The Single Most Essential Studio Tool

It seems like there are a thousand and one things a person needs for a modest project studio: computer, interface, monitors, room, plug-ins, instruments, and so on and so on...talent, let's not forget talent.

Looking past all the obvious requirements what is the one thing a person needs on virtually every track? What is the one most indispensable tool that you cannot live without in order to make a decent recording?

The high pass filter. Yep, that's the one thing you need more than compression and more than reverb or any other effect. Judicious use of a high pass filter is what allows you to slice and dice each channel of your mix into the pieces of the puzzle that go into making a mix whereby the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, where everything just fits together.

I might use a limiter here or there or maybe boost with an EQ every now and then but the high pass filter is on every track.

Remember, if you want something to sound different (e.g., correcting a problem or a deficiency such as lack of sparkle or presence in the high end) then you're boosting with some form of EQ but if you want your overall mixes to sound better then cutting with a filter, especially cutting out low frequency build up in takes that do not require a lot of low or low mid content, is how you achieve a clear and big sounding mix without the flabby and incoherent mess at its foundation. Check out our handy dandy guide to EQ.

People start off thinking every instrument has to sound "huge" and "larger than life" but you're going to get that by actually making each individual track sounding a bit 'smaller than life' and welding the total mix together into one sonic object that is "huge." If everything is huge then nothing is huge, it's just a mess.

See also: the most abused studio tool