When it comes to EQ, there are two rules of thumb all music producers and audio engineers should welcome into the mixing workflow.
The ways to apply EQ (equalization) to individual tracks, subgroups, and full mixes is a highly subjective concept. The use of EQ has hundreds of variables and should always be done “in context” or while listening to the entire mix as a whole.
The option to solo tracks while in the mix is both a blessing and a curse. When new to mixing it is common to click the solo bottom ad nauseam. While it can be “helpful” to isolate an element of the mix to hear it more clearly, so clearly that nothing else is playing (Laughter)! This is not the best approach for making “big picture” EQ decisions. Mixing in context is all about mixing individual layers while other layers are playing in real time.
Many people who are new to mixing do not quite understand the difference between the details and the big picture. This lack of understanding often leads to uncertainty in the mix, translation issues, and in confusion in regards to mixing vs. mastering EQ.
Mixing EQs can be used in the mastering phase, and mastering EQs can be utilized during the mix. The difference between the two is the mixing EQs often allow for more creative sculpting while mastering EQs often focus on broader curves and shelves. We are going to explore these concepts more in later articles, for now, we can sum up the process of mixing vs. mastering as:
Now let’s get back to talking about mixing in context.
When in the mix it is vital to focus on the individual layers while always remaining conscious of how these layers contribute to the overall vibe of the song and the emotional context of the mix.
It is advantageous to make EQ cuts and boosts while listening to the track in the full spectrum of the mix. Though it might appear that it is “helpful” to EQ in solo, there are better ways to achieve “clarity” of a track, and this is….
The most efficient way to hear a track, in the context of the mix, is to crank the fader up! If the fader is cranked to the house already, no problem, just turn the rest of the mix down!
If you think about it, does it make any sense to boost 300 Hz on the snare drum track if the guitars/synths are not playing in real time?
Sticking to a big picture mixing mindset (what’s best for the song) while using the faders to focus on the details will help you make EQ moves which compliment rather than clash with the other layers.
Mixing with a more involved use of faders, and learning to mix in context is not easy. The easy route is just to click the solo icon. You should know by now, in mixing and life, that the easy way is most often not the way to travel. This is not to say that you should over-complexify, but rather that you should make a habit of not cutting corners (Big Smile).
In the beginning, we all have untrained ears and use whatever tools we can to make things easy. These “easy habits” can be your best friend in your creative life, until these practices become “bad practices” or turn into “addictions.”
Using the solo button is a crutch. This crutch slowly becomes an addiction (if it is not already). Addictions, often viewed by our culture as “wrong” but are not. Addictions are nothing more than quick fixes we engage in to achieve a particular goal.
There is nothing wrong with feeling good, but it will not serve us to ONLY feel good about a mix in our studio. Mixing is all about translation. Working is solo, especially with EQ, often renders mixes that sound good in our little bubble (that we call our mind), but not so magnificent in the world.
We all have addictions, this website is here to support you in your creative endeavors and help you understand deeper truths about yourself. There is no reason to be bashful. Rather than beating ourselves up for watching too much TV, spending 3 hours a day on social media, eating too much pizza, or enjoying a drug of choice more often than “moderation” let’s focus our attention on “having awareness” for the practices of our lives. It is through awareness and adaptation that we can reach new creative heights within ourselves.
Don’t worry; I know this is a music production and audio engineering blog; we are not getting off track here. If you are just tuning in, this blog’s aim is to offer you “new perspectives on life and the craft of music production.” Audio engineering is a very spiritual process, and very few people talk about this. To be frank, very few people have a connection to their true Self, and it is for this reason many blogs, videos, and websites focus on the “technical” aspect of the trade.
While this approach is highly respected by us, we are aiming to enable artists here to dive deep into creativity. Our mission is to help you break down the walls that are holding you back from creating. Our mission is to help you better understand yourself because we know, from personal experience, this is the true key to unlocking your creative potential!
No one is trying to psychoanalyze you here, but it is important to understand than they way you live your life and the decisions you make affect all areas of your life!
This why you are here reading, to learn more about the craft and more about yourself. We are here with you as you read. We want to help you enhance your life so your can naturally and effortlessly enhance your creative life! That being said, let’s take a moment to get real….
There is NOTHING wrong with this. Though you may have an addiction to soloing tracks and mixing “out of content,” you now have an AWARENESS of this habit, and you can start to break it!
The quickest way to break your “solo habit” is to start adjusting the faders more as previously mentioned. Using your faders more and using the solo option less will render massive growth in your mixes. Not to mention, you will find yourself using less EQ overall. When it comes to EQ, less is often more!
If you are working on your music, go back and tweak the design of the sounds rather than trying to “fix” the sounds with mixing tools like EQ.
If you are working on clients mix, ask the artist about the layers you are exhausting yourself to make sound “better” with EQ. See if they are open to reworking the recording/sound design/sample selection. Most often one of these approaches is possible and removes you from making overly aggressive or other common EQ mistakes while in the mix.
This is the best question to ask. This is such an important question we are going to dedicate the entire next blog post to this concept. Again, EQ is subjective, and every engineer will tell you something different, but if you continue reading, we are confident your workflow will radically change understanding this very fundamental and empowering concept.
Also, in upcoming articles (to quell your inner curiosity – Smiles) on this series of common EQ mistakes, we are going to dive into themes like:
And finally…. (drumroll please) …
That is all for this installment, coming up next will be the other golden rule of EQ: When in doubt, leave the EQ OUT!