A Question Of Degrees

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Late last year I launched a track consulting service for my studio. For $20, I’d listen to a producer’s song in my studio and provide feedback on the things I thought could improve the way it sounds. Happily for me, it’s been a successful idea and I’ve gotten the chance to work with a lot of different producers over the last few months. Some experienced, some beginners, overall a decent spread of abilities.

It drove home some of the common misconceptions a lot of beginner producers have about the production process though. For instance, a lot of people come to me and say “what can I do to this track to make it sound more full and professional?”   So I listen to their track and very often I hear the same issue.

The track will have a decent spread of frequencies overall, from the deeps of the bassline to the upper cymbals. They’ll have enough instruments in the song to cover everything in between, everything nice, clear, and present. But each instrument will sound very thin, it has a harshness and lacks any warmth, it’s too present. Things lack punch and depth. In almost every case, the producer had just over EQ’d and filtered the individual sounds in an attempt to give them all their own frequency space. The intent is right, but the degree to which they executed it is not.

I see the same thing when I master people’s tracks and they send me a reference version that they mastered themselves. When they hear my version of the mastering, they’re often surprised at the difference and ask me what I did. Usually we both were attempting to correct the same issues, but they took it too far and over did things. It took a much greater range of sound “altering” before they heard the change they thought they needed.  Yet seen in a different light, i.e. when they have someone else master their track, it’s suddenly obvious how little correction was needed to make things sound right.

It’s pretty rare that I EQ something more than a couple of dB’s in mastering, boost or cut. In my own productions I might use a bit more range, but even then it’s VERY rare I am EQing more than 3-4dBs for any purpose. I never hi-pass instruments unless I hear a need for it, so maybe 3-4 times in a song. Often times it’s just small tweaks like this that make all the difference. It gets the point (or your intention) across without causing other issues.

You can highlight the parts of your sounds that you want to draw attention to, but you don’t have to kill everything else in the process. It’s the way that you mix and interact frequencies so that they work together that’s what separates a good mixdown from one where everything has it’s own isolated space already. There’s no depth, no interaction, each sound becomes extremely one-dimensional.

A lot of people have the right intention, but I think it’s the process of knowing when to STOP doing something that’s the real skill we all need to learn over time. It’s the same technique, just used to a lesser degree that sometimes makes the difference.

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