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Why "Use Your Ears" is the Worst Advice Ever

You know what the worst audio advice ever is?

It’s “use your ears.”

Do you know why?

Because it’s empty advice with no actionable steps.

“Use Your Ears” is actually a garbage cop-out when it’s given without any context or actionable steps.

It’s similar to other empty advice like:

  • “Exercise and you’ll be skinny”
  • “Buy low, sell high!”
  • “Go to college and you’ll get a job!”

If the only step to learning audio was “use your ears” we’d all have a Grammy right?

Experienced engineers are able to use their ears much better than beginners because they’ve learned how to use them.

The common advice goes that “if it sounds good, it is good” but we often leave out the fact that as a beginner, you don’t know whether it sounds good to begin with. That’s when “using your ears” doesn’t get you anywhere.

Beginners don’t know what to listen for. They don’t know if they’re doing the right things so they have to rely on actionable advice and guidelines.

Using Your Ears When EQ’ing

Let’s take EQ’ing a kick drum as an example:

EQ advice follows a fairly specific template.

There are things that usually work so it’s easiest to create articles and advice on those tips.

However, as you know, mixing music is really subjective so it’s hard to give “umbrella” advice that works for every single track.

That’s when the whole “use your ears” advice actually does come in handy.

It’s more an overall strategy for your audio career than a tactic you can use right away.

You always use your ears; it really goes without saying. But having some tactics on how to get to a place in your mix when your ears go:

Yep…that’s how I want it to sound!

That’s what’s actually important.

Which is why today I’m going to give you a couple counterintuitive EQ ideas that break away from the common advice you would usually hear.

Cut the Lows on Your Kick Drum

The common advice says:

Boost the lows around 80 – 100 Hz to get more “oomph” from your kick drum.

But what if those boosts just get in the way of the low-end of the mix and make the entire thing sound too boomy?

Then use your ears and your judgment to hear that. Get rid of the lows and make the entire drum sound cleaner.

This happens to me a lot when I’m mixing metal. The kick drum needs to cut through the mix but the bass and guitars are tuned low and take up a lot of space in the low-end.

So I cut the lows on the kick drum, add some click to the beater in the high-mids and give the entire low-end more room to breathe.

Cut the High-Mids on Your Snare Drum

The common advice says:

Add a high-mid boost around 3 kHz to give more smack to the snare.

But if the snare is already sizzlin’ hot you’ll end up making the snare painful to listen to.

The human ear is sensitive in that region so too much of the sound of the snares rattling under the drum will sound distracting.

So tame the high-mids, add a narrow cut instead and make the snare sound smoother.

Alternatively, if you have an under-snare track you can reduce the sound of the snares rattling by lowering the volume of that particular fader.

Alter-alternatively (not a word), use a multi-band compressor to tame the harsh high-mids while letting the power, punch and air in the other frequency areas go on unaffected.

Get More EQ Advice

Most of the time, the traditional EQ advice is great, as long as it aligns with what your ears are telling you.

Keep that in mind whenever you’re mixing. Any advice is good as long as it helps you achieve what you want to achieve. If it doesn’t, do the opposite.

For a bunch of EQ advice that follows mostly the traditional advice, with some crazy suggestions every once in a while (like M/S EQ for backup vocals), check out my EQ Strategies – The Ultimate Guide to EQ tutorial.

Click the link to learn more:

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About me

About Björgvin Benediktsson

I’m Björgvin Benediktsson. I’m a musician, audio engineer and best-selling author. I help musicians and producers make a greater impact with their music by teaching them how to produce and engineer themselves. I’ve taught thousands of up and coming home studio producers such as yourself how to make an impact with their music through Audio Issues since 2011.

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