Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools
Illustration by Richard Downs

EQ strategies in mixing: Corrective vs. creative


Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

with Brian Lee White

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Video: EQ strategies in mixing: Corrective vs. creative

So when working through a mix I generally like to break my EQ decisions down into one of three categories. I like to call them the three Cs: Corrective, Creative, and Cohesive. Again, sort of I think about the challenge versus the solution, and identify what I think is missing or needs correcting with a specific instrument in the context of its place in the mix. Then I'll seek a solution. If I determine that the possible solution is EQ, I'll then proceed.
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  1. 14m 50s
    1. Welcome
      1m 12s
    2. The past, present, and future of mixing
      6m 20s
    3. Strategies for mixing and mastering
      5m 38s
    4. Using the exercise files
      1m 40s
  2. 40m 24s
    1. Mixing "in the box"
      5m 9s
    2. Setting up the studio: Speakers and acoustics
      13m 12s
    3. Staying organized: Effectively prepping the mix
      10m 50s
    4. Managing system resources during mixdown
      11m 13s
  3. 41m 38s
    1. Introducing the Pro Tools Mixer
      2m 23s
    2. Understanding mixer signal flow
      3m 42s
    3. Using inserts and plug-ins
      7m 4s
    4. Working with plug-in settings
      5m 1s
    5. Using sends and creating FX returns
      6m 55s
    6. Submixing with aux tracks
      4m 30s
    7. Using groups while mixing
      3m 46s
    8. Using master faders effectively
      8m 17s
  4. 21m 12s
    1. Conceptualizing the mix and making a plan
      7m 45s
    2. Using volume and pan to balance the mix
      11m 18s
    3. Knowing when to process: Mix problems vs. mix solutions
      2m 9s
  5. 1h 3m
    1. Understanding the mechanics of sound
      3m 53s
    2. Learning the basics of EQ: Frequency-specific level control
      4m 29s
    3. Using DigiRack EQ III
      16m 3s
    4. EQ strategies in mixing: Corrective vs. creative
      7m 18s
    5. EQ workflow example 1: Kick drum
      5m 39s
    6. EQ workflow example 2: Filtering loops
      5m 10s
    7. EQ workflow example 3: The "telephone" effect
      3m 7s
    8. Mixing tips and tricks for EQ
      17m 36s
  6. 1h 16m
    1. Understanding dynamics and dynamic range
      2m 1s
    2. Working with dynamics processors
      2m 57s
    3. Using the DigiRack Dyn III compressor/limiter
      10m 6s
    4. Balancing and shaping track dynamics
      3m 19s
    5. Using gates and expanders
      9m 23s
    6. Using de-essers to eliminate sibilance
      5m 47s
    7. Dynamics workflow example 1: Vocals
      10m 0s
    8. Dynamics workflow example 2: Drums
      9m 29s
    9. Mixing tips and tricks: Dynamics
      11m 37s
    10. Building parallel or "upward" compression
      7m 53s
    11. Reviewing dynamics concerns: How much is too much?
      3m 28s
  7. 47m 49s
    1. Using time-based effects to add depth and width
      3m 23s
    2. Using DigiRack D-Verb
      14m 27s
    3. Using the DigiRack delays
      9m 18s
    4. Mixing with reverb
      7m 59s
    5. Mixing with delays
      6m 19s
    6. Mixing tips and tricks: Creating mix depth
      6m 23s
  8. 18m 8s
    1. Working with the Creative Collection
      9m 8s
    2. Building distortion and saturation
      9m 0s
  9. 37m 33s
    1. Understanding automation
      4m 10s
    2. Recording real-time automation moves
      7m 6s
    3. Viewing and editing automation
      10m 17s
    4. Automating plug-ins
      7m 36s
    5. Automation strategies for mixing
      8m 24s
  10. 29m 31s
    1. Understanding the characteristics of a great mix
      7m 2s
    2. Working to reference tracks
      4m 35s
    3. Avoiding some common pitfalls
      7m 50s
    4. Building healthy mixing habits
      3m 36s
    5. Crafting your mix from start to finish
      6m 28s
  11. 1h 5m
    1. Understanding mastering
      4m 15s
    2. Bouncing the mix
      7m 9s
    3. Working with general mastering strategies
      8m 50s
    4. Using limiting and compression to maximize track level
      10m 57s
    5. Working with multi-band compression
      7m 9s
    6. Understanding sample rate, bit depth, file formats, and dither
      7m 30s
    7. Using Pro Tools for CD track sequencing
      10m 11s
    8. Compressing audio for the web
      9m 41s
  12. 44m 51s
    1. Tips for evaluating plug-in processors
      6m 51s
    2. Using EQ plug-ins
      5m 35s
    3. Using dynamic compression plug-ins
      11m 3s
    4. Using reverb and delay plug-ins
      10m 46s
    5. Reviewing additional plug-ins
      10m 36s
  13. 57m 18s
    1. Effectively using saturation/analog style effects
      13m 40s
    2. Setting up side chains
      7m 5s
    3. Master buss processing
      5m 34s
    4. Creating and using mix templates
      6m 54s
    5. Surround mixing
      6m 22s
    6. Dealing with plug-in delay and latency
      6m 26s
    7. Drum sample replacing
      11m 17s
  14. 32s
    1. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools
9h 18m Intermediate Aug 20, 2009

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Once recording and editing are finished, audio engineers can take advantage of the training in Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools to punch up the final output. Digidesign Certified Expert Brian Lee White covers all the basic mixing tools that every producer and engineer should know, from using EQ to add clarity and focus to using compression and limiting to maximize track levels within a mix. Brian stresses the importance of setting up a solid mixing plan prior to any work in Pro Tools, and gives advice on the best plug-ins for each stage of the process. Exercise files accompany the course.

