In the last article we took a look at the problem of EQ-ing without really listening to the track. The opposite, however, can be just as bad for your mix.
What if you listen to the track TOO closely? What if there was a way to isolate that track and only listen to that track and mute all the rest? Wait a second. Yep, that’s called the solo button.
EQ-ing in solo, in my opinion, is one of the hardest habits to break. Think back to the very first song you ever mixed. What did you do first? You solo’d the kick drum, messed around with EQ for a while. Then you solo’d the snare drum, played around with EQ for a while. Then you solo’d the bass… You get the picture.
How did that work out for you?
The Problem with Solo
The Solo button is VERY useful. Don’t get me wrong. But to mix instruments in solo, more specifically to EQ in solo, is very counterproductive.
Imagine you’re baking a cake. If you’re like me, you need a recipe. There’s no way I could bake a cake without specific instructions. Let’s say you decide to bake it without a recipe. You know what ingredients you need — flour, eggs, sugar, etc. — how hard could it be?
So you get out the eggs, and you focus REALLY hard on them. You make sure you crack them perfectly, and you don’t let any shells get in the batter. Then you focus on the flour. You sift it like crazy, so your batter won’t have any lumps. Then you move on to the sugar…and so on.
You combine all your ingredients and what do you get? A pretty disgusting cake. You had no idea what the proportions should be. You used too many eggs, not enough flour, and WAY too much sugar. Who cares if you spent a bunch of time working on each individual ingredient! Nobody’s going to eat your cake.
It’s the same with your mixes. All these tracks were meant to be combined together into a stereo mix. What they sound like by themselves really has NOTHING to do with how they’re going to sound in the mix.
- That kick drum could sound amazing in solo. But it doesn’t matter if you can’t hear it in the mix, or if it’s overpowering the mix.
- The bass guitar might be HUGE solo’d, but when you put it in the mix, it just makes everything muddy and boomy.
- The lead vocal might sound perfect with the solo button pressed, but then you listen to it in the mix, and you can’t understand a word he’s singing.
I’ve heard great-sounding mixes where the lead vocal, when solo’d, sounded really thin and harsh. But in the mix it worked perfectly. The mix is the ultimate goal. You make sacrifices and compromises to make the MIX sound great, not the individual tracks.
The best way to do this is to simply stop pressing the solo button. If you’re working on drums, listen to the entire drum kit. EQ the kick drum while listening to all the other drum tracks. It’s all about context. As much as you possibly can, mix your tracks while listening to all the others. It will force you to make decisions that will benefit the MIX, not the individual track.
While listening to the electric guitar in solo, you may think it needs to lose some harshness around 3 kHz, but then when you drop it in the mix, you notice that it sits perfectly. Had you done a cut at 3 kHz, you would’ve made the guitar more difficult to hear. You would have HURT THE MIX.
You may be asking, “But Joe, do you never use the solo button when you mix?” I do use it. I’ll use it to quickly hone in on that frequency I’m looking for, if I’m having trouble finding it, but then I immediately drop the track back in the mix to make adjustments. Or I’ll make a few adjustments, then I always listen to it in the mix again before moving on to the next thing.
What happens? I almost always have to make adjustments after hearing the track in the mix. No matter how perfect I think it sounds in solo. I might think I “nailed it,” but then I listen in the mix and have to make a few more adjustments.
Your turn. Do you agree or disagree with me? Do you EQ in solo? Do you think it’s helpful or hurtful? What are you going to do about it?
If you struggle with how to EQ tracks and want to learn how to stop randomly twisting knobs and start EQ-ing quickly and effectively, check out Understanding EQ.