Production Tip Tuesday: EQ Techniques

Equalizing, better known as EQing, is one of the most important parts of making music. It’s how you shape your sound and bring it to life. Without EQ, instruments would sound flat and mixes would sound cluttered. However, without a deeper understanding of how EQing really works you might be doing more harm than help to your song. In this post I discuss some fundamentals of EQing. I hope this helps you gain a stronger understanding and confidence when using EQ in your own music. Without getting too technical, here is my take on using EQ.

Two of the fundamental ways to EQ are through attenuating or boosting. Attenuating simply means to cut or reduce, and boosting obviously means to increase. When I first begin EQing a track I like to start by cutting and reducing the frequencies I don’t want or need. This will help bring clarity to your instrument so it’s not being masked by the things you don’t need. Once I’ve pulled out some of the sound I don’t want I start to look for what frequencies I want to boost. These frequencies are what will bring the instrument to life and help the listener focus on it. You’ll want to be tasteful with this. Don’t over emphasize anything. There’s a fine line between clarity and power that you want to achieve with EQing and you don’t want to have too much of one and not the other. Just because something is loud doesn’t mean it sounds good. Another thing to keep in mind when boosting frequencies is that you can’t increase what isn’t already there. If you’re using a low quality sample that sounds dull because it has a lack of higher frequencies, boosting the high end on it will not suddenly make it sound bright. Be mindful of this with your sample selection and instrumentation.

EQ isn’t just about cutting and boosting at random; it’s about pin pointing specific frequencies and adjusting them accordingly. To do this you need to adjust the “bandwidth” otherwise known as the “Q”. The Q level adjusts the width of your frequency selection. A lower Q value means a wider selection while a higher Q value narrows your selection. If your Q is set to 1 you’ll notice that boosting or cutting a frequency band adjusts a large amount of frequencies surrounding it. Setting the Q to a value of 5 will pinpoint your band closer the intended frequency. Use the Q value to find the appropriate amount of frequencies you want to adjust. I usually use a Q between 0.7 and 2.5 to adjust instruments on a broader scale: clearing up muddiness in the 250-500hz range or brightening in the 4500-10000hz range. I use a tighter Q value around 3 to 5 to cut the ringing of a snare or the sibilance of a vocal. Keep a close eye when adjusting the Q of bands that are close to one another. Making an adjustment to one will lead the others to move as well.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when EQing is removing unnecessary frequencies. Each instrument has its own place in the sonic spectrum of a song. By completely removing unwanted frequencies you make room for the other instruments that are meant to fill those spaces. Simple things like high passing your high hats or low passing your sub bass will help you battle muddiness and phase cancellation in your mix. Use your EQ to make room for all of the instruments. You don’t want to stack a bunch of instruments that take up the same sonic space. If you have a sub bass and a synth bass playing together take out some of the low end in your synth around 60-120hz to really make your sub bass come through the mix. But don’t just “set it and forget it”. When your sub bass isn’t playing, automate the EQ on your synth to bring back those lower frequencies you took out. The same can be said about instruments in the higher frequencies. Use EQ on supporting instruments to make room for the main attraction.

In the end, EQ is all about finding balance in your mix and increasing the power and clarity of what your instruments already have to offer. The EQ is a powerful and fundamental tool, and when used correctly can make a good song great. Don’t be afraid to take risks and experiment with it. Producing music is a creative process and once you find the right way to use EQ in your mixing you’ll notice a vast improvement in the quality of your music.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them here or email me directly through our “Contact Us” page. I’m also always seeking suggestions for future Production Tip Tuesday topics and I’d love to know what you’re interested in learning and talking about. Leave a comment or email me and I’ll add it to the list. Thanks!