5 EQ Mistakes That Are Destroying Your Mixes

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While EQ is one of the easiest tools to understand, it’s also one of the most difficult to master. Keep watching to learn how to use it like a pro. Hey, my name is Jason Moss from BehindTheSpeakers.com, and today I want to share five of the biggest EQ mistakes I see mixers making. These mistakes will destroy the clarity and separation of your mixes and turn your tracks into a mushy, muddy mess. Avoid them, and you’ll be well on your way to crafting tracks that compete with the pros. Let’s dig in.

Mistake number one is you aren’t bold enough.

Now, I see a lot of advice online saying, you shouldn’t boost more than three dBs ever, and you should be very conservative with your EQ.

I think this is total crap.

The truth is, if you have an intention behind the choices that you’re making, you don’t have to be afraid to be super aggressive. If you need 15 dB of top end on a kick drum to make it cut through the mix, and you’re sure that you’re making that decision with an intention, for a reason, because you want that kick to cut through, then don’t be afraid if you need a ton of EQ to make it work. Don’t limit yourself by saying, I should only add three dB or four dB. Add as much as you need or remove as much as you need to make it sound good, and if it sounds good, it doesn’t matter how much EQ you use.

When you look at mixers like Chris Lord-Alge, for example, I mean, he’s adding so much EQ to every track, but the truth is, it’s his style, it’s his sound, and he knows what he wants, and he knows what he’s looking for, and that’s why he does it, because he has an intention behind those choices. It’s not just adding things for the sake of adding things. There’s a reason behind every decision he makes.

So, as long as you’re working off intention and all of your choices have a reason behind them, don’t worry about how much you add. There are no rules. If it sounds good, it is good.

Mistake number two is overusing the solo button.

Mixing is all about context. The goal is to take all of these tracks and make them work together as one single unit. But, the problem is that the solo button removes that context, so, when you solo a track, you’re removing it from the rest of your mix, and then it becomes really difficult to make decisions that help that track fit together with the others. So, the thing that happens is you end up making decisions that make that track sound better in solo, but when it’s recombined or placed back in with the rest of the tracks, the decisions often make the track sound worse in context.

So, the goal is really to always be listening to everything together, and always be making decisions based on how things are fitting together with other tracks. It doesn’t matter how something sounds in solo. Avoid the solo button.

I know it’s difficult, it can be hard at first, because you can feel like, when you’re not soloing things, it’s harder to hear subtle changes of your EQs and things like that, but really discipline yourself to avoid the solo button as much as possible. I promise you, the more that you avoid the solo button, the better your mixes are going to be.

Mistake number three is you only boost.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with boosting on an EQ. Anyone who says boosting sounds worse than cutting, or boosting creates more phase shift, it’s just myth. There’s nothing wrong with boosting. But, philosophically, the reason why boosting isn’t always the best choice is that when you add things on an EQ, they get louder, and louder usually sounds better to our ears, so if you’re constantly boosting things on an EQ, it can be really difficult to figure out whether your decisions are are actually making a track better, or if they’re just turning them up or making them louder. So, in effect, boosting often leads to decisions that aren’t always the best ones, ’cause we’re often fooled by this level difference, by the increase in level.

So, I prefer, philosophically, to approach things first from a standpoint of what can I take away to make this track sound better, to make things work better together? And this subtractive mindset, the reason why it’s often preferred is that you’re not being fooled by that increase in level, so if you turn down something on an EQ, if you make a cut and the track sounds better or the mix sounds better, you can 100% confident that that’s the right decision, because you’re not going to be fooled by any increase in level. If anything, it’s going to sound quieter. So, if you can train yourself to think more, y’know, what can I take away versus what can I add, often times that’s a better mindset to be in when you’re making EQ decisions.

Mistake number four is you EQ everything.

If I pull up one of your mixes and you have EQs across every track and you’re, y’know, boosting and cutting on every track, you’re probably doing too much. Not always, but probably.

The truth is is it’s not about how much EQ you use, it’s about making the right decisions, and often times, just a few choice EQ moves on a couple different tracks in your mix can get you there. You don’t need to use a ton of EQ to make a mix sound great, and the trick is, you want to be intentional about every decision that you make, with EQ and just in general when you’re mixing. Whenever you add an EQ, there should be a reason for it. Maybe one of the tracks in your mixes sounds too dull, or maybe there’s too much low end in an acoustic guitar or something, so, you’re responding what you’re hearing and you’re adding an EQ to address that problem. If you’re intentional about your EQ moves, if you have a reason for everything that you’re doing, naturally, you’re going to end up using less. And that’s the key to really making the right decisions when you’re using EQ.

And the final mistake, number five, is that you aren’t A/Bing enough.

Don’t assume that every mixing decision you make is a good one. You want to constantly be checking yourself and making sure that every decision that you make is actually an improvement.

So, the best way to do this is to A/B, or compare the original track, the unprocessed track, with the track that has your processing on it. So, y’know, flipping the bypass button in and out can be one of the best ways to make sure that every decision that you make is actually a good one.

One caveat on this note is, if you’re boosting a lot on an EQ, often times that’s going to make it sound louder, so you wanna make sure that you turn down the output gain on that EQ, so when you’re flipping it in and out, there isn’t any difference in level between the processed sound and the unprocessed sound. That’s the way that you can make sure that what you’re hearing is a fair comparison between those two versions of the sound, and that’s going to allow you to make sure that every decision that you make is actually an improvement, and isn’t just making it sound different or actually making it sound worse.

So, you want to make sure you avoid those types of scenarios and the way that you’re going to do that is by A/Bing every decision that you make. Y’know, using level matching to make sure that there’s not any difference in level between the processed and unprocessed sounds.

Now, if you wanna take your EQ skills to the next level, I put together a free PDF with these five mistakes, so you don’t forget them, plus two extra mistakes that I didn’t have time to cover here. So, to download this free PDF, click the link in the description below or in this video, and you’ll get free instant access.

Hope you found this helpful. For more mixing tips like these, check out BehindTheSpeakers.com. Thanks so much.