When it comes to mixing, I find myself placing EQ before compression in my insert slots 99% of the time. And there is a big reason. I think it sounds better that way. But of course I have friends who are fantastic mixers who do just the opposite, with great results. But if you want my opinion (and you likely do if you’re reading my website), I say put EQ first. It will make your life easier.
Filter Out The Junk
The number one reason you should EQ first is simple: you want to filter out all the junk and nastiness that is clogging up your mix buss. No matter how beautifully you recorded something, there is likely going to be a frequency or two that you need to cut. Whether it is a simple high pass filter carving out unneeded low end or a strategic low mid notch to rid your tracks of mud, your mix will instantly benefit from EQ.
When teaching people how to mix I always emphasize this type of subtractive EQ because it is life changing. For years I ignored the advice myself and just went boost happy with my EQs. But when I finally smartened up and started to cut first, mixing got easier. Way easier! Moral of the story? Filter out what your mix doesn’t need first. Trust me.
Compress The Good Stuff
Now that you’ve removed a lot of junk in your tracks, you’ve not only freed up precious headroom but you’ve given yourself a nice clean (and clear) signal to compress as much or as little as you like. Compression is an integral part of the mixing process, but if you’re simply compressing everything in a track and then hoping to cut later, you’re simply turning up the volume on all the junky stuff we talked about earlier. Not cool.
Instead, when you’re left with a carved up track, you can compress it so as to only boost the remaining beautiful frequencies. Voila! When you compress this way (post subtractive EQ) you’re not fighting your mix buss nearly as much and mixing becomes a lot more fun. You can actually hear the benefit (or lack thereof) of compression.
Mixing It Up
There you have it. My EQ and compression philosophy. Cut out what you don’t need first, then compress what remains to taste. You’ll get clearer, punchier tracks this way. But it doesn’t have to stop there. If you still need to boost a frequency after all of that, you can decide to go back to your original EQ (used for cutting) and make a slight boost. Or you can choose to insert a second EQ just below the compressor and boost there. The benefit? You won’t affect the compressor’s input. Nice.
Also it can be great to use EQ after compression when doing parallel processing on something like bass guitar or drums. When you’ve slammed the living daylights out of your parallel track, sometimes a certain frequency becomes irritating beyond belief. The solution? Notch out the offending frequency post the compressor and call it a day.