Topics include:
  • Using the Pro Tools Creative Collection to add clarity, punch, width, and depth to a mix
  • Recording real-time automation moves for future replication
  • Building healthy and profitable mixing habits when putting a final mix together
  • Knowing when to process the audio of a track
  • Using saturation effects to capture that "analog" sound
  • Working with limiting and multiband compression during the mastering process
  • Dealing with plug-in delay and latency in a mix
Audio + Music
Pro Tools
Brian Lee White

EQ strategies in mixing: Corrective vs. creative

So when working through a mix I generally like to break my EQ decisions down into one of three categories. I like to call them the three Cs: Corrective, Creative, and Cohesive. Again, sort of I think about the challenge versus the solution, and identify what I think is missing or needs correcting with a specific instrument in the context of its place in the mix. Then I'll seek a solution. If I determine that the possible solution is EQ, I'll then proceed.

So when I say corrective, what I'm talking about is that sometimes an instrument just wasn't recorded in an ideal situation. Maybe the mike was placed in the wrong place, or the room had something to with the recoding. Again, we talked about those acoustics problems, the room modes, or the echoes that a room can exhibit. This can all affect the recording process as well as the mix process. So what ends up happening is I end up recording the instrument and the quality of that instrument just even by itself isn't quite right in my mind.

So regardless of how it's going to sit in the mix, I might need to make some changes to it, just to get it ready to even put in the mix. So, some good examples of this would be just mike placement or misplacement I should say one of these that comes up a lot is the Proximity Effect on a vocal. So, if we were to look at this session's Vocal EQ, we could see that some of the low end and the low mids have been dipped out and this is actually very common depending on the type of microphone that was used to record a vocal with.

A lot of times when the vocalist gets too close to the mike, the mike will get a bit too bassy to fit in a larger density mix. So, what we'll do is kind of correct that. This might be something that I do even before I try to start feeding something into a mix. If I feel something is really muddy or just sounds wrong as it was recorded, I might sort of use this Corrective EQ approach to kind of get it back to a solid starting point. Now, depending on what mike or how you record something, sometimes things just can't be corrected.

So at this stage, it's a good time to kind of check yourself and ask, should this have been recorded better, can I rerecord it, if it's that's bad? EQ can help, and help a lot but there's a point where it's just nothing is going to fix that bad recording. Now sort of the second C that I talked about was Creative. So sometimes I'll use EQ to make wild changes to a track, to achieve a specific stylistic result, or just completely change the sound of something from the original recording.

Things like telephone effect, or really extreme high or low pass filtering where I'm really ringing in on the frequencies and extremely kind of placing them in a place in the mix, or just really boosting something to get a resonant sound out an instrument. These different creative uses of EQs, really there are no rules for making these creative decisions, more so than what do you want out of it. How are you using an EQ to kind of stress or stretch an instrument into this specific place that you want to fit it into the mix.

Now, probably the most common type of EQ scenario that I'll come up against in mixing is the third C, what I like to call Cohesive or Blending EQ. Now, what tends to happen is that just because an instrument might sound great in isolation, it doesn't mean it's going to sound good in the context of a mix. So, remember a mix is about assigning focus to specific elements, the most important elements, let's say the lead vocal or the lead instrument. You're going to do what you can not to obscure that focus with the background elements.

So, sometimes this might mean you have to actually make an instrument sound dull or even worse to let another one come forward and stand out. Everything can't sound special and bright and big in a mix. So sometimes you have to thin things out to allow other instruments to come forward and be more present. Again, when your think about this it's important to go back to your plan and sort of create a list of what are the most important things, and can I hear them, and then am I making EQ decisions that move me in that direction.

So when you're making Corrective, Creative, and Cohesive changes in your mix, a lot of times it's going to be all three put together into one EQ. So, if we go back to the vocal, I'm looking at kind of this Corrective and Cohesive down at the low end, getting it to fit better in the mix. Then I'm sort of creating a little bit of high end boost, to kind of give it a little bit more presence and make it stand out. I know another example of sort of Cohesive or Blending EQ. Now, it's really important that you make these EQ decisions, especially the ones that go towards blending something in with the other elements of a track in context.

That means don't solo up the instrument. EQ it, make it sound really great. Then expect that it's going to sound great in the mix. Remember, it's all about context and how one track sounds next to another. Make sure you think about that. I know it's going to be really hard to avoid soloing stuff up and making it sound great. Everybody does it when they first start mixing. But try the best you can to maybe just turn the track up, so you can hear it better and really think about how it relates to the other tacks. Again, sometimes you have make things sound worse to make other things stand out more or sound better.

So, in general as you look through the different EQs in the Take Me Down session and you kind of think about what was going on when that EQ decision was being made, whether it was a creative decision, or a corrective decision, or more of a cohesive blending decision. Remember that EQ is generally an iterative process, because we're sort of relating the tracks to each other and using these to kind of reshape the frequency balance of the different instruments in the mix as a whole, we're going to be making changes.

It's rare that I can go EQ something like my Kick Drum and then leave that EQ intact when I go and EQ my bass. I'm going to have to make changes in sort of an iterative way to complement those two instruments. They live in the same frequency space, so it's going to be really important that I pay attention to them. Listen to one, listen to them together, listen to them in the mix, and keep making changes to kind of better the gel or where the two sit, depending on how I want my overall mix to sound.

So again, go through the demo exercise. Work through some of these EQs, bypass them, take some time to listen to them. So over the next few movies, I'm going to go through some specific examples of using Creative, Cohesive, and Corrective EQ to meet some mix challenges and get the tracks to sit together, and come forward or push backward in a mix, and help everything come together as one coherent picture.

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