How often do you hear other engineers tell each other they’re doing something wrong or “that’s not the way I’d treat that”? For as much good information getting shared between your peers, there is plenty more toxic information that gets spread.
If you’re interested in learning to tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, especially when it comes to the low end of your mix, keep an eye out for some of these lies:
1. You can’t hear it, so it doesn’t matter
This is one of the most ridiculous examples I hear on a regular basis. “Can’t hear it? You’re fine, bro.”
Except you’re not fine.
The minute you go to listen to that mix on a system that hypes your low end (making it more noticeable) you’ll wish you had taken some of the subtleties into consideration ahead of time.
In addition to the stuff you can’t hear in your mix, you need to consider how that hidden low end can affect the rest of the frequency spectrum, especially during processing. If you’ve got a compressor running on a track with too much low-end rumble, your compressor likely isn’t treating the content you’re after. Instead, the rumble is hitting the threshold before anything else, skewing the results.
Using a high-pass filter is a great way to clean up the low-end of your tracks – leaving room for bass-heavy instruments to fill out the foundation of your mix.
2. Only your bass and kick drum should exist below 100 Hz
You don’t want to throw out the kitchen sink with your low-end cleanup. Certain tracks (such as cymbals) are very unlikely to ever have useful low-end content. Other tracks like synthesizers and guitars (especially extended range or drop-tuned ones) are likely to overlap with your bass and kick drums to an extent.
So when I hear engineers say they throw a high-pass filter on everything but bass and kick, I cringe a little bit inside.
Everything in mixing is situational. Don’t just make a blanket assumption that rolling off at 100 Hz is an easy and effective shortcut to cleaning up your low end. This rings especially true during tracking, where once it’s gone, you’re not getting it back.
3. You shouldn’t boost your low end
This is advice that’s commonly misinterpreted by new engineers, and it comes down to using best practices when EQing.
The advice is usually equivalent to “subtractive EQ sounds more natural than additive”. Beginners take this to mean subtractive EQ is good and additive EQ is bad or cutting is better than boosting.
This problem extends to the tracking side as well, where a lot of engineers tend to track with extra low end they can cut out later.
But what if you don’t have enough low end? Either it wasn’t captured during tracking or got lost in the mix? Are you going to give up and say, “guess I’ll have to just live with it”?
Of course not!
Add it back into your mix. If your EQ alone isn’t getting the job done, using something like Sub Destroyer can generate low end that can be mixed into your track to revitalize a weak bass or kick drum.t
4. Bass Drops are easy
This is another common misconception I hear a lot. It’s easy enough to make a basic bass drop in most DAWs, but doing it the right way can end up giving you something that sounds infinitely better.
Bass drops are tough for a lot of people to really get right because there are various pieces that go into it (the speed of the drop, starting and stopping frequencies, waveform & more). Not to mention that after getting everything right, you’ve got to make sure it fits in the mix.
The easiest solution is letting a tone-generating virtual instrument handle the heavy lifting for you. A lot of the time, these tools are built to simplify the steps needed to get from point A to point B. Using something like the Trigger section in Sub Destroyer can make for quick and easy bass drops that match the key of your song.
5. You need a subwoofer to properly monitor low end
Subwoofers are amazing client pleasers. They give you that extra low-end punch that makes you feel the music as much as you hear it. With that said, they’re not always necessary and can actually be detrimental to your mix.
If you’re going to add a subwoofer to your setup, make sure you’re doing it right. Analyze the room you're in. Find out where your crossover needs to happen. Otherwise, you’re just adding another speaker to the equation that will inevitably add some muddiness to your mix room.
I recommend considering how your mix translates from your current mix environment, because for most, the subwoofer isn’t going to add as much to your mixing abilities as learning your current equipment will.
Most speakers (even the entry level ones) can replicate down to about 80 Hz. As you get into larger speakers, that range grows as far as ~35 Hz. With the threshold of human hearing just 15 Hz lower, adding a sub for such a small gain isn’t nearly as valuable as making sure your stereo image and monitor placement is optimized.
Have you ever gotten particularly bad mixing advice?
We all have some horror stories of old-school guys set in their ways that think they’ve got this whole recording thing down to a science. If you’ve got a funny story to go along with that inaccurate piece of advice, share it with us in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum.