Do you wonder how to EQ to make your music sound the best it possibly can? Using an equalizer is a large part of music production and the mixing process. It removes problematic frequencies, helping sounds pop-through in the mix, and highlights the good stuff.
However, there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
When Google-searching "how to EQ," you're met with information from hundreds of sources, telling you how to EQ in different ways. While the general advice is good, many producers take the techniques to their extremes, ultimately destroying their music.
Luckily, these mistakes are very easily fixable. And once you’re aware of them, you can stop doing them today to see immediate improvements in your sound.
This article will highlight three common mistakes when using an equalizer and how to EQ instead.
Let’s dive in.
1. High-Passing Too Much
Logic (and several people) tells us that we need to cut out all the low frequencies of sounds that don’t need them. Huge mistake. But it’s also not bad advice.
Are you confused? Don't be. Let’s explain.
Frequencies are vibrations, lower frequencies meaning slower vibrations and higher frequencies, meaning faster vibrations. These frequencies have a very different impact on listeners. The lower range of the frequency spectrum contains a lot of power and energy, translating to warmth and roundness in music.
For example, a techno track with the bass completely removed and the higher frequencies amplified would sound cold and harsh, compared to the music with the lower frequencies complementing them.
Because when overcutting the lower frequencies of all your sounds, you take away the important areas which make your sound warmer and fuller.
And even if you left your bass intact, your mix will sound off if you overcut – because the lower frequencies are missing from all your other sounds.
Do This Instead
High pass filtering sounds is still a vital part of the mixing process. But the thing is, you can’t overdo it. If you cut all your instruments off at 300-500Hz, it completely removes the energy, which lies in the 120-300 range.
For example, the transients of a bell pluck sound (in lower octaves) lie in the “clonk” and rings in the lower frequencies. Remove this, and you get a very weak sounding pluck.
So, as a rule, don’t cut above 100-200Hz unless necessary. Instead, try balancing your frequency spectrum with sounds in different octaves.
If your lead sound is extremely bass-heavy, you might want to try raising the octave to make the sound brighter instead.
2. Over-Cutting Frequencies
We’re often told to let a sound play and sweep the 'problem frequencies,' surgically cutting the frequencies it sounds horrible in. And while this advice isn’t bad either, it’s often taken to extremes, resulting in a weak sounding mix.
Yes, if there’s a dreadful resonance peak at 735Hz, you need to cut that area (or check your effects, which might cause the problem.)
One part of mixing is scanning your problem frequencies and making them better. But remember, it shouldn’t be at the cost of your sound.
Do This Instead
When you have discovered a troubling area that needs fixing, cutting with an EQ must be done carefully, using a very narrow Q bandwidth to target the specific frequency range.
If there’s hissing, ringing, and horrendous resonance peaks in your whole sound, you might want to consider changing your sound completely.
If you find yourself using fifteen different EQ bands, cutting frequencies down to zero, there won’t be much left of your sound when finished.
Instead, handle with care. Find the problem frequencies and cut them very carefully.
This ensures that you’ve fixed the frequency and that your sound is still left intact – and still sounding good.
3. Using EQ “Because You Have To”
Many producers feel obligated to do something to every sound they use in a track. Thoughts of “what if” pop up if there isn’t at least one EQ on each channel, giving rise to fears about not making the sound as good as it can be.
But sometimes, manipulating just makes it worse...
Often, frequencies of sounds are there for a reason. For example, when listening to a snare sample, the drum's "body," is located in the low to mid frequencies. Remove this, and your snare suddenly loses its power.
Same with the idea of removing a lot of mid-range frequencies of sounds because they are known to be harsh. Yes, they are sometimes. But it’s also where a lot of the magic happens.
Over-process the midrange on every sound, and your mix will start sounding weird and unbalanced.
Do This Instead
Sometimes, your EQ is better left switched off (or used sparingly.) Change the mindset that every sound needs to be processed. Instead, start trusting your ears and instincts.
Because truthfully, some sounds don't need EQ or just minimum amounts of it (like high-passing 100Hz to remove the deep low frequencies.)
Just because you have a tool doesn’t mean you must use it. Instead, it’s about recognizing why and when you use equalization to improve the sound in the best possible way. And sometimes, it simply means leaving things alone.
Aim to use minimal equalization and make everything sound as good as possible before thinking about mixing.
Use sounds that sound great from the start, rather than equalizing them into submission.
That’s one of the keys to professional mixes.
Do You Want To Make Music Like The Pros?
A solid foundation in music theory allows you to put together chords, progressions, and melodies that truly make an impact. And when you learn how to arrange music in your genre effectively, you make music that people want to listen to.
Sound design is critical because it allows you to create the sounds you have in mind. With the proper knowledge in this area, you can think of how you want something to sound and instantly create it in your favorite synth. It also makes the mixing process faster and easier.
Mixing and mastering wisdom is also necessary to make your final track sound good. Your EQ skills must be spot-on. Your mix should be interesting, making people eager to come back and listen again and again. Excellent mixing and mastering knowledge is what makes a track stand out.
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Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.