I spent part of the weekend learning about audio compression and limiting, and after tinkering with the mixes of several songs I have a new-found respect for people who do this stuff professionally. A tricky bit is compressing the signal enough so that it has enough presence, without taking away the dynamics that make it sound interesting.(Of course, I couldn’t help but fall into the newbie trap of applying compression to nearly every track, resulting in a very loud and overlapped mix with no clarity. It’s a new toy, after all.)
Which leads me to believe that the key to a wide, clear mix is in the EQ. When too many instruments share the same frequencies there tends to be a lot of white noise and weird phasing and stuff which blurs the boundaries between instruments. I’m always fascinated by albums that seem to have more “room to move” sonically, with lots of interesting bits that don’t squash each other (good examples: Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, Roger Waters’ Amused To Death, Peter Gabriel’s Security). Sure, you can always use stereo panning to separate things out, but I never seem to have the same kind of sonic space in the final mix. Everything seems to be a bit too cramped. And since I know next to nothing about the audio spectrum, I tend to make poor EQ choices.
Add to this a less-than-optimal monitoring environment (a lousy set of earphones, stuffy sinuses, a noisy computer and “ear fatigue”) and the result is six different mixes of Gravel Road Requiem, none of which I like.
I dunno, I’m new at this.