But before we dive in, make sure you download my free EQ cheatsheet, which will help you make the most of these tips while you’re mixing. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free cheatsheet now.
Tip number one is to avoid the solo button. Now when you’re making EQ decisions, one of the worst things that you could do is solo the track that you’re EQ’ing. And the reason for this is because mixing is all about making things fit together. We’re not trying to make each individual track in our mix sound great, we’re trying to make all the tracks sound good when they all play together as one single unit.
So when you solo a track in your mix and start adding EQ and processing things, you’re no longer hearing how that track is relating to the other tracks in your mix. And so the decisions that you make might make that track sound good on its own, but in context with the rest of the mix oftentimes it can make the track sound worse.
So really when we’re EQ’ing any track in the mix, we want to be listening to that track with everything else. So avoid the temptation to solo tracks and start applying EQ. And if you can force yourself to make EQ decisions in context with the rest of the tracks in the mix playing, you’re going to be lead towards much better EQ decisions, and your mixes are going to sound a whole lot better as a result.
Tip number two is to find your go-to plug-in. Now when it comes to EQ, if you have one single plug-in that gives you control over Q – or the width of the boost or cut – gain – or how aggressive the boost or cut is – and frequency – which is where the boost or cut occurs – you have everything you need. You don’t need to buy more plug-ins than that.
So you can do everything with one plug-in, because the truth is the algorithms that underly these plug-ins are basically the same. There are small differences between them, and the biggest difference you’ll find is that some EQ plug-ins will add saturation or distortion to the tone. But if you have one single parametric EQ, you can basically replicate the curves where the frequency response that you get with any other EQ. So there’s really no need to invest in a whole bunch of EQ plug-ins, you’re much better spending your money elsewhere. And if you find one go-to parametric EQ, you have more than enough to do pretty much anything you need to do with an EQ.
Tip number three is to stop being proactive. There are so many times in the mixing process that we do things not because we’re hearing a problem that needs to be fixed, but we try to anticipate problems or fix problems before they occur. So a great example of this when it comes to EQ is that a lot of us will apply high-pass filters by default to all the tracks in the mix except maybe the kick or the bass. And we’ll do this without even listening, so we’ll just add the high-pass filters to everything.
Now whenever you’re doing things without a reason, like in this specific circumstance, there’s a good chance that you may actually be making things sound worse. And when it comes to high-pass filtering in this case, a lot of the times you’re taking out low end that doesn’t actually need to be taken out. So you’re thinning out the low end of your mix unnecessarily, because in many cases that low end that you just took out wouldn’t have actually been a problem.
So rather than doing these things proactively, trying to anticipate problems and solve problems that don’t yet exist, I encourage you to be responsive when you’re EQ’ing. And what that means is that every single decision you make should be predicated by listening to the sound that’s coming out of the speakers, and identifying some sort of problem that needs to be solved.
So if you’re hearing that there’s some low end muddiness or boominess, by all means go in there and try to address it with a high-pass filter. But don’t go and add high-pass filters to every single track in your mix without listening. Go through and make sure that the problems that you’re fixing are problems that actually need to be solved instead of just mixing proactively and doing a bunch of things before you actually hear that there’s a problem. And if you can do this, not only are you going to use a whole lot less processing, but your mixes are going to sound a whole lot better as a result. And this is something you can apply beyond EQ, it doesn’t just apply to EQ. It applies really to every single thing that we do within the mixing process.
Tip number four is to cut before you boost. Now there’s lots of information out there that says you should never boost on an EQ and you should always cut, and you should always be using subtractive EQ. The truth is there’s nothing wrong with boosting, and there are lots of great mixers out there that do a lot of boosting, myself included. But I think there are a couple of real benefits to thinking more subtractively when it comes to EQ, and looking to cut first instead of just going to boost right away.
The first benefit is that whenever we boost things on an EQ, they get louder. And louder automatically sounds better to our ears. Whenever we make something louder, we’re much more inclined to think that that sounds better just because it’s louder. But in reality, a lot of the time we’re not actually making something sound better we’re just turning it up. So whenever you add a boost on an EQ, you have to make sure that you’re not falling into that bias that we all have to think that something sounds better just because it’s louder.
So that’s one reason why I think relying more on subtractive EQ is better. Because subtractive EQ doesn’t have that volume problem, because when we cut things on an EQ, either they stay the same volume or they actually get quieter. So if you cut something out on an EQ and you hear it and it sounds better, you can be 100% confident that you’ve made an improvement to the sound. Whereas if you boost it, you have to make sure that you’re level matching. And you have to make sure that you really check yourself, and make sure you’re not just responding to the fact that it sounds louder.
