There are a ton of music production myths floating around out there and I'm going to address some of them. Lots of these stem from great concepts that have just been misinterpreted. YouTube is a great platform for learning music production, but the issue is that a lot of information that amateur producers provide is only partially correct. You have to experiment sometimes in order to pick apart fact from fiction. Let's bust some myths!
1. Myth: You Need to High Pass All Your Tracks at 100Hz
There was a period of time where I was hard cutting all my individual tracks at 100Hz to let the bass cut through the mix. However, as a friend pointed out to me, it sounded unnatural. I make EDM, so it’s not exactly like I’m going for a “natural” sound, but he had a point. Although I was still filling the frequency spectrum with sound, there felt like there was this divide between my sub bass and the rest of my track. It’s almost like it was too separated.
Since then, I’ve learned that you don’t need to hard cut all of your tracks. In fact, it’s quite rare that I hard cut any of my tracks, unless I’m doing extreme sound design. I also don’t always cut tracks at 100Hz. Some instruments rely on frequencies lower than 100Hz in order to playback at their full potential within a mix. The moral of the story here is that you should EQ in a way that caters to your track, and never forget to use your ears.
2. Myth: You Need to Compress Everything
If you use samples from Splice or other sources, chances are they’re already extremely processed. In some situations, compression may be called for, but in an astonishing number of other situations, it isn’t! If you over-compress a sample you can lose its punch and impact. This really sucks the feeling out of it; and never forget, mixing is all about feeling!
If you still have trouble hearing compression, play around with a compressor. Set a high ratio, short attack, long release and low threshold. This will create an extreme compression setting that you can experiment with. Make sure to level match the signal before and after the compressor in order to properly A/B the audio with and without compression.
3. Myth: Additive EQ is Bad
This is one of those myths that I hear a lot, but the funny thing is that most people don’t know why they’ve been told this. There’s nothing inherently wrong with boosting EQ bands. The “problems” associated with it are more user-based than they are mechanical. The biggest issue associated with boosting is that people perceive louder sounds as better. To avoid this phenomenon, make sure to level match your audio pre and post-EQ in order to accurately hear what the boost is doing to your audio.
Let’s say you’re trying to make your lead vocal more present in the mix. Instead of boosting the vocal, it may be more appropriate to cut the conflicting lead synth in the 2000-5000Hz range. A good trick to find out which method is going to work best is to solo the track in question and try boosting/cutting (make sure to A/B and level match). Which method sounds better?
As you can see using additive EQ isn’t “bad,” and in some cases, it's the right move. It’s just important to use it appropriately and make sure that it will work better than using subtractive EQ.
4. Myth: You Need to Use Sidechain Compression
In the EDM world, it’s pretty rare that people don’t use sidechain compression when mixing their kick and bass together. However, this is an effect and doesn’t need to be relied upon in order to create clarity between your kick and bass. That pumping sound associated with sidechain compression won’t always suit your track, so its good to think about whether your song needs it or not. I wrote an article on 7 Ways to Mix Your Kick and Bass Together; many of which don’t rely on sidechain compression.
5. Myth: Your Bass Needs to Be Loud
This one is more of an amateur mistake that everyone seems to make for a while; it’s a phase everyone passes through. I get tracks submitted for mastering all the time where the bass is just way too loud. Some people don’t have access to monitors that provide sufficient bass response so it’s hard for them to hear what their low end sounds like. They keep increasing the gain of their bass trying to hear it but end up with an overly present low end.
I’ve had people say, “Well I like my bass loud.” So do I, and when you’re at a festival and the bass from a PK sound system collapses your chest cavity, it’s the best feeling in the world. However, your bass still needs to be mixed relative to the other elements in your song. If it’s too present in the mix, you’ll get this masking effect, that makes it seem like the bass is swallowing up other elements in your mix (even in the high end of the frequency spectrum). If you’re listening to your song and the bass sits nice, relative to the other elements in your song, it’s good. If you want to feel the bass more, turn up the output of your audio interface, don’t destroy the relative balance between the bass and other elements in your mix.
Another reason you don’t want your bass mixed too loud is that when you limit a track, your bass is usually the first thing to lose its integrity. If its way louder than the other elements in your track, it’s going to trigger your mastering limiter first and restrain you from achieving greater overall loudness. The result is a bass that’s heavily limited, but a high end that isn’t. Check out How to Make Your Music Loud if you're struggling to achieve overall track loudness.