Mixing Myths #01
Everything can be learned online these days. Between YouTube, blogs, and hundreds of forum threads, you’ll encounter every expert that’s ever lived that no one's ever heard of.
Good luck filtering through that incredible amount of partially useless content.
With that said, let us toss our 2 cents into that forever-growing pile of resources you’ll be filtering through :)
Myth #1 High Pass Everything!
If you look for a mixing tutorial right now, you're likely to come across someone who says you should high pass everything that isn't a bass or needs low end.
Fact: High pass filtering can be extremely beneficial, especially if you want to clean up a mix or prep sounds before mixing. High Pass Filtering allows the perception of something being louder as our ears are sensitive to higher frequencies. The issue arises when filtering is overdone or used as the default step prior to listening and reacting to what the audio requires. As a result, you'll likely run into phase issues and strip your music of the natural elements that make it sound bold and rich, leaving you with a thin, sterile mix.
Unfortunately, almost every music producer and mixing engineer preaches this as gospel, making it difficult to ignore.
On top of that, they’re filtering using steep slopes (sometimes 48dB/oct and up).This tip works better with analog styled EQs, as the slopes are gentle, yielding more musical results and less artifcats. Using linear-phase EQs, like those found in Edelweiss`72 will eliminate artifacts (phase issues) altogether.
Quick Sidenote: If you’re looking to add more presence to a sound, but don’t want to compromise your lows/low mids, use Saturation.
Using saturation introduces upper harmonics resulting in a fuller sound that cuts through and doesn’t sound thin. Try that before getting crazy with your HPF.
There have been many times where I've reopened older projects that have been placed in television episodes to analyze and repurpose. Meaning, creating templates from said tracks and or recycling the channel strips (presets) only to realize that many of the sounds had nothing on them. No EQ, Compression… Some with no fx processing at all, just a good recording leveled into the mix properly.
Mixing should be the blending of frequencies not a combination of blind passes that leave your elements completely isolated, forcing you to then do more processing as an attempt to re-introduce warmth and depth.
For the record, I’m not saying stop high pass filtering your sounds, but do it with purpose instead of making it a robotic habit like most music producers are instructing you to do on YouTube. Stop thinning out your mixes!
Myth #2 Don’t Add Reverb To Your Kick, Bass or Master Chain
I used to follow this rule religiously for years. It wasn't until I got more involved in sound design and composing music for purposes other than collaborating with artists that I noticed this rule was constantly broken.
Heck, just diving into other genres of music could bury this myth.
Reverb On The Kicks & Bass
When most think about using ‘Reverb’ on kicks and low end elements, they envision being used at extreme levels, and quickly forget that reverbs have settings that can be dialed in to control them: EQ (Filters), Decay, Delay, Dampening, Mix, Reflections…etc.
But why would someone need to put reverb on kicks and basses? There's lots of reasons, but the choice to do so ultimately depends on what the sound lacks and what sound you're going for.
Reverb is a great way to create
- Space (obviously)
- Lengthening decays
- Gluing sounds together
If you've ever done drum replacement or mixed live and processed recordings together, oftentimes you can tell they were recorded in different environments right away, and depending on the production style, this can sound tasty or incredibly disconnected.
In order to make the recording more believable, reverb is introduced in order to put the sounds in the same space.
Those of you who purchase sample packs based on any modern sounding production styles, trust me, you’re going to encounter Kicks, Basses, and other sounds that have been kissed with a little of reverb; they're rarely bone dry.
OK, But Reverb On The Mixing/Mastering Chain?
On a basic level, reverb can be used to fix a song’s tails. Sometimes they are cut off too soon or you may have some error within them that you have to fade or gate and then rebuild.
It’s great for creating depth and dimension within a recording, as well as cohesion across multiple songs, during the mastering process.
There are times when EQ and Compression don’t cut it and you have to find other options, but be careful, as reverb can also soften your audio, which can be problematic if used too much, stripping the recording of its edginess.
Here's an instrumental I have placed on a TV Show, https://www.instagram.com/p/CE-UsZmjmbo/... the entire mix is hit with reverb tastefully by way of the master channel.
Myth #3 Always EQ Before Compressing
The idea of EQ-ing before Compressing comes from the layout o the SSL and Neve consoles where the EQ came before the Dynamics. Both processors affect the frequency spectrum. One being constant (EQ) and the other (Compressor) happening over time.
