6 Warning Signs That You Don't Know the First Thing About EQ
By Bjorgvin Benediktsson
Especially if you're doing any of these things below.
1. You Move the Wrong Knobs
This is beginner's mistake number 1 but it's worth pointing out. If you're only moving the frequency knob without moving the gain knob, you're not EQ'ing. This is a terrible mistake to make, because you're actually doing nothing at all!
If the gain knob is at zero, then moving the frequency knob will gain you nothing, no pun intended. And don't laugh, I've seen this a few times with people who just don't know the first thing about what they're trying to accomplish.
2. You Don't Filter
Filtering is the first step in EQ'ing. It's like cleaning up the clutter before you can make your room nice. All instruments have frequency ranges that get in the way of other instruments in a mix.
Don't fear the filter, it's the best way to eliminate low-end buildup and clutter from instruments that don't need it. Filter out the low-end of the guitars to make the bass guitar fit, and get rid of the high-end when your instrument doesn't need it.
3. You Make Aggressive Boosts
Sometimes you really do need to boost frequencies to make that track pop, but don't go overboard. A 20 dB boost is just asking for trouble. When you boost, you're manipulating the phase relationship of the frequencies, introducing a lot more gain as well as potential noise to your tracks.
Use subtractive EQ instead, it's a much cleaner alternative. By subtracting the frequencies you don't want, you're subjectively boosting the frequencies that you want. For instance, cutting the lower-mids can achieve the same result as boosting the higher-mids. Don't boost aggressively. Be conservative and cut instead.
4. Your Cuts are Wide
A simple goal to live by is:
Broad Boosts, Narrow Cuts
When cutting frequencies, use a narrow Q. Think of subtractive EQ like a scalpel. You're taking away frequencies you don't like, but you have to be careful to not cut the vitals of the instrument.
5. Your Boosts are Narrow
Same thing as before, but in reverse. Narrow boosts sound very unnatural. A 20 dB boost with a very narrow Q will pinpoint that frequency and it will stick out like a sore thumb. Use broad boosts for a more flattering sound.
6. You Boost the Same Frequencies in 5 Different Instruments
This is a surefire way to make all the elements of a mix clash together, resulting in a cluttered and unclear mix. Think of it like a division problem. You have a set amount of apples, and you need to divide them among a set amount of people. Similarly, you have a set amount of instruments that you need to divide among the frequency spectrum. The kick-drum, bass guitar, acoustic and vocal can't all have a 12 dB boost at 4 kHz.
Find different frequencies that flatter each instrument individually, and spread them around. Also, if you're boosting a frequency in a certain instrument, then it's usually a good idea to cut in an instrument that occupies the same frequency range. Divide the frequencies evenly among instrument and achieve better separation and clarity in your mixes.
EQ Should Be Your Best Friend
The equalizer is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. But you can also completely screw up your mix if you don't know how to use it. I hope you weren't making many of these mistakes that I mentioned above, I know I've done plenty of them.
Bjorgvin Benediktsson is an audio engineer and writer. He is an Alumni from the SAE Institute and has been working in the audio industry since 2006. He has written about audio and music for blogs and magazines since 2006 and has published books on audio recording and mixing. He writes about music production on his blog. Check out more of his writing right here on Audio Issues