The other reason why subtractive EQ I think as a mindset can often lead to better-sounding mixes is because it forces you to think of tracks in context with each other. So oftentimes – great example would be if you’re hearing that there’s a problem with the vocal on your mix, you might be inclined to go over to that vocal track and see if you can fix that problem on the vocal. That would be what most people would do.
But when you’re using subtractive EQ and you’re thinking subtractively, instead you ask yourself what’s getting in the way of that vocal. And what might I cut or remove from another track in my mix to make more room for that vocal? So now you’re thinking of all the tracks in your mix as they relate to each other, as they all kind of coexist. And that mindset of thinking of everything as a single unit, that’s a much more effective mindset to bring into the mixing process.
So for these two reasons, I find that thinking more subtractively when it comes to EQ can often lead to better results. It’s not to say you can’t boost on an EQ. There’s nothing wrong with boosting. It’s not a bad thing to do. But again, I think the subtractive mindset, if you can think more subtractively, oftentimes it’s going to lead to much better results.
And tip number five is to avoid charts and presets. There’s a lot of information out there that claims to make using EQ easier. There are all these frequency charts that you’ll find online that tell you what frequencies to boost on specific tracks for specific effects, or presets for example that you’ll find in your EQ plug-ins for certain instruments. And a lot of people lean on these things because they tend to feel like they make EQ’ing easier.
When you’re not really sure what to boost or cut, it’s great to go to one of these charts and say oh, I can just raise this or raise that, or pull up a preset and feel like you’re done. But the truth is when it comes to EQ’ing, there really is no one-size-fits-all formula for a given track. For example, when you’re recording vocals, a lot of the EQ that you might use depends on the sound of the vocalist and the microphone that you used. There are times I might boost high end on an EQ on a vocal, and there are times I might cut high end on a vocal.
So you really have to take a track-by-track approach when it comes to EQ’ing. And rather than relying on these formulas or presets or things that seem like they make EQ’ing easier but will often take you in the wrong direction, it’s much better to cultivate your own internal sense for what a track needs, and to let that guide the process versus falling back on these charts or these presets, which again will often take you in the wrong direction.
And tip number six is don’t be afraid to be bold. Now I see a lot of advice online saying you should never cut or boost more than 3 dB, and you should always be very subtle when it comes to EQ. This is complete nonsense. The truth is, there’s absolutely a place to be bold in the mixing process, and certainly when it comes to EQ. The key is as long as you’re remaining responsive, meaning you’re listening to the sound that’s coming out of the speakers, identifying those problems to solve, and then using EQ to address those problems, you don’t have to be afraid to crank the knobs.
Again, as long as you’re asking yourself did I solve that problem? Did I fix that problem that I was just hearing? Then just do whatever it takes to fix the problem. Sometimes that means you have to be really aggressive, sometimes that means you have to be subtle. So rather than putting this arbitrary limit on the amount that you can EQ, just fix the problem. Whatever it takes to fix the problem is what you need. And sometimes that means you have to boost 20 dB on something. Sometimes it means you only have to boost 2 dB.
So again, letting the mix guide your decision making process, letting what you’re listening to guide the process versus this arbitrary rule is at the end of the day going to lead to much better results.
And tip number seven is to EQ from the top down. Now most people approach mixing from a bottom up approach, meaning the first layer of processing plug-ins that they add to their mix session are applied to the individual tracks in their session. Meaning they’ll apply some EQ on the kick drum track or on the snare drum or on the lead vocal. But I find there’s a much better way to approach applying processing, certainly when it comes to EQ. And that’s what I call top down.
Meaning that instead of applying your first layer of processing on the ground floor, on those individual tracks, you start by applying a layer of EQ to the entire mix first. And then you move backwards. The next layer of processing you might apply to groups of tracks – maybe the drums as a whole, or the vocals as a whole. And then you end by applying processing on the ground floor on those individual tracks. So it’s the exact opposite from the way that most people approach mixing. And there are a couple of benefits to this top down approach when it comes to EQ.
The first is that your mix sounds a lot better earlier on. Because rather than approaching the individual problems and fixing them one at a time, you’re making these broad sweeping moves on the entire mix right at the beginning. So your mix starts to sound a whole lot better right away, and that leads to this enthusiasm and excitement because you feel like things sound really good earlier on and it kind of keeps you going. So it’s just a little bit more motivating to have something sound kind of more presentable early on in the process.
The second benefit is that you tend to use a lot less processing when you follow this top down approach. So oftentimes we need to add for example lots of top end to lots of individual tracks in our session. And rather than adding fifty different EQ plug-ins and boosting the top end on all those individual tracks, we can do the same exact thing by adding one EQ to our mix bus and just boosting the top end there. So one plug-in versus fifty plug-ins. You end up using a lot less processing when you follow this top down approach. And so your CPU takes less of a hit, sessions are easier to manage, just a much more efficient way to apply processing within the mixing process.
