EQ is a vital tool in any producer’s arsenal, but knowing when and how to use it isn’t always easy. Despite being one of the most universally used effects, EQ can take a lifetime to master. That said, here are some essential EQ tips that should speed things up a bit.

  1. Try and avoid massive cuts and boosts unless they’re absolutely necessary. Generally, an adjustment of just a few dB will be enough.
  2. FX channels, particularly reverb, can often harbour untreated low rumble, even if you’ve cut most of the unwanted low-end from the tracks feeding to them. A mix can really benefit from applying high-pass filtering to its reverb channels.
  3. Remember that while soloing a track can be helpful at times, it won’t necessarily help you sit the instrument in a full mix.
  4. If you add 10dB at 150Hz, 10dB at 1kHz and 10dB at3kHz, all you’re really doing is boosting the volume of the track by 10dB. Just because the volume is louder, you might mistakenly perceive the track as ‘better’ – don’t be seduced.
  5. When it comes to the bottom end of a track, you’re looking for clarity rather than just lots of ‘woofing’. Be sure to apply a high-pass filter to instruments that have no real low-end content. Below 50Hz, guitars will just add cabinet rumble to the mix. Below 80Hz, rumble from the mic stand (or a tapping foot) is all you’re likely to get from a vocal.
  6. You may find yourself automatically adjusting EQ just because you feel you should – don’t make changes unless your ears tell you they’re needed. Many parts won’t need any EQ at all.
  7. While modern EQ plug-ins can work wonders, nothing beats having a high-quality original recording. Don’t rush the process of getting a great tone to record – you’ll save time in the long run.
  8. It’s always better to remove frequencies you don’t want to hear rather than boost the ‘good’ ones. As we mentioned earlier, raising the volume of something can make it difficult to distinguish whether the end result is better or just louder.
  9. If a certain frequency is bothering you and you want to get rid of it, set your EQ to a narrow Q setting and slowly sweep through the frequency range with a 5-10dB boost until the errant sound jumps out at you. Once you’ve identified it, change the boost to a cut.
  10. Don’t make EQ adjustments blindly – think about which part of the instrument’s frequency range you’re adjusting.
  11. It’s easy to get lost in a world of colourful plug-ins and EQ curves, so make sure you hit the bypass button every so often to hear whether or not your adjustments are really making a positive difference.
  12. Remember that even minor EQ adjustments can have quite an effect on how an instrument sits in the mix. Not only can it make it more or less audible, but it can also change the weight of the panning. So watch out!
  13. Always try and listen to your mixes through as many different sets of speakers as you can. This way, you can triple check that your EQ adjustments don’t just sound good on your studio monitors.
  14. When it comes to adjusting upper frequencies, consideration should also be given to sibilance (unwanted ‘s’ sounds) and noise, both of which can be dramatically increased if a high-frequency boost is coupled with compression.
  15. Recording instruments near reflective surfaces will add unwanted frequencies to a sound. Be under no illusion: this is very difficult, if not impossible, to remove later on, regardless of the quality of your plug-ins, so don’t take a chance – isolate your instrument from these reflections before you switch those mics on.
  16. EQ modifications made during the mastering process should be very subtle. Stick to 1-3dB adjustments as much as possible. If you feel heavier changes are necessary, you might need to revisit other parts of your mix, as they might be the real cause of the problem.
  17. When dealing with a crowded mix, it’s sometimes a good idea to just focus on the key part of an instrument’s sound. Cutting out everything apart from the main area in which an instrument is playing will leave room for other instruments elsewhere in the frequency range, while the one in question still cuts through.
  18. Mastering the use of EQ isn’t something that just happens overnight – it takes lots and lots of practice. Don’t be afraid to experiment by mixing multiple versions of your tracks in order to discover how different EQ treatments affect the end result. Eventually, you’ll instinctively know how to get the sound you want.
  19. If you find yourself applying excessive EQ on a regular basis, there are two possibilities – you’re picking the wrong sounds to begin with or you’re the next big thing. If you think it’s the latter, wait a year, and if you haven’t had three acclaimed singles and a hit album then refer to the first point.
  20. Any frequencies below 30Hz are usually inaudible sonic pollutant, soaking up precious headroom and generally muddying up your mix. It’s therefore always a good idea to cut everything below around 30Hz – this way your mix will be louder and your bass will sound much punchier and heavier.
  21. The key to good parametric EQing is finding the right frequency, and the easiest way to do that is to apply excessive gain and set your Q to a reasonably narrow frequency. Now, when you sweep the frequency range, you’ll be able to hear when you hit the target frequency.
  22. Air soaks up high frequencies more than low frequencies, and low frequencies travel slightly faster than high ones, so distant sounds seem inherently less bright. You can use this effect and EQ your mixes to give certain elements a greater sense of distance by applying high-shelving cut.
  23. EQ boost and cut both affect the volume of a signal, and obviously the greater the cut or boost, the more the volume is affected; so whenever you apply EQ be prepared to tweak your level settings too.
  24. If you’re using mastering EQ (either graphic or parametric) on a complete mix, then you should almost always place it before any limiting you’re applying, as otherwise you’ll risk losing some volume or pushing the signal into clipping.
  25. Analyse all of your main sounds (such as vocals and guitars) together and in isolation and see if they’re fighting for the same space in the mix. For example, vocals tend to be centred around 1-3kHz, so try a little cut in that range on your guitars and hear the two separate beautifully.
  26. One of the best ways to get parts – such as backing vocals or layered guitar lines – to gel together is to run them off to their own bus and apply any EQ tweaks to the bus, rather than the original parts.
  27. Most sounds are centred on a certain part of the frequency spectrum but also have stuff going on in other sections – everything else is a potential source of sonic pollution. Judicious use of high and low shelving or cut can help give everything the space it needs.
  28. Generally speaking, human hearing is less attuned to EQ cut than it is to EQ boost, so if you want to achieve a more natural sound from your processing, try to avoid any excessive EQ boost. Instead, make sure you opt for cuts in competing frequencies.
  29. Ear fatigue is much more of a problem with high frequencies, so always apply treble boost in small steps, and when A/B-ing the sound with and without treble, give yourself at least a minute to readjust to the dry version and allow objective assessment.
  30. Spend some time learning the different frequency ranges for common instruments. Use your parametric EQ with plenty of boost and a medium Q setting and sweep the frequency range up and down while you listen to some tracks. Make notes about which frequency range each instrument is centred on.

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