Once the tracks have all been recorded and it’s been decided how they should be arranged then comes the task of processing the individual tracks for mixing. This is a separate stage from mixing and should be viewed as such. The task here is to make the tracks sound good on their own but also to ensure they will play well together. This is by no means a simple task, and there are some steps to use as a guide.
Ridding the track of resonant frequencies is a first priority. This can be done with an equalizer and a spectral analyzer. Watch for spikes in the spectrum and identify their specific frequency. Then notch them out with narrow bumps on the eq. The object isn’t to flatten out the eq curve; just to take out some of the harsher areas which might present a problem in the following steps.
Setting the overall dynamic range of the instrument with compressors and/or limiters is usually next but not always wanted. In cases where you might want to do some transient or harmonic enhancement, for example, you may want to wait until you’ve done those enhancements before compressing the track. Compression, by its very nature, alters the elements which you may want to enhance.
After the compressors you might worry about thickness or spacing. If a track sounds thin it can be thickened, usually by a doubling effect like delay or chorus. If it sounds flat, it can be flattered with just the right amount and type of reverb. These effects should usually be done after the compressor so the volume of the reverb tails and dub echoes don’t get changed after they’re set where you want them.
Finally, some overall EQ curve adjustment, to taste, can be done. This is where you may boost the frequencies you like; but be sure to use wide curves here. Peak filtering is heard more by the ear and if too narrow, can sound unnatural and present mixing problems later.
There are a large number of musicians and even mix engineers out there who stick to a principle of keeping everything as natural as possible. They tend to steer clear of heavy processing or the sound of effects in their work. Every producer has had to deal with this type and they usually shut their mouths when they hear a job done correctly. We like to push things to their max. This isn’t a bad thing, in fact, many things get lost in a performance which can be brought out or even spotlighted. When they hear the details of their performance like they’ve never heard before, they smile.
NOTE: DURING THE PROCESSING STAGE, IT’S A GOOD IDEA TO KEEP EVERYTHING MONO, OR, AT LEAST PAN CENTERED. HOW EVERYTHING SITS IN THE PAN STAGE CAN AND SHOULD BE DETERMINED DURING THE MIXING STAGE.