I’ve never really liked the term “cheat” when it comes to learning and doing things. When I was young, the expectation was to memorize everything, be tested on it and the more you remembered, the better grade you received and, I guess, the better person you were.
We were taught that using any kind of aid was cheating, and cheating was wrong. It was an automatic fail if you got caught finding a way to complete the questions you couldn’t remember the answer for.
At my first “real job”, I remember frantically trying to remember some piece of SQL code I had learned when a Dev said to me: “Jesus, dude, just look it up”. I seemed to have forgotten that when I was building websites on my own, I constantly referred to my HTML and CCS books. By myself, this was ok. Being an actual employee made me believe I had to know everything. They hired me because I was smart or something so how dare I cheat?
Turns out that in the real world it’s called using a reference. It took me a long, long time to shake the mindset that not using reference material was the only way to go. There is simply too much to know at any given moment to be expected.
This is true with anything, including music. Whether you’re just starting out, or have been at it for most of your life, there is so much to know and remember.
Those people out there who seem to know their craft by heart? They’ve been doing it for a long, long time and they will always refer to resource materials as there is always more to learn.
It’s not cheating. It’s experience.
The Experts Guitar and Bass Cheat Sheet. This is a good one. It gives you the basics on what to cut, boost, or roll off for guitar and bass while also giving the simple reasons why. For example, on guitar cut a little around 250 Hz to reduce overlap with the bass.
No-Name Music EQ Cheat Sheet. Graphical page showing the main frequencies between 50 Hz to 15 kHz and what a cut or boost on each will do for guitar, bass, and drums.
Drum EQ Cheat Sheet. I love this one. It’s a perfect starting point for mixing drums. I’ve used this cheat sheet to setup personal presets in my EQ plugins and always start with them tweaking (usually a lot) as I go.
EQ Cheat Sheet for Over 20+ Instruments. Need something a little more comprehensive? This one is for you. It covers general EQing as well as all manner of instruments; not just guitar/bass/drums.
The Frequency Spectrum… I use this one when I have keys of any kind in the mix. A good, quick glance cheat sheet.
As with anything, these are not magic and will not turn you into a professional mixer overnight. What they will do is help you get started and are great as a resource while you work. Bookmark them. Print them. Make use of them.
Remember to listen as you make changes to EQ. Don’t just boost and cut exactly where the cheat sheets tell you to and call it a day. Pay attention to what is happening to the sound as you work.