How To Add Clarity To Your Mixes (Powerful EQ Technique)

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In this video you’ll learn how to add clarity to your mixes using a powerful EQ technique.

Hey, it’s Jason here from Behind The Speakers and before we dive in, make sure you grab my free “Clear mix cheatsheet” by clicking the link above or in the description below.

Now I’m about to show you a clip from a live mixing session that I recently hosted. Inside you’ll watch me apply a technique that I call “sweep and destroy” where I go through each track in my session before I start mixing and find and remove problem resonances using a simple EQ plugin. Now if you apply this technique in your mixing process, I promise you your tracks are going to sound clearer and more professional right away. Let’s dive in.

The first thing that I really like to do here is what I consider prep. It’s almost like if you were cooking something right? You would clean off the vegetables beforehand, you’d wash things, you cut off all the stems… Same thing here. So, we have these tracks and there already sounds like they’re already in pretty good shape. But I like to go through and just clean things out to make sure we are starting with the best ingredients possible moving into the mixing process. So, what I’m going to do is I’m actually going to go through each track in our mix, I’m going to solo it and I’m going to run a technique that I call “sweep and destroy”.

So, let’s use this first track, this first kick as an example. Now I’m going to pull up an EQ. I have the FabFilter here you can use any EQ to do this. I have a preset that I’ve created called “sweep and destroy”. And basically, what it is it’s a single band on this EQ with a Q of 8, so fairly narrow; gain of +18 and frequency of 20, so down at the bottom of the frequency spectrum. So pretty big boost and pretty narrow Q. So, what I’m going to do is I’m going to listen to this track and I’m going to sweep this band up through the frequency spectrum and listen out for any areas that are aggressive, muddy, distorted, edgy, just kind of don’t sound pleasant to my ears. You know what? To make this easier I’m actually going to do this on headphones because in this case we’re not really concerned with the mix as a whole. We’re Just listening to these tracks on their own and it’s helpful to negate the sound of the room so we’re hearing a more accurate representation of what these tracks sound like.

*kick drum playing*

Okay. I don’t hear any problems there. So, we’ll move on to the next kick.

*kick drum playing*

This here I don’t love. Let’s see what happens when we take this out. So, we found a potential problem, and this is what’s a little bit tricky about this approach. There’s a bit of science and a bit of art here knowing when to leave things in is as important as knowing when to take them out. So, I’m kind of on the fence here. This area kind of bugs me, it kind of hurts my ears a little bit. It’s not horrible, but let’s see if we can make this track sound better by taking it out.

So, the next thing I want to do is find the right Q or width for this boost. So basically, the goal here is we want to contain as much of the problem as possible within this little band. But we don’t want to be hearing within the band or containing within the band any of the stuff that we don’t want to take out. So, any of the good stuff on the left and the right side of this little problem. So, we want the band to be as wide as possible to catch as much of that problem as possible but narrow enough where we’re not going to be taking out anything that we don’t want to take out. So, in the FabFilter EQ there’s this little feature that allows us to just solo this band so now we can just listen to what’s going on inside the band. And if I scroll up and down, we can make this wider and narrower. And so, I’m basically going to do that and listen out and try to adjust this so that I hear as much of the problem as possible, but as little of the good stuff that I don’t want to take out.

*adjusting Q on the kick drum EQ*

So, see how this is too wide. We start to hear a lot of the good stuff on the left and right, so we have to narrow it in.

*adjusting Q on the kick drum EQ*

So now we’re hearing just the problems. That sounds pretty good to me. So now I’m going to reset the gain here and I’m going to listen to the track and slowly dip this out until I feel like it sounds good.

*adjusting gain on the kick drum EQ*

OK so now I’ve dipped some of that out. Sounds good to my ears and I’m going to flip this in and out of bypass and see if I like the sound better with that dip in.

*flipping in and out of bypass*

I feel like that made it better.

There’s just a boxiness that kind of goes away. So that sounds good to me. We’re going to move on.

You might be thinking “well these are small problems, Jason, like why even focus on this stuff? The truth is this stuff adds up in the context of a mix. And I find that by getting rid of a lot of these little narrow resonances and issues early on the mixing process itself just is much easier. Things come together much more quickly and easily.

*snare drum 1 playing*.

OK so a couple of areas here that kind of bug me.

*snare drum 1 playing*

This one here: really aggressive. So, this particular frequency just kind of claws my ears out. So, let’s find the right Q for it.

