Equalization Tips

To put it simply, the equalizer is a tool enabling to adjust the volume of individual frequencies of the sound source. While we use the track volume fader to change the overall volume of the source, we use the equalizer to control, or even turn on and off, individual frequencies, i.e. parts of the spectrum of that sound.
In the previous article we analyzed the most common EQ-ing errors. Now, when we feel more confident, let's move forward and consider the following 8 useful equalization tips:

1. Act Thoughtfully

Let us repeat again: only a clear understanding of each step you make may guarantee success in mixing. You shouldn't just throw certain effect plugins on certain tracks because someone said it's a uniform solution. First, you have to understand the problem your sound is suffering from and decide which algorithm you will use to solve it. Only then, having a clear plan on hand, you should start taking actions.

For example, you work on mixing of vocals and you hear that everything sounds somewhat muddy because the vocals don't sufficiently cut through the mix, and that's what gives such an impression.

Now, when you've located the problem, you need to decide on a solution algorithm. Note that the reason of that muddy sound could hide inside low mids range, that's why you should try to attenuate frequencies around 400 Hz first. Singers' voices are different, so the problematic frequencies could be within either 300 or 500 Hz, thus you should try the attenuation in these ranges too. If all done correctly, you may eventually see that cutting down just one frequency on just one track may save your entire mix

2. Attenuate Rather Than Boost

Aggressive amplification can easily spoil your material, making it sound unnatural and difficult to handle. Every time you boost frequencies with an equalizer, you'll face phase-shifting issues which affect the sound. The best solution to avoid it is to attenuate other frequencies instead, and then to increase the volume of the track. It will deliver the desired result without having additional risks.

And again, you shouldn't take it as an axiom because today's sophisticated plugins allow you to minimize the risks of having those artefacts. However, if your equalizer does a bad job on the track so it becomes unusable in the mix, you'll know what the possible reason could be.

3. Avoid EQ-ing When Soloing a Track

If it's so far difficult for you to equalize an entire mix or a group of tracks, then an excellent solution could be to temporarily make the processed track louder before you start EQ-ing. In this case, any further boost of frequencies by 1-2 dB will become much more evident, but since you'll continue hearing the context of the mix, it will lessen the chances of making mistakes.

If you apply an EQ when soloing a track, you can quickly forget about the rest of the mix and the role that instrument plays in it. Novice producers often worry that if they don't equalize the track in solo mode, the instrument will eventually sound bad. For instance, a guitar track may not have enough low frequencies. But the truth is that that guitar track will never be heard isolated, what should be worrying you is how it will sound inside the mix played through the listener's speakers.

4. Know Your EQs

If you using a good old analog device and emphasize a frequency by 10 dB, the result may be great, you may enrich the sound with a special color.

But if you do the same using your DAW's native parametric EQ, it will sound completely different. Most probably you'll hear unpleasant side effects if you apply too much amplification. And, as we said, the reason is the phase shifting phenomenon.

However, if you use an analogue modeling EQ plugin, you could feel more secure applying it for processing.
5. Don't Get Over-Obsessed About Your Plugin Quality

The most frequent Internet search queries are "What's the best EQ?", "Which EQ should I choose?", etc. But, if you don't understand the basic EQ principles, it doesn't matter which EQ you'll use to get the same bad result.

Do not blame the plugins for all the troubles. Start from learning how to achieve decent results using the plugins your DAW has onboard, and then turn to more advanced and feature-packed EQs, which you definitely don't need in the beginning.

6. Don't Treat EQ as a Universal Problem Solver

Use the EQ only if you need to remove/cut out unpleasant frequencies, or to change the sound character add make it more interesting by boosting certain other parts of the spectrum.

If, for example, you recorded vocals onto your smartphone and try to improve it with an EQ. No matter how much you try, the result will never resemble a recording made with a high-quality microphone.

You can't cook a nice dish from spoiled ingredients. You better spend some money on a studio recording than waste your time and effort trying to "deceive the reality". If you boost any frequencies in such a badly recorded material, you'll only make things worse emphasizing its imperfections.

The same applies to the selection of sounds, samples and synthesizers. It is often better to just replace the sound, than to try an "EQ surgery".

7. Add Clarity by Removing Muddiness

The most problematic frequency range in many home-made recordings is 250-500 Hz. If you leave too much of such frequencies in your mix, it will sound muddy.

A smooth and wide 3 dB cutoff made within 250-350 Hz on muddy tracks is an excellent starting point for your further work.

8. Mixing in Mono

This is another method that could be useful in some situations.

Try switching the mix to mono when EQ-ing it, it helps to better distribute the frequencies and prevent phase problems. Also, it will enable you to focus on adding dimensions to your sound scene by using an EQ, instead of relying on panning knobs.

Having finished your mono session, switch back to stereo and continue with panning of the tracks. As a result, you'll notice your mix gained more space than it had in the beginning.

Mixing is the thing which you can never stop learning. Even the most successful and famous sound engineers in the world all the time discover different new approaches to try. Take it as our advice: have more practice and try more experiments. And most importantly: not only listen, but learn to hear too.

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