Invest Serious Time With EQ And Balance

download-eqAs a beginner engineer, I was very focused on effects.  In hindsight, it’s easy to see that I was thinking about the wrong stuff.
I now believe the basis of all music is rooted in proper EQ and balance. So as an engineer/songwriter/mixer, you need to invest some serious time working with EQ and balance until you get that “a-ha” moment.
That moment will come when you hear something and know to reach for a certain EQ range and smooth out the track. It took me a long time to learn how a microphone “translates” the sound on a recording. This is especially true when working with a kick drum. In a lot of cases, our instinct is to boost stuff. When in reality, subtracting is really what’s necessary.
Try this: setup a mic on any instrument. It could be a drum or guitar amp or acoustic guitar – doesn’t matter.  Get your input signal set (hot enough without distortion) and record about a minute of that instrument. Now, add a 7-band EQ to the “Insert” section of that track.  As the track plays, take full sections of EQ and drop them way down and boost way up.  Take the low end under 500hz, then the mids, 500-1k, then the highs, over 1k. Notice what you hear. Close your eyes and listen to the differences as you change the EQ settings. Certain timbres should pop-out or disappear – that’s what you want to recognize.
Now add a second instrument overdubbed on another track along with the first.  I recommend a bass guitar since those tones are some of the hardest to work with.  As both instruments playback, do the same EQ experiment with both.  Notice how the first instrument sounds different now even though you had the same EQ settings?  This is the magic of dissonance and tonality. Pay close attention to how the two instruments interact as you change EQ.
Another thing I like to do is mix an entire song with no effects and just play with EQ and balance.  By balance, I’m referring to the db level in relationship to all tracks. A common problem I run into is a bass guitar track not “popping” and the instinct is to boost db, but you probably need to work with the EQ instead.
Try out your own experiments – hard drive space is almost free!  I’d love to hear your feedback!