*Adjusting Q on the snare drum 1 EQ*

OK and then let’s pull it out.

*adjusting gain on the snare drum 1 EQ*

Ok, we’ll flip in and out.

*flipping in and out of bypass*

Now in this case there is some snappiness and aggressiveness to that frequency that’s kind of nice, so I’m going to pull a little bit of it back in and see if we can just tone it down a little bit.

*adjusting gain on the snare drum 1 EQ*

Now one other thing here: there was a frequency kind of down at the bottom that I really didn’t like.

*sweeping for unpleasant frequencies on snare drum 1*.

Let’s take a look at this.

*adjusting Q on the snare drum 1 EQ*

OK. So, let’s listen. Before and after with both of these cuts.

Before:

*flipping in and out of bypass*

So, it’s subtle, but to me it’s just less grating on the ears. It doesn’t hurt as much.

Let’s move on.

*snare drum 2 playing*

Nothing there. It sounds pretty good to me.

*hi hat closed playing*

Sounds good to me. Nothing there.

*hi hat fluffy playing*

This is a little bit much, but it doesn’t bug me enough.

Let’s see if we can pull out a little bit.

*removing harshness of the hi hat fluffy track*

OK I like that. So, take a listen again and notice there’s that kind of harsh resonance that goes away.

*flipping in and out of bypass*

OK. Let’s move on. Hi Hat open.

*hi hat open playing*

Definitely some problems in here.

*sweeping for resonances*

Oh yeah. This is like a classic example of like a big resonance.

*hi hat open playing*

Let’s pull that out.

*adjusting Q on the hi hat open EQ*

Now when you fix a problem like that you want to make sure that you go through the rest of the frequency spectrum as well, so don’t just stop when you find a problem and move on to the next track. Sometimes you will find that there there’s more than one resonance on a given track.

Don’t love this area here.

*sweeping for resonances*

Let’s see if we can pull out a little bit of that.

*adjusting gain on the hi hat open EQ*.

Let’s flip this in and out of bypass.

*flipping in and out of bypass*

See how much cleaner it sounds with those cuts? These are problems that are really hard to identify in a full mix. So that’s why I like tackling them beforehand and you’ll notice I’m using the solo button. If you’ve watched any of my videos, I really recommend you avoid the solo button in the mixing process. I don’t even consider this a part of mix. It’s really a part of prep for me. So, by getting rid of these problems beforehand, then when we move into the mixing process, we don’t have to use the solo button.

*tambourine playing*

OK I don’t have any problems in there.

Sometimes tambourines have resonances, that’s just kind of part of the instrument itself.

*ride playing*

OK, so there is this little resonance here.

*sweeping for resonances*

Let’s see if we can pull that out.

*adjusting gain on the ride EQ*

That one’s a little bit more subtle, but you can hear once we pull that out it just cleans up. OK.

Move on to the bass.

*bass playing*

Now you want to be careful with bass especially in the low end because when you get down into the bottom octaves, especially on basses and low-end instruments, the notes that a bass will play will actually directly line up to frequencies. So, for example, if the bass plays an E that might be like 40 hertz or 50 hertz. And so if the bass is playing an E and you have your boost and you sweep up and you land on that same frequency that the bass is playing the note of, it’s going to sound like a resonance, but the key here is you want to listen out for things that don’t just come and go. They are consistently a problem. So if you have a resonance, for example, where, let’s say, you’re sweeping this up on the bass like I just did here and you hear that there’s one note where that resonance just jumps out, and then when the bass player changes to the next note it goes away, that’s not a problem you need to fix. And that goes for pretty much everything. Like every other track as well. So, if you have a resonance that just pops out in a certain spot, chances are you’re just landing on a specific part of the frequency spectrum where a note is corresponding to. So, don’t worry about that stuff. You really want to listen for problems that are consistently problems, that don’t go away from note to note. That’s the stuff that you want to get rid of.

*sweeping for resonances in bass*

I don’t hear any problems there. I know this is just a copy of that with some distortion so there are not going to be any problems with that one as well.

*acoustic 1 playing*

So, see this is a great example. See how this little resonance kind of was a problem when the guitarist was playing a certain chord, but then when they changed the chord, it went away.

*acoustic 1 playing*

This problem right here, that problem right there, see how it goes away now.

So, it’s dun dun dun. Hear the note that’s actually coming out. So basically, what we’re seeing here is that this specific frequency corresponds to a note in a chord that the guitarist is playing. And when the guitarist changed chords, the resonance went away. So, this is not a specific problem that we need to fix.

