This is part 5 of my series on a music production course at Salt Lake DJ & Production school.
Mixing was an area that had a lot of attention and found its way into almost every class discussion. Rightfully so as it’s an important part of producing and making sure each component of the song stands out with quality. EQing is shaping the sounds or carving out frequencies like carving a piece of wood. We covered Ableton’s EQ8 starting with the different filters (bell, notch, high shelf, low shelf, etc.). On a kick we always put the EQ before the compressor (yes it matters).
We put an EQ on each track, grouping (cut below 45 Hz and above 17 kHz), and master. This gave us different levels of control and to help clean up the frequencies at each level in the signal flow. On kicks we would filter out anything below 40 Hz so that those lower frequencies wouldn’t interfere with a sub bass and muddy things up. In some cases, like a song I was working on, the kick contains the bass and the song doesn’t have a sub, then the cut off can be lower.
For sub bass the frequency range that we wanted to keep was between 35-50 Hz and everything else was filtered out. This was the rule of thumb but can vary depending on what is happening in the mix and what you are trying to accomplish. For lead synths we filtered out anything below 100 Hz and above 3.4 kHz.
It was actually very interesting to see how a lot of samples had frequencies in ranges that you wouldn’t expect, like a cymbal having a lower frequency. This is why as a general rule you want to filter out frequency ranges that are conflicting with other sounds. You’ll get a cleaner and more distinct result. In the end, there are general guidelines to follow as far as frequencies you want to filter out, but it all depends on the sample or sound that you’ve created and how each part fits into the mix. This can take time to develop an ear for what sounds good.
Along with EQing each track, grouping and master, we also put compression on each to give us more control. To control the thickness of the threshold we had the compression ratio between 2 and 3. So for whatever threshold level between 2 and 3 dB that the input level exceeded the output level only went up by 1 dB. We strove to hover around peak level of -3 dB on the master channel throughout the mixing process. This would come into play later when we would start the mastering process.
I found the process of mixing a bit tricky and my kicks always seemed to fall short of sounding good. After some time and just applying the knowledge I started to develop my ear for what sounds good.