There’s a lot of bad advice out there. If you come across someone telling you “the way” to record or mix something in the studio, just move on.
I’ve never recorded or mixed anything the exact same way twice.
And that’s part of the frustration you might be facing if you’re starting out in this crazy home recording world. You want to learn “tricks of the trade,” but everywhere you turn you get conflicting advice.
Wanna know how to tell if the advice you’re getting is good?
If someone tells you you need to have a minimum of seven compressors on a lead vocal to get it to sound right, the go try it out. (I’m guessing you’ll quickly discover that’s a bunch of rubbish.)
You don’t need “tricks.” You need guiding principles.
Take, for example, this popular question: Which should come first, EQ or compression?
My answer (which, in my opinion, is the only appropriate answer) is … it depends.
But that’s not helpful for you, is it? Of course not. So here are the guiding principles I live by when it comes to EQ and compression.
Principle 1 – EQ is (usually) more important than compression.
I don’t use compression on every track in a mix. But I would estimate that at least 80-90 percent of the time I’ve got some sort of EQ on every track.
Since I don’t compress tracks by default, I tend to reach for the EQ first (if the track needs it). Then I determine if the track needs compression. If it does, I add a compressor after the EQ.
Principle #2 – You’re allowed to change the order.
Since I usually shape the tone of a track with EQ first, it just makes sense to me to compress the already-EQ’d signal. (Kinda like I used EQ to get the tone I want, then I use the compressor to compress THAT tone.)
But if I can’t seem to get it to work, I simply change the order. I put the compressor first and then tweak some more.
This is nothing earth-shattering or mind-blowing, but it works.
I EQ first, then compress. If that’s not working, I flip it around.
There’s a lot more to this, but that’s enough to get you moving in the right direction. Try it out and see if it works for you.
If you want to dive deeper, I’m doing a video series on EQ and compression order, where I’m demonstrating situations where I use both orders. Get signed up here.
Joe Gilder is a Nashville-based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner. Note that Joe also offers highly effective training courses, including Understanding Compression and Understanding EQ.