These five tips will help you approach EQ and your audio mix like a pro. Follow them, and you’ll add clarity, separation, and depth to your tracks.
Do you struggle with EQ when working on your audio mix? If so, you’re not alone. While it’s one of the most important tools we have in the mixing room, it’s also one of the most difficult to get a handle on.
The following five tips will help you approach EQ and your audio mix like a pro. Follow them, and you’ll add clarity, separation, and depth to your tracks.
1. Avoid the solo button
EQ can help make the tracks in your mix fit together. In fact, this is one of its biggest benefits. However, in order to do so, you need to be able to hear how different tracks in your mix interact with each other.
The solo button gets in the way of this.
Whenever you solo a track, you remove it from the context of your mix. This makes it impossible to determine how that track relates to others. Consequently, it becomes much harder to make decisions that help tracks fit together.
For this reason, the solo button can be dangerous. While you may think it helps focus your attention, it’s actually cutting you off from the information you need to make good EQ decisions. Avoid it, and your mixes will improve by leaps and bounds.
2. Cut first, then boost
You may have heard this old EQ adage before. Turns out, there’s some truth to it.
When you apply an EQ boost to a track, the track gets louder. Since our ears prefer louder sounds, it’s often difficult to evaluate the true effectiveness of an EQ boost without level-matching. It’s easy to get fooled into thinking a boost was a good choice, when in fact, you may have just turned your EQ into a glorified volume knob.
In comparison, EQ cuts aren’t subject to this problem. Since they don’t make tracks louder, it’s much easier to evaluate their effectiveness. If a track sounds better with a cut engaged, you can be sure that you’ve made the right decision.
3. Know thy spectrum
Modern parametric EQs give you an unprecedented degree of control over the frequency spectrum. But this can be overwhelming and even downright intimidating! With an infinite number of choices, how do you know which frequencies to home in on?
If you find yourself aimlessly sweeping up and down the spectrum, perhaps some studying is in order. With practice, you can significantly improve your ability to identify areas of the frequency spectrum. The following ear training resources will help:
4. Make intentional choices
Every time you add a boost or cut, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? If you don’t have a clear answer, you probably don’t need it.
Sometimes, your EQ moves will need to be subtle. Other situations will warrant a bold and aggressive approach. Need to add 15 dB of top end to a kick drum? 10 dB of low end to a snare? So be it. As long as you’re making intentional decisions, you’re in the clear.
5. Ch-ch-check yourself
Mixing isn’t just about making the right choices. It’s also about avoiding the wrong ones.
Avoid EQ missteps by constantly A/B-ing every cut or boost with the original, unprocessed track. But remember, volume discrepancies between the before/after sounds will often cloud your judgement. To avoid bias, make sure to level-match before making any comparisons.
This often means you’ll need to adjust your EQ’s output gain. While some EQs (like FabFilter’s Pro-Q 2) have an auto-gain feature that streamlines this process, additional adjustments will often be needed.
Get in the habit of A/B-ing every EQ decision you make. This simple practice can massively improve the sound of your tracks.
Now that you know how to EQ like a pro, you’re ready to conquer the frequency spectrum in your next mix!
But first… did I miss one of your favorite EQ tips? If so, let me know by leaving a comment below!
Jason Moss is an LA-based mixer, producer, and engineer. His clients include Sabrina Carpenter, Madilyn Bailey, GIVERS, and Dylan Owen. You can check out more of his mixing tips at BehindTheSpeakers.com.
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17 thoughts on “EQ and your audio mix: Five tips for spectral success”
Most audio engineers realize that a song with great mixdown dynamics can be magical. These dynamics would include a song that has great dynamic range, meaning it has parts where some instruments get loud and other parts where they get quiet. A mix that is well balanced is another aspect that gives a song great dynamics. These balances are when the vocals, bass, drums and guitars are heard in the right amounts of power. These two dynamics are a high quality mix and a great mastering job. The final aspect of dynamics is when your song doesn’t sound like it’s on a flat line. These flat line dynamics would also include things like vocal plosives and unwanted frequencies. A mastering job can be great with all of these dynamics put into consideration.
thanks for the information
One of my favorite techniques is to check the eq of the mix on multiple playback systems. I get it where it sounds right in the studio monitors. Then I play it in my car. Then on a boom box. Sometimes I’ll even check it on a laptop with internal speakers. Getting the bass to translate well across the different playback systems is one of the hardest challenges. Sometimes counter-intuitive adjustments are needed to provide bass definition while not giving up fullness.
Thanks for your sharing for the tips of approaching EQ. As it’s difficult for me to control over the frequency spectrum, the training resources you provide are quite useful.
Do you guys have any pubs related to mastering for audio books (spoken word)? If so where can I find them?
When mixing or mastering, I will make a point to stand back from the monitors 15 feet or so, and listen for low frequencies. The low bass becomes clearly evident from this perspective, and can really help with low frequency EQ moves.
Also, comparative listening is a must. A/B between your mix and a professional reference mix. Just make sure the volume levels are equal…
That sounds genius I’m going to start doing that. Thanks
One other powerful EQ tip that is repeated in many audio blogs is EQing in mono so that the panning will not trick you into thinking that the tracks don’t interfere with each other in terms of frequency.
What do you think?
I need good impprovement from my music
Do the best for me. Thank you so much for helping me, you are a great realizaty and knowledable to joint my music on the World.
Also remember to compare to reference tracks in similar style and same genre, with similar balance of instruments.
(Level-matched, of course!)
Thanks for this excellent post, Jason. And as an editor by trade I especially appreciate your correct use of the term “homing in.” People get this wrong so often, it’s wonderful to see it used properly.
Sorry, I don’t mean to hijack anyone’s post, but could you please elaborate on the incorrect usage of “home in”? What is the proper context for use? I’ve also heard people use “hone in”… which is most accurate? I am interested in word or phrase origins and how the meanings can evolve over time. Also, is it buying time or biding time? I hear the two used interchangeably also.
Home in is correct, as in homing in on a target. Hone in is incorrect, you can hone a craft or hone a skill, as in sharpen, but not “hone in.” Biding time means waiting patiently for something. Buying time means to do something to get a little more time, perhaps by distracting someone. They are both correct in the proper context, but not interchangeable.
Hope that helps.
I thought the same thing. Yay!