Another quick tips post, this time the topic is EQ, arguably the most important mixing tool.
In my opinion, EQ is the second most important aspect of a mix, behind setting your volume faders. EQ really allows us to carve out space and craft sounds to fit together.
EQ is generally subjective, however, it is very easy to over do and often people set very unnecessary EQ plugins. EQ doesn't have to be complex and if you find yourself making outrageous changes to your EQ, it is probably better to just change the original sound.
Lets dive into some tips:
It may be beneficial to understand that when you play a note you are not playing one single frequency but a whole bunch of frequencies, one sound takes up a broad amount of the frequency spectrum,
The main note we play is known as the fundamental, and all the higher frequencies which come as a result of playing that note are known as harmonics. Now, it is these harmonics that make instruments sound different. So with this in mind we must also understand that applying EQ’s to a sound can color the whole sound, and this is why we also pay very close attention when adjusting our EQ plug-ins. For example if you boost your EQ for 6db at 10kHz, with a wide curve (Q), then a lot of frequencies are going to be affected by this boost. I would suggest trying different EQ plug-ins and find ones that do not color the sound too much, or even better find one that does and one that doesn’t so you have both.
. Low cut every sound and clear out the low end frequencies which you do not need for each particular sound. Obviously some instruments need the low frequencies but make sure you don’t have them competing as this leads to a muddy mix. A good ball park figure for instruments which do not require a lot of sub sonic information is to cut everything below about 150Hz - 300hz.
· Low cut instruments until you can really hear the EQ working, then maybe back off slightly. Be really surgical with your cuts, especially in the sub, and lower mid regions as this is where the track becomes muddy and flat.
· Cut off the super sharp highs, I cut anywhere from 18000Hz to 19000Hz.
· Try to understand when something NEEDS EQ. Sometimes things are better left alone. Too many producers just dive in with an EQ and mess around, only to make it sound worse than before.
· A cool tip for a levelling a rough mix down - run a pink noise signal throughout your track and pull all your channels down to zero. Slowly increase each channel until you can just hear the sound. Once all channels have been raised then delete your pink noise. More often than not this gives a great result and your sounds are reasonably balanced. Maybe use a good set of headphones when using this technique.
· If you want transparency then do not be afraid to widen your curve (Q). Wide but small boosts on your EQ can often sound more natural. This can work well with small cuts also, however; I would not go doing this to much on larger dB cuts.
· You can automate your EQ throughout the track to create space. For example automate your high pass on instruments from 80Hz in the break to 100Hz on the drop to create slightly more room for your kick drum. That is only one example of course but the point here is you can automate your parameters on your EQ throughout your track. You don't have to just set your EQ and leave it, you can automate your parameters throughout your track. This will create movement and dynamics throughout your music.
· Put an analyser on your kick and bass. Take note of where the kick is peaking, then create a small notch in your bass EQ at exactly where the kick is peaking, this helps the kick poke through. Even just a 1 or 2 db cut really helps.
· Use high shelf cuts to remove a top end which is bright and sharp. Higher frequencies have a higher perceived loudness so its easy to leave them to loud in the mix.
· I tend to avoid large boosts or cuts, however; as I stated before I have witnessed ridiculously large boosts which sounded great. Keep in mind large amounts of boosts or cuts will dramatically alter your sound.
· Apply an EQ on your reverb send channels and apply a high pass filter. This cleans up the reverb.
· Try EQing while listening to the instrument within the whole mix as well as solo. EQing the sound in solo may not give a true representation of how it will sit in the entire mix.
· Instead of doing a lot of wide EQ boosts, just simply turn up the volume. Remember just because something is louder does not mean it is ‘better’.
· Since we do not need the low frequency in stereo, apply some mid-side EQing to some instruments. For example roll off the low end on a bass line to 50Hz but split this into mid-side. Continue to roll off the ‘side’ button. I generally make my low frequencies all in mono anyway. Certainly everything below about 175Hz in mono, but some guys go up to 300Hz. Again personal choice but the point here is you do not need a lot of stereo information in the low end.
· When layering, pay close attention to which area of the spectrum each sound is occupying. Make your EQ adjustments accordingly. For example if one layer does not need lower-mid information, then surgically remove it with your EQ. A general tip for layering is that you want to fill out a broad area on the spectrum, however; you do not want each layer competing for the same space. Starting with the right sounds is beneficial here as it means less work for the EQ.
· If you are going to do your own master then please only make subtle EQ adjustments. Anywhere more than 3db alterations and you really should be checking your mix. In my opinion anyway.
· Pay attention to unwanted sounds (sibilance) and noise, especially if you are going to be boosting the higher frequency ranges. This is because a boost here will also boost the unwanted sound.
· Generally everything except my kick and bass will be high passed to about 150Hz. Of course this varies depending on the track or sound. You really want your low end for kick and bass but this is up to you to experiment with. For example some TOMS may require frequencies lower than 150Hz.
· Just cut out everything below 25Hz to 30Hz, Or even 40Hz. Some people even high pass their kick to 50 or 60 Hz depending on the music they make. Have a play around. Since we are making dance music then i find 30Hz is a sweet spot.
· Try high passing your sub bass 10Hz above your kick to give it more space. If you really need the lows in for power, like in some tech house tracks, then make sure you have a heavy side-chain on the sub bass so it ducks out the way of the kick. Making notches in the bass where the kick is present is also beneficial here. The point is you only really want one fundamental happening at a time. The speakers in clubs need time to reset and hit people with the next wave of low energy. You need moments off energy and moments of quiet. If there is a constant hum of low energy then this isn't effective on a dance floor.
· Cutting frequencies sounds more natural than boosting them.
· Try to get the tone of your sound as perfect as you want it BEFORE the EQ process. This will reduce the amount of work needed when EQing. Your EQ should be gently moulding the sound into place, not trying to sculpt it.
. Too much boosting can lead to phasing problems, which we definitely do not want!
. Sometimes less is more. Remember it is a lot easier to get a clean mix with LESS sounds. Each instrument needs its own frequency range to sit in the mix and work with the other sounds. Pay close attention to the frequency areas where different sounds tend to cross over. Make appropriate boosts and cuts. As mentioned before about cutting the bass where the kick is present. Do this with other instruments also. It works great if you are layering a few sounds. Boost one at 3 KHz and cut one at 3 KHz for example.
· The most important thing with EQ is USE YOUR EARS!!! See what really works. Boosting a kick at 100Hz and cutting the bass at 100Hz simply may not work.
· Don’t just boost or cut for the sake of boosting and cutting, make sure your EQing has a purpose. What is that purpose? Is it making a difference? Does it sound the way you want it to sound?
· Create perceived depth with EQ. Our ears perceive sounds with high frequency information as right up front and in your face. Sounds with the high frequencies filtered off are perceived as further back, so in turn if you want something to sound slightly ‘deeper’ in the mix then try applying a low pass filter. It is a very subtle technique but it really helps create space and depth within a mix.
There you go…. some quick fire tips on EQ.
Hopefully there is some helpful information in there for you producers out there.
What EQ tips and tricks do you have? Let us know in the comments.