Let’s move on.

*electric guitar rhythm playing*

Same thing: these are all things that come and go on notes, so I’m not worried about this. And if you’re listening to this and thinking “how is he determining whether or not to take things out?” You know the truth is there is a bit of art to this whole “sweep and destroy” technique and what you’ll find over time is you do get better at figuring out when to leave things in versus when to take them out. So, don’t worry if you’re feeling a little bit discouraged right now if you’re wondering how I’m making these decisions. Some of it is just got over time you get a better sense for when to leave things in and when to take them out.

And it’s important that you remember whenever you’re cutting something out of a sound or a piece of music, you’re making it smaller, you’re taking away something. So, you really want to make sure when you’re making a cut that that’s actually making an improvement because otherwise you can be making things sound worse.

*electric guitar solo playing*

So, this is a little tricky because this area is really edgy to me, but it’s also coming and going. It’s not consistent. And in this case, I’m going to use a different tool to address this problem. I have a plugin that I have from playing around with called Soothe that is kind of like a multiband compressor, I guess you could say. So, what it does is it basically will take away those resonances, but it will only pull them out when they appear, when there’s a problem. So in this case, because we have this part where this edgy frequency just jumps out on certain notes, I want to see if I can just set this plugin up to pull down that energy just when it appears, when it becomes a problem because, if we cut all that stuff out with EQ, then we’re getting rid of all that energy when we may not need to take it out for half of the performance, like there are certain notes where that’s not a problem at all. So why are we pulling out all that energy throughout the entire track when we only need to take it out on those parts where it appears. So, this plugin will allow us to do that. So, it’s a bit more selective about when it pulls down those problems.

Let’s take a listen before.

*electric guitar solo playing*.

And after.

*electric guitar solo playing*.

So, see how all the bite is just a bit less aggressive, it’s not as harsh and edgy, it doesn’t kind of hurt your ears as much. That’s what this plugin is doing, so I think that sounds good.

Let’s move on.

*synth playing*

I almost never find problems on synths. Again, this is a problem that appears on that one chord and then, when the synth changes it goes away. So not a problem we need to fix. I’m not hearing anything there, it sounds fine. Let’s take a look at the viola.

*viola playing*

That’s fine.

♪ Love by a cave by the coast ♪

♪ Keep having dreams I can fly ♪

♪ Till I notice I’m falling ♪

Same thing up here, I’m hearing some problems, but they just poke out on the esses. Now one thing I do feel about this vocal is it gets a bit harsh.

♪ It goes ♪

♪ Shut the blinds and ♪

♪ Hit the lights and ♪

♪ Run into the dark. ♪

♪ A narrow hallway ♪

There’s just kind of an edginess to it that I don’t like, so I’m going to leave that there for now. And if we get into the mix and we’re still hearing that kind of edginess we might want to address that with some processing.

♪ oooooooo ♪

So you can see here on this graph there was this big bump in the low end. So there’s a lot of energy down here at the bottom. I’m not hearing it, but I want to pull that out because that’s not contributing anything musically and it’s just going to take up a bunch of headroom in our mix.

♪ oooooooo ♪

No problems there. Copy this over to the other ‘oooooooos’ track too; it’s the same thing, just a double.

♪ Hit the lights and run into the dark. ♪

♪ A narrow hallway ♪

OK. This is all the same because it was recorded with the same mic.

♪ hit the lights and run into the dark. ♪

The tonality of this track is a bit different, it has a bit more of that edginess to it, so that’s something we may need to address in the mix. OK. So now we’ve clean things up and we have the raw ingredients to work with here for a successful mix which is again just going to set up the whole process for success here.

So, I hope you enjoyed watching that live mixing demo and if you want to dive deeper, I recommend that you download my free “clear mix cheatsheet” which is going to show you five more ways to add clarity to your mixes right away. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free cheatsheet right now. And before you go leave a comment below this video and let me know: have you ever used the “sweep and destroy” technique in your mixing process? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave them in the comments section below. And for more mixing tips like these, check out my channel right here on YouTube or go to BehindTheSpeakers.com

About Tiki Horea

Starting off as a drummer and continuing as an engineer, I've been involved in the music industry all of my professional career. I fell in love with mixing and mastering other artists' music. Every musician should get goosebumps when they listen back to the finished mixes. This is what gets me up in the morning.