How do individual tracks sound on their own before they’re mixed?

When mixing, there are two different approaches to take when processing individual tracks (channels, instruments, sounds, etc) –

  1. Try to make the track sound as ‘good’ as possible on its own, and then fit it into the mix; and
  2. Pay no attention to the integrity of the track’s individual sound and ruthlessly filter and EQ it so that only the most useful parts of the sound contribute to the mix.

Both approaches are valid. Which approach you take will depend on the type of mix you’re working on and your own personal style.

Approaching each track individually can be a useful approach if you’re aiming for a natural-sounding mix. This way, each instrument can be closer to its original (or expected) sound. The character of the sound it more complete and more nuanced. This approach would be achieved by using gentle shelving EQ instead of filters, wide and shallow parametric EQ, and a tendency to cut rather than boost. The downside to this approach is that it can make a mix sound very cluttered and crowded – especially if there are a lot of instrument or the instruments are badly-played.

Alternatively, you might approach each track as a collection of sonic characteristics to pick and choose from. This will lead to aggressive filtering and more surgical/targeted EQ, with a tendency to boost as well as cut. This way the mix can be very clean and controlled, and can be particularly useful in modern ‘highly-produced’ music such as electronic music. The downside is that the mix can become too produced, with each instrument sounding quite unlike its natural self. It can also result in mixes that sound thin, empty and gutless.

Personally, I take both approaches. Generally I try to keep foreground instruments as natural as possible. As I work my way further back to the background instruments, I get more and more surgical and ruthless. The more ‘produced’ a mix is, the more I’ll tend toward aggressive filtering to cut out the unwanted characteristics of each sound and keep the desired parts. The more natural a mix is, the more I’ll tend toward gentle shelving EQ to softly de-emphasise the unwanted parts of the sound and emphasise the desired characteristics.

-Kim.

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  1. I know its off topic but I have huge but small problem. I wish you had a question box or something.

    My voice is deep. When I rap and or sing I have to take a lot of the bottom out or it will class with the 808’s and kicks. When I do that I cause another problem which is the mids. My H’s and stuff. I’ve read most if not all ur posts on compression and eq. Still kind of lost on how to approach this problem. Just thought id try to get that answered.

  2. You have to make sure the tone of your voice is balanced – you can very easily chase your tail trying to remove every annoying part of the sound, but you’ll end up with something that’s so hacked up that you wouldn’t want to listen to it anyway. You might also want to take a critical look at your microphone technique and your delivery (performance).

    -Kim.

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