MixTips is a little column I worked up for my blog. The content represents tips, tricks and insights that have worked well for me over the years. I believe mixing is an art form, not a hard science. There are a million and one ways to achieve a specific result, so feel completely free to disagree with me at any time 🙂

MixTips – Equalization

EQ is an extremely powerful tool for shaping the frequency balance of elements in a mix, it can bring things forward or push them back, allowing you to create or take away focus, and hi-light important elements while keeping others from being distracting. EQ can help repair poor recordings and make samples and loops play nice with each other in the mix. Here are some tips that I have learned over years while mixing with EQ:

  1. Avoid making EQ decisions in isolation. While it is tempting to solo the track you are working on, this takes away the context of the track within the mix. It is very common for a track to sound dull or even bad in isolation, but work well in context. Hint: Instead of soloing, turn the track up to help during the EQ process.

  2. Use EQ to create perspective in your mix. Since mixing is largely about directing the listener to a focal point, it is not weird to think that one might purposefully make an element sound dull to make another stand out. Example: Think about a photographer purposefully making objects out of focus to highlight the subject.

  3. Sometimes the mute button is the most effective EQ. If something isn’t working out, as in you just cant seem to EQ it into the mix, sometimes it is best to re-evaluate the arrangement and ask yourself if it really belongs in the mix. Remember not all elements have to be playing all the time; an interesting arrangement/mix evolves and changes over time.

  4. Cutting is generally preferred over boosting as it doesn’t eat up head room in your mix and will exhibit less ‘color’ from the filter. In other words, it is easier to hear the EQs flavor when boosting.

  5. Be mindful of tracks with lots of low end. Remember that low frequencies are physically much longer than high frequencies and take more time to develop, ultimately taking up more space in a mix, so it is common to aggressively cut the low end of tracks that aren’t vital to the ‘bass’ component of the mix using shelves and hi-pass filters.

    1. By design Instruments tend to have too much, rather than too little.

    2. Create complimentary EQ curves for your low-end elements like Kick and Bass, avoid eating up to much low end head room by boosting at separate frequencies on these elements.

    3. Most amateur mixes I hear have serious problems in the low end, because of bad room acoustics or too many low end elements fighting each other and creating mud.

  6. Make sure you work within an instruments frequency range.

    1. If an element doesn’t have anything to boost in the low or high end, EQ cannot create material that isn’t there.

    2. Use a spectrum analyzer to help visualize a signals frequency make-up, but remember these are not a replacement for your ears.

  7. Listen! – You can read a list of frequencies from a book (e.g. Thump on kick is at X Hz, snap on snare is at Y Hz) but until you bring up the track and sweep an EQ you wont know where those traits really live in your specific track. 

    1. Use EQ presets sparingly. Every instrument and voice is different and the recording process can dramatically change the frequency characteristics of a track. Even the key of the song factors into the EQ process. There is no way for a preset designer to know how you recorded your track or what context you want to use it in.

  8. Remember that frequencies directly relate to pitches and octaves in the musical world. Think about where the fundamental and the harmonics of the instrument live. For example, the lowest note sung in a vocal can provide important clues as to where to filter the low-end.

    1. Spectral Mixing – relating frequency to pitch while EQings

      1. Don’t boost your kick drum sharply at a frequency that is dissonant to your song.

  9. Different styles and tempos of music will have different approaches to EQ. For example, a fast heavy metal tune will likely have a very bass light, “beater heavy” kick drum due to the speed of the kick pattern and tempo of track, where as a hip hop tune at 90 BPM may have much more breathing room for a super low kick sound.

    1. Faster songs tend to have less room for low end and must be mixed ‘tighter’

  10. Break your mix up into frequency zones – e.g. low, low-mid, mid, hi-mid, and hi. Manage these zones like departments of a business, e.g. who works in what department and what do they do? What elements play a role in multiple zones? Make sure your business is efficient. Are three people doing the same job? Do you really need three people doing that job or is it just making things more confusing. Remember that mixing is part of the bigger “arrangement” picture and selecting elements that work together in the first place prevents the need for heavy EQing at mixdown.

Remember, there is no “recipe” for EQ, as everything is dependent on the arrangement and intruments within. If someone asked a chef “how can I prepare a potato to eat,” I bet he/she would ask you back “Well, what do you want to do with it? What do you like? What other foods will be served along side this potato?” There are dozens of ways to prepare potatos depending on the context, and there are even more ways to EQ a track within a mix.