Your EQ is a Swiss army knife when it comes to making things work in the mix. On their own, EQs are capable of taming harsh frequencies, boosting under-represented bands and all kinds of other issues that can plague a particular sound (or group of sounds). Your EQ equalizes the playing field between various instruments. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
But the EQ is just your first step to total mix success, and in order to get the most out of the rest of your dynamic processors & time-based effects, you’re going to need to make use of your EQ’s most important EQ band.
This band is single-handedly responsible for maintaining clarity and depth within your mix. While the rest can help with intelligibility and masking, getting this band right can clean up so many problems commonly found in mixes without even a second thought.
For the discerning engineer, this is huge. It means your time and effort can be spent focusing on smaller details and overall balance without having to do the same mundane edits that other engineers are dealing with on a one-by-one basis. Start with this EQ band and you’ll find yourself skipping plenty of troubleshooting down the line.
Your Bass Band
Bass frequencies are some of the most deceitful and powerful elements of any track. Dealing with them across dozens (sometimes hundreds) of tracks can be maddening as they all build up, stacking on top of each other. What’s worse, most of that low-end content is unnecessary garbage.
It can be hard to replicate bass frequencies accurately in your monitoring environment, and for a lot of engineers, this means they’re not getting dealt with until it’s too late. If you’re mixing with headphones, the lack of low-end content can be especially detrimental.
Having a clear bottom to your songs creates the foundation for your mix to be built on. Your kick, bass, and the occasional synth should be filling out this area of the spectrum on your mix, but to make that happen you need to make space for them to breathe.
The 1-Band EQ Solution
In the event you don’t feel the need for a full-featured EQ on a track, there’s still a 1-band solution that I recommend time and time again. By adding a single-band high-pass filter to your non-bass tracks, you can quickly and easily roll off the junk that clutters up other tracks.
Electrical hum, air conditioning noise & more all find their way into microphones in this range, and do nothing but raise your mix’s noise floor, wasting some of that precious dynamic range that we work so hard to preserve.
While the “breaking point” will differ on every track will be unique, the process for finding it is the same. Enable your high-pass filter and start raising the frequency until you start hearing it affect your intended source instrument. When you hear it reach that point, dial it back just a hair and you’re good to go!
This fix might not have an immediately noticeable impact after being applied to a single instrument, but multiplied across many tracks it adds up to a significant amount of cleanup. Don’t believe me? Try this exercise:
Set up your session with 1-band EQs on every channel and go through the whole thing one track at a time setting your “breaking points”. Once you’re done, toggle the bypass on each plugin on and off. While the balance between instruments might not improve without some additional processing, you should hear the low-end getting more and more cluttered as you bypass each instance of the plugin.
Working Double Duty
While this might seem like an exercise in just cleaning up source audio, you’re actually helping all of your other plugins work better and more efficiently too. Instead of feeding all that garbled junk into the next plugin, you’re giving it only what it needs to do its job.
Think of this process as a pre-treatment step. JST Clip might be able to clip your track just fine with the low-end content in the track, but cleaning it up first means you can drive it harder without that unneeded frequency content contributing to the clipping circuit.
The same could be said for a limiter like Finality. On it’s own, Finality is perfectly capable of limiting most source audio, but having a low-end rumble may cause it to trigger earlier (or delay to release time) than you’d want it to if it was only treating the frequency content you care about.
It’s safe to say that unless a dynamic processor includes a hi-pass on the way in, most of them could be improved with a bit of cleanup beforehand.
What Are You Doing To Clean Up Your Mixes?
Are you already taking steps to clean up your source audio BEFORE you start mixing? Are there any steps or precautions you take DURING your mix to keep your gain staging consistent and your plugin performance optimized?
If you have tips on keeping your audio clean throughout the mix, come share them with us over in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum on Facebook.
We’ll see you there!