The latest in my mixing series talks about EQ. However if you think I am going to tell you the perfect frequency to EQ your kick drum you will be very disappointed! Every song is different and you need to be open-minded in your approach to EQ, there are no set rules that you can learn as a shortcut. Sorry! (not sorry)

EQ (Equalisation) is the tool that enables us to shape the frequency balance of our tracks – sculpting sounds by cutting or boosting frequencies.

EQ can be used to give each sound it’s own unique space in the mix. But it can also be used to help sounds fit together, to give a mix a steady tonal balance. For example you don’t want one really bright/harsh sound in a warm organic sounding acoustic mix, it will stand out in a bad way and affect the listener’s perception of the authenticity of the track. Likewise you will need to work with EQ to make real instruments fit together with shiny synth parts in electronic music, warm pianos are lovely but if they fight your sub and sound dull/muddy compared to your other sounds then something needs to change.

Think about your song and EQ appropriately depending on what you are trying to achieve.

Do you want to create separation, so that each sound stands out individually?
Do you want your sounds to sit together and sounds like they are in the same room?
Do you want to do both of these things at the same time!?

By identifying the frequency content of each sound we can emphasise it’s sonic characteristics to make it stand out, or we make can sounds sit down inside the mix. An important thing to remember – all EQ is relative to the rest of the song. You are trying to fit a collection of sounds together into a cohesive whole. Don’t spend all your time EQing sounds in Solo mode – they need to be EQ’d in the context of your song. Each decision you make will have a knock-on effect on the relationship between all of the sounds in your mix, so the longer you spend in Solo getting the ‘perfect’ tone, the more likely you are to be moving your sound away from what the overall mix needs.

Each song requires a different approach to EQ, there are no hard and fast rules that apply to every track so please try to ignore information on the internet telling you that you ‘must’ low-cut your kick at 80hz or whatever. Why? How is your kick going to have any depth if you hack all of the bass frequencies out?? I love a thick bassy kick that hits me in my chest, and then I can use precise EQ to ensure there is still space for my sub notes.

Every song is different, so make decisions relative to the song that you are working on. However as more of a general rule – CUT before you BOOST. Reducing/removing frequencies makes space, increasing frequencies adds volume and fills up your mix very quickly.

EQ Techniques

Cleaning sounds – carefully removing frequencies which are of no benefit to your mix. Generally this will involve tight cuts, not wide bands. Be careful not to overdo it – you will suck the life out of a sound. Also try to avoid sweeping a notch through the frequency spectrum – everything sounds bad when you boost it by 24db! If you can’t hear a problem don’t go looking for one.

Making space – when two sounds are occupying a similar frequency range they often tend to mask each other, they will sound like they are fighting for attention in your mix.. Identify the key frequency area that makes one of the sounds stand out – then gently reduce these frequencies on the other sound.

Tone/Timbre adjustments – if you want to affect the overall tone of a sound, normally you will use wider cuts/boosts, but be gentle. 2-3db will make a massive difference. Identify the frequency band that has desired effect on the timbre, and use a wide band to bring that area up or down.

EQ Tools

High/Low Cut: completely removes all the frequencies above/below the cutoff point. You can often choose the slope of the cut. Be careful – extreme cuts change the phase behavior of your audio and will have an affect all the way across the spectrum. A low-cut on your kick can mess up the attack as well as remove the bass.

eq-3
Everything below the cut-off point is removed. The purple area shows what is left. In this instance this will cut rumbling bass frequencies.

High/Low Shelf: reduce/boost all the frequencies above/below the cutoff point. The Q will determine the curve and the behaviour of the EQ at the cutoff point. This is useful to shape timbre without completely removing frequencies.

eq-4
The red area shows how a low-shelf reduces everything below the cut-off point. I often prefer a shelf to roll off the sub of a kick drum, leaving the round bottom but not obstructing room for the sub.

Bell: cut/boost in a specific frequency band. These bands can be moved to choose which area they affect, often anywhere on the spectrum. Q makes the band tighter or wider depending on what you are trying to achieve.

eq-5
The blue area shows a bell with a wide Q (bandwidth).

Types of EQ

Parametric – you choose the freq bands, and are able to shape the Q (width) of the bands. Use for precision cuts.
Graphic EQ – a series of fixed bands across the frequency spectrum. Useful for pulling out problem frequencies or creating a wide tonal change.
Single Band EQ – useful to cut whole areas from a sound (usually top/bottom)
Console emulations – older mixing desks would often have EQ bands that were fixed or had a restricted range. These EQ’s are great for applying colour to a sound (warmth, brightness etc) with wide boosts.

eq-1

The high-shelf on this Neve EQ doesn’t have the option to choose the frequency band – it just makes thing brighter!

eq-2
Console emulations can provide character and warmth that a digital parametric EQ is designed to avoid.

I will often use parametric EQ’s to remove or tame any problem frequencies (most EQ’s have a built in analyser so you can locate any rogue peaks), and then use a nice console emulation – or ideally a real analogue EQ – for wide boosts to affect the overal timbre. Cut with precision, then boost with your ears.

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