Now there are lots of other benefits to top down mixing, but in terms of my approach and the approach that I recommend when it comes to EQ, I recommend that you at least try starting by adding your EQ on your mix bus. So do your rough mix, get things sounding kind of good, and then apply your EQ to the mix bus first and then move backwards. And at least try that approach out, see how it works for you. You might find certainly in my case I’ve found that it’s a much more effective way to move through the mixing process, and certainly when it comes to EQ I’ve found it to be a preferred approach for me. So you might find the same for you, definitely check it out.
And tip number eight is to train your ears. Now if you feel like you’re constantly hunting for problems on your EQ, and you never quite know when you’re hearing that there’s a build up in a certain area where it is on the frequency spectrum, you’re spending all this time boosting and sweeping, there’s a better way. And the truth is when it comes to learning to recognize frequencies, it’s a skill that you can practice and get better at just like anything else in the mixing process. And ear training is the technique or the tool that you can use to improve your ability to recognize these frequencies. And when you do that, you find that you don’t spend as much time hunting around for these different things. And it just becomes much easier to approach EQ within your mixing process.
So there are lots of different tools out there when it comes to ear training. I actually put out a video on ear training tools, and you can check that out by clicking the link up there, or I’ll add it in the description below as well.
But one of the tools that I really recommend is TrainYourEars EQ Edition. And it’s a software program that allows you to load up different reference mixes, or you can use pink noise or white noise, and it will quiz you. It will boost different frequencies and cut different frequencies and quiz you, and it’s actually pretty fun. And if you spend 5 or 10 minutes a day working with this tool, you’ll find that over a short period of time you’ll get much better at recognizing different frequencies. And when you hear that there’s a problem in your mix, you’ll know oh that’s 250 Hertz, that’s 800 Hertz, and you won’t have to spend as much time hunting around for these things on your EQ.
So if you’re struggling when it comes to identifying frequencies, I would recommend that you spend some time ear training, work with one of these tools. And if you’re looking to learn more about the different tools that are out there, check out that video that I put together which is all about ear training tools and software.
Tip number nine is to get your room right. Now I don’t care whether you’re a bedroom beat maker or Chris Lord-Alge. If you can’t hear an accurate representation of what’s going on in your mixes, you can’t make good mixing decisions. And certainly this applies to EQ, because the biggest problems in most rooms are in the tonal spectrum in the frequency spectrum. So if you look at a plot of the frequency spectrum, in even a good sounding room, you’ll see big peaks and valleys in the frequency spectrum. This stuff makes it impossible or very difficult to make good EQ decisions.
So you need to make sure that you’ve invested in getting your room right. So this means spending some money on decent studio monitors, which most people go to first, but also making sure that you’re finding the right spot in your room for your speakers and your sweet spot, making sure that you’re investing in things like acoustic treatment. These are all things that will make a huge impact, and will make it much easier to make good EQ decisions. And your mixes as a result are going to sound a lot better, both in your studio and also on a variety of different playback systems outside of your studio.
So if you want to learn more about this, I added some links in the description below – two additional videos where I’ve talked a little bit more about how to set up your room properly as well as how to invest in things like acoustic treatment. So check that out below if you’re looking for more information, but I highly recommend that you spend the time and the money to get this right. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to do it, but it’s really important that you really focus on this area. It can make a huge impact. And certainly when it comes to EQ, it can really improve your EQ decisions.
And tip number ten is don’t be afraid to leave it alone. Now so many times we feel like the more that we add to a mix, the more processing or plug-ins we apply, the better that mix is going to sound, when in reality the truth is often the exact opposite. Really great mixers are really good at knowing when to do things, when to add processing. But they’re also really good about knowing when to leave things alone. And the better you can become at navigating this choice, knowing when to EQ, or when to compress or when to apply things, and when to actually just say hey, this sounds great, I don’t need to do anything, the better your mixes are going to sound.
So whenever you add an EQ plug-in, ask yourself what’s the reason? Why am I EQ’ing? Am I trying to fix a problem or am I just EQ’ing because I feel like I should? And if you don’t have a clear reason for applying that EQ plug-in, there’s a good chance you really don’t need it. And so if you can become better at asking this question every time you EQ, not only are you probably going to use a lot less, but your mixes are going to sound a whole lot better as a result.
