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6 Ways to Make Using EQ Easy

The internet is a magical place. In the land of internet, the most peculiar and nuanced things get attention. And because those peculiar things get attention, they start to snowball, being shared around. Eventually, these rare and exceptional sorts of things become normalized. This is very true when it comes to mixing techniques. We “ooh” and “ahh” at the parallel return that’s been distorted and EQ’d — and there is a place for those oddball techniques. But the reality is that great mixing is mostly just doing a really good job at very simple things.

This is especially true of EQ. Equalization is really a very straightforward process. We really only use an EQ for a few reasons. We’re either looking to correct a sound, the interaction of several sounds or do some kind of creative effect.

So with that said, here are some tips on making EQ easy.

1. Pretend like the tracking engineer/producer got it perfect

If I were to put a finger on the most common mistake people make when learning to mix, it’s “doin the most syndrome.”

People look for an excuse to do stuff to stuff to make stuff into different stuff. Unfortunately, if you look for things to do: you’ll find them.

Instead of looking for excuses to reach for an EQ, look for excuses not to EQ. I like to pretend that the producer and tracking engineer got it perfect on the way in — that it was set exactly how they wanted it. This way if I’m EQ’ing something it’s only because I feel particularly compelled to.

2. Hear it in your head

Before doing anything, you should really identify what you’re hearing, and then try to imagine it in the auditory section of your brain. If you can hear the final sound, you can work your way toward it.

This helps to prevent falling into the “more is better” trap where we turn something up and like it because it’s louder.

3. Don’t “seek and destroy” frequencies

Time and again I’ve seen the advice that goes: boost a narrow band, sweep the narrow band up the frequency spectrum, attenuate whatever sounds bad. My problem is this: all of it always sounds bad. Boosted narrow resonances pretty much sound bad — and if they don’t it’s pretty indicative that you need a bit of boost in that frequency range.

The only time I recommend this technique is if you hear a resonance that’s just poking out. Then you can sweep a narrow band around in the ballpark of that resonance until it starts screaming at you. Otherwise, you’re just gonna end up over-thinning your source.


That said…

4. Slight boosts can be revealing

If an area does sound a little muddy, or overly nasal, or narrowly present, or over-hyped, or bright — generally a small boost will really exacerbate the problem. Using a small boost can be a good technique for identifying problematic frequency ranges.

5. Subtractive EQ is better unless you want more of something

Somewhere in the world of the magical internet the idea that using EQs to attenuate tones is somehow superior to boosting. My feeling is that subtractive EQ tends to be more honest in that you know if you take something away and it sounds better, it’s probably the right move. Otherwise, kinda just do what you want to do.

If you want a brighter sound: add some top end. If you want a less bright sound: take some away. There’s really no need to overcomplicate the matter.

6. Just go for it

Our purpose here is to give the end listener the most enjoyable experience we can. So work toward that.

Working toward using the most innovative techniques, doing the most magic, making the most perfect of mixes and being the supreme mixer of the universe is all well and good — but maybe we should just focus on helping the record sell a bit first? If you do something, and you dig it: keep it. Don’t over think it.

Don’t. Over. Think. It.

Mixing with EQ Course

To learn more about specific strategies and techniques for mixing with EQ and controlling balance, tone and texture, check out Mixing with EQ.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

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