always wonderful). The only problem is that if the Fletcher Munson Curve states that the perceived frequency will change as the volume changes, how are you supposed to achieve the perfect frequency balance?

You could mix your song one day and boost the lows or the highs only to come back the next day, listen to the song at a different volume, and want to change them back. This can send you down a spiral of volume and frequency changes where you arrive back where you started!

Is there a solution?

Thankfully, there is.

The Fletcher Munson Curve Solved

No matter how you mix your music, it is always going to be heard slightly differently at different volumes. The key is to mix the music perfectly at the volume which most people will play it at. This can be split into two parts, which we will come too soon.

Music is getting louder. That is just a fact of nature. 

To start, we can throw out low volumes. Who purposely plays music at a low volume to listen to it. If someone is playing music at a low volume, they are either turning it down to hear something else or putting on ambient music. Either way, no one is really listening to your music at low volumes.

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The same goes for super-high volumes. People may crank up the music to hear it better, but no one is going to the extreme top volume on their player.

When someone really loves a song, they crank it up. You have probably done it yourself. That is one of the volumes we are going to concentrate on.

Have you ever tried it?

It sounds awful. The speakers cannot handle it, and it is often scratchy and just wrong. Mix the music how you like because, at high volumes, no one is going to be able to tell the difference.

That brings us to the parts in between.

The Golden Volumes: The Mid-High Range

If you have ever watched a movie with a great soundtrack, there has probably been a scene in that movie where one of the characters cranks up the stereo to hear an awesome tune. Someday that will be your awesome tune.

When someone really loves a song, they crank it up. You have probably done it yourself. That is one of the volumes we are going to concentrate on.

So, what is the other volume?

We also want to concentrate on the regular listening volume. This is the volume that people are listening to your music on a regular basis. While we cannot pinpoint the exact volume, but we are going to assume that this is somewhere around the middle volume of the range.

So, with all of this in mind, we want to focus on recording our music to sound great at a mid to high range.

How To Record Great Music

Now that we have our recording levels set, how do we go about recording great music?

Follow our 5 simple tips to get the best out of your recording.

1. Don’t Over Compress

Music is getting louder. That is just a fact of nature. Well, not a fact of nature, but you know what I mean.

Loud music means that we are losing the beautiful and dynamic ranges which we used to have, and to compensate for this, mixing engineers are compressing more and more of the tracks.

Compression can be a useful tool in the right situation but it is commonly becoming overused in the music industry. The more a track is compressed, the more distortion can occur.

You will need some compression when you are mixing your music but avoid the temptation to compress everything.

2. Use Your Eyes & Ears

When you are recording your music, you are using your ears. That makes perfect sense. Music is auditory, so you need to listen to it.

While this is true, you should also be using your eyes. This is where our Fletcher Munson Curve comes in.

Most EQs have a spectral analysis which can be displayed. Without knowing too much about this, you can use what you knowledge about the Fletcher Munson Curve to balance your recording.

Take the Fletcher Munson Curve and try to create an inverse curve with your spectral analysis. If you want to study the exact science behind this, then you are more than welcome to, but you do not need to know the ins and outs.

Try to create a mirror image with both curves and listen to your music pop.

3. Lighten Up

A common beginner mistake, when it comes to recording and mixing music, is to focus too much on the mid frequencies at the expense of the highs and lows. You should be focused on all equally.

When you focus heavily on the mids only, then you are going to get music which sounds flat and muddy.

This can be especially true when you have a lot of vocals as they occupy a lot of the mid-range frequencies.

Focus on the highs and lows, let your vocals shine, and have music which pops.

4. Don’t Isolate Yourself

Most of us will sit there and mix one track at a time. You spend hours on one track and finally perfect it, doing the same for countless others. But, when you put it all together, the final product is not equal to the sum of the parts.

This is why you should not do anything in isolation.

To create a great mix, you need to mix everything together.

Of course, you can tweak an individual track here and there, but it should be in relation to everything going on around it. That is the key.

Start with the more challenging tracks, like drum and bass, and move on towards guitars and vocals. Move between them. Go back and refine. Create your masterpiece.

5. Think Of The Listener

When you are mixing your music, what are you listening to it through?

Probably a pair of high-end headphones, right?

What are your listeners listening to your music through?

Probably cheap earbuds or speakers.

The key here is to vary the output when you are mixing your track. Use headphones, earbuds, speakers, and anything else which you can get your hands on. The more mediums you can mix through, the better the music is going to sound to the listener.

The Final Curve

Understanding the Fletcher Munson Curve can help to guide and shape how you mix your music, but you need to know that it is only one part of the puzzle.

You can investigate the curve more and get to know it, but as long as you understand the concept and how to apply it to your music, you are going to create better music.

In music, much like in life, it is the little things which count. Take the time to record and mix your music professionally and give your fans exactly what they want.