Tip number eleven is to use the mute button method. Now sometimes we hear a problem in our mix but we’re not really sure where the problem is occurring. So maybe we hear that there’s some muddiness but we’re not really sure what track or the tracks in our mix that are creating that muddiness. And so what do we do? Well we might throw an EQ plug-in on some random track and try to cut something out, or we might EQ out the mix bus, which is in many cases very dangerous because we’re pulling out something from every single track in our mix when the problem might only be occurring on one or two tracks. It’s almost like if you went into the doctor’s office and said hey I have a splinter, and they took out a sledgehammer or an axe and cut off your leg, right? It’d be the same kind of equivalent, right? So there’s no need to be that aggressive if the problem is only happening on one or two tracks.
So if you’re hearing a problem but you’re not quite sure where the problem is happening, a great technique that you can use is called the mute button method. And it’s very simple. All you do is you listen to your mix, and you go through each track in your session and mute the tracks one by one. So you mute a track, and then you listen to the mix and ask yourself – did the problem go away or is it still there? And if the problem’s still there you can be 100% confident that the track that you just muted isn’t the source of the problem.
Then you go to the next track in your mix and you mute it, and you ask yourself the same thing – is the problem still there or did it go away? And inevitably you’ll get to a certain track, and then you’ll mute it and then suddenly things will clear up. Suddenly that muddiness that you heard will just go away. And so now you can be 100% confident that you’ve found the source of that problem that you were hearing. And you can go to that track and you can EQ it, and you can fix the problem right at the source.
And it’s a much better approach to solving these sorts of problems where you hear that there’s a problem but you’re not really sure where it is. So next time you have this type of situation, rather than applying EQ on the mix bus, or rather than just randomly EQ’ing some track that you kind of have a hunch might be the source of the problem, use the mute button method. It’s a much more efficient, faster way to get much better results.
And tip number twelve is to test your fix. Now when it comes to EQ, most of us are way too overconfident. We feel like every move we make is making things sound better, when in reality there’s a good chance that a lot of your EQ decisions are actually making tracks sound worse.
So part of becoming better at EQ is not just about making more good decisions, it’s also about becoming better at catching yourself in those moments where you’re actually making things sound worse.
So the classic way to go about this is to compare the version of the track before and after your EQ by flipping the plug-in in and out of bypass and asking yourself – do I like the version without the EQ or with the EQ better? But one thing that people often miss when they do this is that if you’re staring at the screen when you’re doing this, you have a natural bias to feel like the version with the EQ sounds better, when you can see that bypass button going in and out. Because if you just spent the last two minutes EQ’ing something and you’re looking at the screen, you’re going to feel like when that EQ plug-in is in, your brain’s going to say hey, that sounds better because you just spent the last two minutes EQ’ing it. So you don’t want to feel like you just wasted your time, and you just made a huge mistake right?
So the way to get around this natural bias is by using what I call the blind bypass technique. So rather than looking at the screen when you’re doing this, close your eyes and flip that plug-in in and out of bypass, you know. Just click the mouse fifty times so you can’t know whether the plug-in’s in or out. And then while your eyes are still closed, click that button, that bypass button, and ask yourself which sounds better. Flip it in and out and ask yourself, you know, which version do I prefer, and make a decision before you open your eyes. You don’t know which one you chose, and then when you open your eyes you can see oh, I liked the version with the EQ or without the EQ.
And oftentimes I find that this test produces different results than the test where I’m actually staring at the screen. So use the blind bypass technique when you’re EQ’ing, making sure that you’re checking every single decision you make, and you’re going to become much better at avoiding those missteps when it comes to EQ. And your tracks are going to sound a whole lot better as a result.
And tip number thirteen is to get it right at the source. Now obviously this whole video has been about EQ, but we often overlook the fact that if you get things right at the beginning of the process when you’re recording and tracking, you often don’t have to do that much in the mixing process. And what we don’t realize often is that many of the decisions that we make within the recording process are actually very similar to EQ decisions. So where you place the mic for example is almost identical to in many ways using an EQ. So if we placed the mic in the middle of the guitar amp for example, it’s gonna be a much brighter sound than if we move it off away from the center of the cone of the speaker.
So thinking about these decisions in the recording process as EQ decisions, and spending a little bit more time here trying to get things right, oftentimes is going to result in you needing a lot less EQ later on in the mixing process. And it’s always better to get things right in the beginning than to try to put a bandaid on things later on with EQ. So spend more time in the recording process experimenting with mic placement, choosing different mics if you have access to different mics, and oftentimes this is kind of the way to EQ things early on and not have to deal with as much EQ within the mixing process.
So I hope you found this video helpful. And if you want to dive deeper don’t forget to download my free EQ cheatsheet, which will help you make the most of all of these tips within the mixing process. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free cheatsheet now.
And before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – what’s your go-to EQ plug-in? I’d love to hear from you, so leave your answer in the comments section below.
Thanks so much for watching, and you can check out more mixing tips like these right here on my YouTube channel or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.