Do I need to EQ My Samples and VSTis?

It’s not uncommon for me to see beginners asking questions like: “I use a lot of samples and virtual instruments. Since they are already professional sounds, do I need to use EQ?” (common beginner mistakes)

There is an inherent problem with this question because it exposes two flaws in how you should be thinking about mixing and EQ in particular. I will try my best answer this question, and hopefully, I can increase your thought process on how to approach EQ.

Why Even Use EQ in The First Place?

So before we go all out on EQ and whether or not you should slap it on sample or VSTi we need to answer a bigger question: Why even use an EQ? or What can it do for my tracks?

EQ is your most useful mixing tool because it takes tracks that have overlapping frequencies and helps them each shine in the mix, on their own. Eq is there to help you get your mix balance, so there is more clarity to the song. If you are using an EQ properly, everything should be heard, and nothing is covered up.

So if you are using EQ to help bring clarity to all your tracks, then it’s important to remember that you don’t need any EQ if all your samples and virtual instruments already fit well together.

Why Are Samples So Special?

I think we have already came to the conclusion that EQing isn’t really about changing the tone of your tracks but more to help them fit together. Now we need to address the fact that sample and virtual instruments seem to be in the upper echelons of sounds. And how because they are samples that they don’t need to be processed like the stuff you record at home.

I mean, sure some of those samples and virtual instruments were probably recorded by some talented engineers in some of the best studios in the world, but it doesn’t mean that they are exempt from any potential EQ moves. The main reason is that EQing is about fitting sounds together and not so much about changing the tone.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how great the samples are because if they don’t work well with the other tracks in your song, then they will need some EQ correction. They are not excused.

We Are All Created Equal

It’s important to classify each sound as an equal as they sit in front of you while mixing. Of course, some of the samples will sound better or more professional, but none of that matters.

As a mixer, it’s your job to take whatever sounds are in front of you and fit them together in such a way that the final stereo file sounds clear, focused, and very musical. Anyone was listening to your song is not going to care what you used to create it. They won’t even care how many instances of EQ you used.

The only thing they are going to care about is the song. If they can’t hear the song properly than it’s probably because things are being covered up by other sounds. So instead of asking questions about whether you should EQing your samples or not, you should be asking yourself whether or not the sounds fit well together. You will make more progress this way.

How Reverb and Delay Can Turbo Charge Your Multitracks

Let’s be completely honest here, an EQ and a compressor are the only two plugins that you need to get a great sounding mix. But if you could take that great sounding mix (with just EQ and compression) and then add a little bit of dimension to it with a small amount of effort, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

This is exactly where a delay or reverb plugin could be of use to us. So, in this article, I am going to show you how you can get the most out of those two effects to get a good mix.

Reverb

I think I can safely say that one thing us home studio enthusiasts have in common is that we are overdubbing for the majority of the time. If you don’t know what I mean, we don’t record the entire band in one go – we do it piece by piece. We might start with the bass or the drums and then build up from there.

The listener doesn’t know any better and to them, it sounds just like a full band.

The major problem that arises when you record like this is that you will end up with a bunch of multitracks that are pretty much dry and distinct from one another. You aren’t going to hear any bleed from the mics since the instruments were recorded in isolation.

This is where reverb would come in.

By sending all of your multitracks to an aux channel with a reverb plugin on it, we can then place the instruments in the same room. We aren’t going for a completely wet sound; we are just using it as a tool to help glue all the parts together and make them sound like they were recorded in the same room.

Here’s a video on how to send all your tracks to one aux to apply reverb:

Delays

It’s hard just to talk about delays in general terms because every situation is different. It’s difficult mainly for two reasons: there are many different types of delays on the market, and everyone’s tastes are much different.

With that said, I love long delayed echoes because they can take an ordinary sound and give it this out of world texture and depth that makes it comes to life.

A lot of what goes into music is about placing the listener into an environment and taking them on a journey that only their minds can take them. Using a long style delay can help evoke the emotion you need give the listener an enjoyable experience.

Probably my favorite trick when mixing vocals is to make a stereo delay and then send the lead vocal to it and then cut out the high end with a low shelf EQ. This makes the delay a bit more muffled and less intelligible. By not competing with the dry vocal multitrack, it immediately gives your vocal the space it deserves.

What Are You Doing?

So tell me below in the comments how you are using delays and reverbs. What is positive and negative about the results you are getting and why?

Some of the Common Home Recording Mistakes I see

If you’re new to home recording, then you are probably at a point of your worst recording ever. It’s just the way it goes, so try not to take offense to it. You are a complete newbie to a form of art which requires many things like technical knowledge, talent and experience. You are going to make a lot of mistakes along the way just like I did. I still make many mistakes, because it’s part of the process.

Problems, Problems and More Problems

With all the problems aside, if we can reduce the amount of mistakes we make and the pain involved than there’s a good chance that we can make better and faster recordings. Plus, I’m here to help you. There’s many little things that can go wrong in the recording process but today I’m only going to be talking about a couple. I’m going to highlight the common mistakes I see in home recordings and then try to help you reverse them so you can make better music now!

Missing A Guide Track

Even before the record button is pressed, some of the biggest mistakes are made by people. By creating a new session in your Digital Audio workstation, getting your mics set up, and getting started on your recordings, you are setting yourself up to fail. Setting up a guide track early on is the best thing you can do for your session.

Having something like a guide track will give a clearer picture to both the engineers and the musicians and where they are heading. Here’re a few things to include in your guide track:

  • Demo of the song
  • A metronome that’s tempo matched
  • You can add some optional demo loops
  • Laying down markers which label the sections of the song

If you do those four things than you are setting yourself up for some pretty grateful musicians. They’ll be able to here the tempo, know where they are on the track and ultimately will deliver a much better performance. Instead of focusing on where they are on the track, they will be laser focused on the part they should be playing. This is paramount if you want to try and get excellent recordings because great performance is key.

Ouch, I Think It’s Too Hot

Hot levels are something that spills over from the analog days.   The analogy was to record your signal as loud as possible without actually clipping. The reason for this is because, in the analog world, there is something referred to as a “noise floor” which is any noise from the equipment that gets into the recordings. Another reason is that as you pushed into an analog console or tape, you get the inherent saturation as a result, which sounded pleasant to the ears. But none of those things occur in the digital realm.

So if you are recording to a modern DAW, you will get a really clean recording which has almost no noise floor. You shouldn’t have to push the signal very loud at all. In fact, the opposite is true for digital when you push things hard. Once you reach a certain threshold, the sound is going to crap out and not sound very pleasant at all. So for your songs sake, it’s best to record your levels pretty conservative. You can always achieve more volume later on if you need it.

For the Visual Folks, here a good video on Gain Staging:

Now Show Me What You Got

Now that you have received some insight into what can be done to make your recordings better go out and make some music. Tell me below in the comments if you see some stellar results!

Welcome to the Brand New Version of Taken by Storm

I’m so delighted to finally have my own personal site up and running – I really hope you appreciate it and it is quite a bit of pleasure being involved in improvement and the design of the website.

I’m going to be dropping a tone of knowledge related to mixing and mastering and all of my experiences.  I hope you enjoy.

Finally, and above all, thanks for all of your support as always,