Whether you’re starting out, or you’ve been doing this job a while, more and more myths keep arising in the audio world - particularly with educational or informative videos.
This could be something as simple as someone convincing you that a certain piece of gear will suddenly bring your mixes to life, or that a certain piece of equipment should be avoided like the plague as they bring nothing but destruction.
Well, distortion is destructive and we use it all the time? In fact, if something sounds bad it can be useful to lean into that to smash the audio to pieces and create something that becomes awesome!
So let's dive into the main audio myths to be aware of and hopefully, help you focus on the important things like recording a good record!
Louder = Better
The most common of them all, those that fail to A/B between changes that are made during a mix. Far too often, I’ve come across plugins that have an ‘auto gain’ feature that subtly increases the volume of the audio you’ve affected.
When first starting out, I found myself always leaning towards the louder changes as they sounded more exciting, and far more compelling to the ear; but this also led to quicker fatigue when listening back.
After repeatedly making this mistake in a mix without actively thinking about gain matching the audio, upon listening back after a short break I’d be disappointed and disheartened that it didn't sound as good as I once thought when making the changes the first place.
The simple way to avoid this is to make sure you A/B between any and all changes, especially EQ, clipping and compression, taking time to carefully level match the affected audio with the unaffected.
This will not only help you train your ears to hear compression and EQ moves much faster, but it’ll ensure you avoid making the same mistake I did for a long time before I realised!
Kick and Snare Should be your main focus
I remember when I was first coming across the audio engineering world I visited a person's house as our mutual friend was the guitarist in the same band. He was working on a demo and I stated I thought the kick and snare felt too loud and were overpowering the guitar parts (which was why I was invited in the first place, to listen to them).
I’ve always remembered this as he replied telling me that “every pro should focus on making sure this is the most focused part in a drum mix” - and it drove me insane for months as I took it to heart.
Eventually, I realised that this in fact was an important part, but not the most important. By far, the biggest part of your drum sound is the overheads and more over, the room mics. They, for me, constitute about 50-60% of my overall drum mix, and depending on how you treat them, can drastically change the feel, weight and impact of your overall mix.
On top of this, when working with live drums, a large portion of the tail of the kick and snare is very often gated heavily to limit the amount of bleed within the individual audio tracks. This leaves the overheads and rooms to make up for the loss of decay of the shells, and depending on how much compression, or specific EQ moves you make to the low end particularly, can really bring your drum mix to life.
Guitars need to be thick
Lastly, one of the biggest struggles for me was finding the guitar tone in my head. I’d listen back to records and then listen to mine and wonder why my guitars and in turn my mix felt so thin and wispy compared to bands I loved listening to.
At first, I went to forums and groups full of ‘the smartest men in the room’ berating me to add more low end and low mids into my guitar, but this just made my mixes unbalanced and far too weighted clouding other elements of the mix and muddying tracks.
Eventually, I was forced on to bass in the band I was in at the time and that's when it finally clicked. We went to another mixing engineer to record our first single, and he told me we’d be recording DI bass - which at first, due to reading so much bad information on the internet I fought against - but once he explained his process of splitting the bass into 2 or 3 parts to process individually, it suddenly became apparent that the Bass Guitar was the backbone of the tone I was looking for.
Much of guitars is focused in the mid range, and even on guitar heads, commonly the Low dial to control the low-end information will be similar to a high pass filter rather than a bell peak or a shelf to EQ the guitars.
In fact, when listening to stems from other mixers it was surprising how thin their guitars were; so when approaching this myself, making sure the Bass Guitar was solid, well played and reinforced the low midrange of the mix allowed me to start controlling the lower mids of the guitars making them sound and feel much more controlled but in turn much warmer and fuller sounding when mixed in with the bass.
Keep this in mind then you approach trying to achieve that tone in your head next time and be sure to envision the bass guitar sound mixed with the overall guitar sound to help maintain focus on the bigger picture!