Today I remembered a moment when I thought I witnessed an EQ phenomenon.
I was about 17 years old. I used to play drums in a reasonably successful band at the time.
Our producer was in the studio with us and was directing the recording engineer.
At one point he said, “sounds ok, but I think it has a touch too much 1Khz”.
My ears pricked up, and I thought, you are kidding me right. People can’t just hear a frequency and know precisely what it is. Not only that but can they also know if one specific frequency is a touch too loud or not?
This memory makes me chuckle at myself. For, sure enough, these days, I do this very thing every day as effortlessly as breathing.
Years of practice have trained my ears. I was reminded of this when someone asked me for some EQ tips.
There is a lot to cover with EQ. It is one of the most critical adjustments in your mixdown. However, I’m sure you have a life outside of my email tips, so I’ll try to keep it snappy.
MY TOP EQ TIPS
1 - REFERENCE
I say this a lot. It’s because it’s essential. Reference other songs to hear what you are going for. If you don’t know what you are aiming for, you will never get it.
2 - YOU MIGHT NOT NEED EQ
Before you reach for an EQ, ask yourself, Is this synth/sample/drum, etc. the best sound I can make/find? And …is it in the right octave? Always try finding/making the right sound first. Also, try it in different octaves. Also, if it sounds ok. just leave it. EQ the problematic sounds first. Then after that, you can consider if the other sounds need something. Don’t just eq everything for the sake of it.
4 - NARROW CUTS, WIDE BOOSTS
If you ARE going to EQ something, as a general rule, use a slightly more narrow Q (bandwidth) for cuts, and broader Q for boosts. Adjust this by ear. It should help make things more subtle, natural, and musical.
5 - CUTS ARE BETTER
Try to get in the habit of cutting more than boosting. Most digital EQs seem to sound better cutting rather than boosting. Also if you boost too much, over time, your song will get louder, and things will start clipping. More of a problem for digital setups than analog. Having said that, if you are confident in your ears, and your EQ quality, feel free to experiment more with boosts.
6 - FIND THAT SOUND
If you are having trouble finding the frequency you want to cut, you can first make a boost, sweep it through the frequency range until you notice the offending sound, then pull it down.
7 - DON'T EQ IN SOLO
Whenever possible, don’t EQ in solo. You should EQ your sound while the whole mix is playing. That way you can hear it in context, and know how it will affect other sounds.
8 - UNITY GAIN
This is very important. As human beings, when we compare two sounds, we generally prefer the louder one. Even if it’s not as good. So, when you make an EQ setting, you should adjust the output volume of the EQ so that when the EQ is activated or bypassed, the volume stays the same. You can check this by placing an RMS meter after the EQ. You should actually do this for your compressors and overdrive etc. too.
9 - HIGH PASS FILTERING
I know you are making space for the kick and bass, and that’s good, but don’t just high pass filter everything else up to 200hz for no reason. Use your ears. Sometimes some sounds need to go as low as 100hz or more, and they often won’t mess with your kick/bass. Take it case by case. Speaking of HPF, I don’t have a regular rule for HPF on my entire mix or my sub bass. I usually don’t do it. I let the full sub come through. Only if it sounds like it’s too much will I adjust it, and even then, I prefer to use a low shelf set at 30hz as it’s more subtle and adjustable. It also doesn’t mess with the phase as much.
10 - NOT ALL EQ’S ARE EQUAL
Some are better than others. You could make the same settings with different EQs, and they might sound similar, but if you switched them out for a whole mixdown, then that is when you will hear the difference. I recommend DMG Equilibrium and Fabfilter ProQ for clean sounding EQs. I also really like the dirty sounding EQs in Slate Digital VMR. Some EQs are good for some things and bad for others. Test them out, and learn which is good for what. If your only option is the Ableton EQ, then please right click on it and select “use in high-quality mode.”
11 - LESS IS MORE
Generally anyway. You shouldn’t need to be doing more than 4 bands of adjustment on most sounds. If it requires 10 bands, then maybe it’s just not a good sound.
12 - USE EQ FOR SEPARATION AND GLUE
You can make room in your mix with EQ by looking for things in the same frequency range. Kick & bass are an excellent example of this. If the kick has a lot of 100hz (or if you added it), then make a cut on the bass at 100hz. You’ll be surprised how much you can cut. They will co-exist much better.
13 - TRUST YOUR EARS
Everything I’ve said is just a general guideline. At the end of the day, if it sounds good, it is good. This is just to help you along the way. Remember to practice your listening whenever possible. Before you sweep your EQ to find a frequency, try to guess it in your head first. Then see if you got it right. You’ll get better and better.
You're just one song away...
-Stu (Bass Kleph)
P.S. If you want to study up on EQ and mixdowns, then you might like this course