Just about every week I receive an email that asks some variation of this question: “I tend to use mostly loops, samples, or virtual instruments. So do I need to apply an EQ to them since they are already professional samples?”
The problem with this question is that it exposes two flaws in how to think about mixing in general, and EQ in particular. I’d like to answer the question today and perhaps help expand your thinking on how to best approach EQ.
What’s The Point Of EQ?
Before we can talk about whether or not you should slap an EQ on your loops or virtual instruments we need to ask the bigger question: What is the point of an EQ? Or rephrased, What can an EQ do for my tracks?
EQ is your most powerful mixing tool. Why? Because it can take tracks that have many overlapping frequencies and help them each shine beautifully within a busy mix alongside many other elements. EQ exists to help you bring balance to the mix (i.e. clarity). Good EQ moves result in a mix where every instrument can be heard and nothing is being covered up.
So if the point of EQ is to help every track in the mix fit together well and be heard, then one can assume that if your tracks already sound good together and nothing is being masked or covered up by anything else, then you might not need any EQ at all. This is an important way to think about EQ.
What’s So Special About Samples?
So we’ve established that EQing isn’t simply about changing the sounds of your recorded tracks, but rather helping them all fit together well. Now we need to address this other misconception that somehow virtual instruments and samples live in some special category of sound elites. That somehow because they are a sample they shouldn’t need any processing (unlike the stuff you recorded in your home studio).
This way of thinking is really pointless. Sure the virtual instruments might have been recorded by top musicians and engineers with great gear and in a good studio. But that doesn’t excuse them from EQ. Why? Because of our first point: EQ isn’t about fixing as much as it is about balancing tracks alongside each other.
SO…it doesn’t matter how amazing your samples sound, if they don’t fit alongside your other tracks or are covering them up, you need to use EQ to help things gel together better. They are not excused from any EQ treatment simply because they are MIDI tracks or virtual instruments.
All Tracks Are Equal
When mixing, you’d well to view all tracks in front of you as equals. Sure some tracks will sound better than others. Sure some will seem to be more “professional” than others. But none of that matters.
Your job as a mixer is to take whatever is in front of you and fit them together in such a way that the final stereo wave file or MP3 sounds big, clear, focused, and musical. No one listening to your mix will care whether you used samples or live instruments. They won’t care if you used one EQ or one thousand EQs.
All they will care about is the song. And if they can’t really hear the song well because something is covering up something else, then the mix wasn’t a success. So change your questions from “Should I EQ my samples?” to “Do these tracks play well with these other tracks?” You’ll get a lot farther this way.