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How To Make Good EQ Decisions Without Expensive Gear

One of the biggest problems that millions of producers face is a lack of trust in their monitors and the response they get in their studio spaces. This is totally understandable! If you don’t have acoustic treatment, the way your speakers reproduce audio is going to sound unique in your room due to the echoes and reflections. 

Many home studios have acoustic issues that cause boosts and dips across the frequency spectrum. When you’re mixing, you compensate for these issues so the mix sounds GREAT in your room, but awful everywhere else.

Even a mid-range investment of $5k+ in monitors and $2k+ in acoustic treatment is just not viable for the millions of super-talented home studio producers out there. So today, I want to share with you our solution to this problem that may be holding you back from reaching your fullest potential. (Without spending $$$ in gear).

You Need A Sonic Target

So many producers make the critical mistake of mixing blindly. By that, I mean opening up your mix session and just endlessly tweaking without a specific sonic target. This is a total waste of time and you’ll almost always end up with disappointing results.

We humans are terrible at keeping a frame of reference in mind. We can’t ‘remember’ what a bright vocal sounds like. Also, a vocal is only ‘bright’ in the context of a ‘darker’ mix. And how dark should the mix be…? It’s a minefield of possibilities for errors, which is why so many producers mess this up and create awful mixes.

Your listeners will most likely hear your music in the context of other professionally recorded, mixed, and mastered released music. If yours doesn’t sound as good, they’re going to notice. 

You need a sonic target. This is a ‘sound’ that you have in mind for your music. This might mean:

  • Bright vocals, similar to pop records.
  • Wide synths, slightly darker than the vocals.
  • A punchy kick with a deep sub.
  • Bass that translates well on small speakers such as a laptop.

(The list can be longer! The more detailed it is the better).

Once you’ve identified a handful of very specific characteristics you want your song to have, you can search for the ideal reference song that represents your sonic goal. Take time on this, it will have a huge impact on how your track progresses. You can see my extensive list of favorite reference tracks in different genres, and these may work well for you. But, it’s honestly infinitely better to do the research and dive deep into the perfect reference track for your song. One that matches your genre, vibe, and most importantly the instrumentation. 

Expanding on the importance of ‘instrumentation’, if your reference track has prominent hi-hats and cymbals giving a lot of high-end energy during the chorus, but your track does not, it will make it super-hard for you to use as a sonic goal. Trying to get the same high-end energy without the hi-hats in your arrangement by pushing your synths and vocals will undoubtedly bring about harshness. So be super selective and find the right reference track for your music. 

Start With Balance

Before touching an EQ, set the right level for each channel. A lot of producers skip this crucial step and jump straight into EQing or other processing. This is really inefficient because you end up spending more time dialing in a crazy EQ curve when just setting the right level would have got the sound 80 to 90% there!

The volume of a channel has a huge effect on its overall sound, especially when adjusted in the context of the whole mix. For example, you can make a channel sound brighter just by increasing the volume. You can also make it sound darker by turning it down.

When you adjust the balance of any channel, the others can sound brighter or darker relative to it, so it’s quite literally a balancing act, finding that perfect level for each channel.

Get the balance wrong and you’ll struggle to get close to the pro-sounding richness and clarity of chart-topping songs. But, get the balance right and you’ll have laid the foundation needed to create a great sounding mix. …….

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