When I was first learning about mixing, hell, even when I was just trying to figure out production, I never looked at the way I was using compression in EDM.
I really didn’t know a whole lot about EQ or compression. So much so, when I found out what a compressor was, I put it on EVERY SINGLE TRACK.
To me, I thought a compressor was how producers made their tracks sound big and loud. I didn’t realize there was a mastering stage for this.
I overcompressed every sound I had, to the point of death. When I discovered EQ, I thought it was an even better way to make frequencies sound even louder! I would boost everything, never cutting elements away.
I felt relieved when I learned the proper way to use these tools!
After this discovery, it took me awhile to get a handle on the way you setup your effect chain. Which can drastically change the overall sound you’re going for.
So how exactly should you be applying compression and EQ? EQ before compression? Compression before EQ? Both?
Leveling in EDM
Let’s start with the very beginning stage of mixing. As I stated in my previous article, you should put most of your energy into leveling. Leveling is hands down, the most important part of your mix.
If your levels aren’t set correctly, you’re never going to get a balanced mix.
If you don’t have a balanced mix, any EQ or compression you work on is going to just fall through the cracks.
90% of the time if a sound isn’t sitting well in the mix, turning the sound up or turning other sounds down, will immediately fix the issue and no EQ will need to be applied. Are my levels set correctly?
This is where you should always start.
If you didn’t check out my previous article on leveling check it out here!
EQ in EDM
If your levels are mixed correctly, but that one pluck lead just isn’t standing out the way it should in your mix, sit down and look at the conflicting sounds.
Open the frequency spectrum of the other sound that sits within the same frequency range, let’s say it’s a pad. Now open up the spectrum of the pluck you’re wanting to pop out and take a listen to where the body and transient of that pluck sits.
Is it clashing in the same spot as the pad? Start to do minor-drastic cuts to the pad while listening to the entire track as a whole, try to notice the changes that are made.
Work the EQ up and down and find the sweet spot where the pluck pops right through.
Do you have any additional sounds that might also be in the way?
Run through this process to get that pluck right where you need it. Be careful when cutting, if you cut too much away, your mix will sound too bare and separated.
A little bit of collision will help the sounds blend and mix together.
Also, don’t be afraid to give the pluck a slight boost either, boosting can be just as important as cutting.
Compression in EDM
Once you’ve gone through the process of making sure your leveling is correct and you’ve EQ’d to your heart’s desire, but the pluck still isn’t clear enough, then I would throw on a compressor.
You might be asking yourself, which sound do I want to compress? Should I compress the pluck that isn’t sticking out, or the pad that is conflicting too much?
It might sound like an obvious “yes” to the pad, however, you might compress the pad too much and then the dynamics are crushed.
After I’ve leveled the pluck and EQ’d its surrounding sounds (the pad in this case), I’ll compress the pluck. I’ll adjust the ratio to about 3:1, after that, I’ll turn the threshold down to where the sound is just starting to peak, and then I’ll turn the threshold up about 2db more.
Once I have everything set, I’ll turn the gain up by 1db – 2db. Notice, I’m doing very subtle compression. Too much compression, and the entire pluck will sound like there’s a blanket resting over it.
From this point, the pluck should be sitting perfectly in the mix, with some minor tweaks to the gain.
Keep in mind, I’m doing all of this while listening to the entire track just to be sure that it’s actually affecting the pluck in a positive way.
At the end of the day, choosing to use EQ before compression in EDM can be decided by nothing but preference.
However, this is the exact way that I was taught: Check your levels first, can you just turn the sound up without having to drastically change it?
I guarantee you will just have to turn the sound up 90% of the time. If turning the sound up doesn’t help, go to EQ.
How much of the other conflicting frequencies can you EQ out before your mix becomes too separated and bare? Remember, some collision is good, it helps your sounds mesh together.
Now that you’ve EQ’d are you stilling needing to bump the sound up a bit more? Move on to a compressor and apply very light and subtle compression. At this point the sound should be exactly where you want it with compression in EDM.
If it’s still not fitting right, I recommend either starting back at step 1 (leveling), or look for a different sound that will sit better within the mix.
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