EQ is the most important plugin in any mix, and aside from volume and panning it is your primary method of cleaning up your mix. In this blog post we're going to talk about how to EQ anything and how to clean up your mix with a simple electronic music example. If you follow this easy 3 step process you won't have to worry about memorizing EQ charts, and you'll be able to mix any genre of music and any instrument.
At the end of this post is a video that demonstrates this process.
For those of you who are just getting into music production, EQ stands for equalizer. If you've ever seen those knobs in your car or stereo system labelled treble, mid, and bass, then you've seen an EQ. EQ just allows you to change the frequency content of a sound, by filtering out frequencies you don't want or boosting frequencies you do want.
There are many reasons you'd want to EQ something. Perhaps a guitar track sounds too harsh, or perhaps your bass interferes with your kick drum, or maybe your whole song has too much low end. These are just basic examples, but it all revolves around the sound you have not sounding like the sound you want.
The process of EQing largely falls into 3 general steps.
1. Pay attention to the important frequency in each track.
Every instrument has frequency ranges that are more important than others. Just put an EQ on your track and pay attention to where the dominant frequencies are. Typically each instrument or sound will have a 'fundamental', the actual note you're hearing, and harmonics that give it character or timbre to identify the instrument.
2. Find frequencies that don't contribute anything to the sound.
Most instruments have frequencies that can be cut without hurting the sound. If you get a guitar track and put an EQ on it, you'll see plenty of information under 100 Hz, but if you filter these frequencies out you'll notice the sound of the guitar doesn't degrade.
Experiment with filtering out various frequency ranges in your mix and see how it impacts the sound of both the instrument by itself, and the mix as a whole. Its easy to over-do this, but its important to try out so you learn where the boundaries are.
3. Identify overlapping frequencies between tracks.
Typically your song will have multiple instruments that live in the same frequency spectrum, and that is totally fine. However, its important to be aware of these overlaps and take action to separate them in other ways if required.
There are really only 3 basic ways to identify individual components of a mix
- Frequency (this is what you manage with EQ)
- Space (panning left to right, or distance in time)
The relative volume of parts can be changed over time to make elements stand out, but it doesn't help much with clearing up your mix. So that leaves us with frequency, which is what we've been talking about, and space.
If two elements are overlapping in frequency then it is very useful to pan them in different places. The reason for this is that speakers can't really play the same frequency multiple times at the same time, all that would accomplish is making the frequency louder. By panning them separately you're putting the frequencies in different speakers and separating them in the mix.
If you have multiple elements panned at the same place with the same frequencies, you'll have to make a trade-off with something and potentially make an individual sound WORSE in order to make the mix better.
If you can't separate something in frequency, separate it in space. If you can't separate it in frequency or space, separate it in time. A good approach to mixing is to first get the volumes right, and pan elements to where they should be. Then if anything interferes start EQing out unnecessary frequencies to make the mix clearer, if that doesn't work start further panning elements around and using more intricate EQ curves to ensure tracks are separated in either frequency or space, or both.
This video will give you examples of how to EQ anything, and how to clean up your mix.