The traditional signal path works and has for a long time, but let me give you two scenarios where you might use EQ before compression and vice versa.
EQ First, Compressor After
The concept behind EQing before Compression is to filter out the bad stuff: Noise/rumble, problem frequencies this way the compression tames and later amplifies the good sounding, corrected material. This creates what recording engineers classify as a warm/analog sound.
In short use the EQ if you want to fix issues in the recording before altering the dynamics. Do understand that frequencies boosted here will affect how the compressor responds.
Compressing before EQ tends to lend itself to a more crispy or sound that caters to a bit more clarity. For example, you like your drum sounds but want to even out the Dynamics.
- Compress and adjust the makeup gain.
- Use EQ to clean or push frequencies you want to emphasize.
This signal flow stops the EQ from affecting how the compressor performs.
Some like to take the process a step further by applying an initial pass of EQ to attenuate quirks in the audio recording(s). The dynamics are then manipulated with a compressor, as well as whatever tones and saturation come along from the compressor. Finally, the second pass of EQ to implement the musical boosts.
The question you must ask yourself is whether you wish to compress an EQ-ed sound or EQ a compressed sound. I'd recommend flipping the EQ and Compressor positions and going with whichever order sounds best.
Myth #4 Genre Based Mixing Tips: Infographics
Here we go… I'm sure you've seen these before; they're commonly seen on Instagram and Facebook. They're graphical posts outlining mixing tips and presets; where instruments should be panned, levels they should be set to, how much saturation to dial in, etc. There are different types, some are good, a lot are absolutely garbage.
Here’s an example, if I tell you to set your
Kick to -6dB
Bass at -15dB and make sure your
Pads are at -26dB
Melodic Information -20dB
Do you think this would sound good for your genre of music?
Those numbers might work for some of you but not others. These are arbitrary settings that do not take your source material, its level, or how it was recorded into account, thus the overall results will differ.
Yes, you will come across good starting points, but they should never be viewed as ‘have tos and musts’ as they’re generally presented as among the online community.
Think about it, if mixing were as easy as copying and pasting a few parameters and settings, everyone and their mother would be doing it, and doing it well.
Myth #5 Never Boost or Cut More Than 3dB
Ah, the ol ‘don’t boost/cut more than 3dB Trope’. This made a lot of sense when everyone recorded with analog equipment. It was all about controlling the noise floor as much as possible. Everything introduced into the signal chain would add noise.
- Natural Recording Environment
In order to achieve a good recording, the vocal or instrument had to be recorded loud enough to be above the noise floor, which meant making sure the volume of the recording was hitting the High Yellow near Red area on the meters…Sometimes even tickling the red ever so slightly.
So now imagine, you have a good recording, everything important is above the noise floor. If you were to boost 4 or 5dB (or higher) you’d be re-introducing the noise floor you worked so hard to mask. Granted, some of this noise might be pleasant to the ear, but in many situations, it was tolerable at best.
Fortunately, we can now record in 24-bit and higher where the noise floor isn't much of a factor and the recordings are cleaner. Everyone has access to a recording setup these days which turns into people recording things any way they can, some in less ideal recording environments than others.
As a result, you'll have to perform some interesting EQ gymnastics in order to make things work. Professionals frequently advise recording things perfectly, but occasionally, in the mix is where turds are polished and problems are rectified!
We’re also in a more advanced stage of music creation, there are lots of new subgenres and great sound design techniques that really push the envelope of our tools.
Aside from that, I can imagine this guideline being beneficial in one situation: while mastering a song. The mix should arrive finished, leaving you to polish things up, applying that extra 5 or 10%. To avoid destroying the original mix, small cuts/boosts are encouraged.
The Myths outlined here are not necessarily inaccurate, but antiquated for the time we’re in with recording, music, and technology. They’re also misunderstood yet passed around as the Holy Grail to achieving a good-sounding mix.
Truth is, as good as these guidelines/rules used to be, they will limit your creativity and progress in today’s music industry. In order words, things change! Unless of course, you’re working in an older analog recording studio.
Lastly, remember mixing is a skill set that’s learned and refined through repetition. Everything starts at the source. The better your recordings, the less mixing you’ll have to do. We're lucky to be in a time where the flexibility is there, most of what we work with today is non-destructive (in the DAW) and trial and error are your best teachers.
Don’t lock yourself in a box, go break some rules.