EQ Tutorial: How To Easily Add Clarity To Your Mixes
Hey, this is Jason Moss from BehindTheSpeakers.com, and this EQ technique I’m about to show you is really a foundation of my mixing process. It’s gonna add clarity to your tracks and just make mixing a whole lot easier.
Now the problem with many tracks in your mixes is that they often have resonances. And these are buildups of energy in certain areas of the frequencies spectrum, caused by things like room acoustics, or just resonances on a certain instrument.
Sometimes this stuff sounds good and we don’t wanna get rid of it. But sometimes, it can contribute to a muddiness or a murkiness in a track. Or it can even cause harshness or edginess. And these problems can actually obscure the clarity in our mixes.
Now the tricky thing about resonances is that they can often be hard to identify within the context of a full mix. Because whenever we have a bunch of different tracks playing, it can be hard to figure out where a muddiness is coming from. Or if we hear something that sounds harsh, it’s hard to figure out which track is causing the problem. And so a lot of these resonances end up just being left in. And so, again, they just contribute to this muddy, kinda murky sound.
And so instead of addressing them within the context of the mixing process, I find that it can be helpful to really address these resonances up front, before we start mixing.
So this is a technique that I call sweep and destroy. And the idea is that we add an EQ to every track in our mix before we start the mix process. So this is a part of really prepping our tracks for mixing. And we sweep a boost up through the frequency spectrum on each track and try to find these resonances that really stick out and sound ugly to us, and we take them out.
The analogy I like to give is, let’s say you’re about to cook a soup, and so you have all these different ingredients that are gonna go into the soup. It’s almost like cleaning off the vegetables and washing everything and cutting off the stems and really preparing all of your ingredients before you start cooking. By doing this, you’re gonna find that the mixing process is just so much easier. Tracks are gonna come together, they’re gonna sound great right from the start. And that clarity that you’re looking for is gonna be much easier to achieve.
So, next, I wanna jump into my DAW and show you how I use this sweep and destroy technique on a couple of different tracks in a mix.
So the first track I wanna show you this technique on is this loops track here.
So I’m gonna add an EQ to this loops track as the first insert. And this is the FabFilter Pro-Q 2, which is my favorite EQ. It’s probably what I use near-100% of the time when I’m EQing. And there are a couple of features in this EQ that make it really easy to apply the technique I’m about to show you. With that being said, you don’t need this EQ, you can use this technique with any EQ. So don’t worry if you don’t have this plugin, you’re totally fine.
Now the first thing I’m gonna do is pull up this preset that I’ve saved called “Subtractive EQ.” And you’ll see that we have a boost right here at the bottom of the frequency spectrum. And the gain is +18 dB. Now, this is a number that I found works really well for this technique.
I’ve also set the Q to 8. And again, also a number that I think works really well. So if you’re using another EQ, just copy those numbers and you’ll get similar results.
And I have the frequency set to 10 Hz. So we pulled it all the way down to the bottom of the frequency spectrum.
And the last feature that I have set up here is, the Pro-Q 2 has something called Auto Gain. And so you can see it right down here at the bottom, that little A. And I have it turned on, which means that the EQ automatically compensates for the level increase as we move that boost up the frequency spectrum. So we’re not gonna hear a dramatic change in level. And it’s not an essential feature, you don’t need to have that turned on, but I find it can be really helpful, because we just take that kind of level increase out of the equation. And it’s much easier, just more pleasant to listen to. Because sometimes using this technique, some of the things that we’re gonna be doing can get a little bit aggressive and can kind of hurt your ears.
So I’m gonna go ahead and play this track. And I’m gonna slowly sweep this boost up through the frequency spectrum. And I’m gonna start to listen out for areas that sound aggressive or harsh, or boomy, resonances, just things that kinda jump out to me as just really ugly sounding, and stuff that we might not want in this track.
Okay, so that’s interesting. So I’m hearing this kind of harsh ringing right here around 4570. Take a listen again.
So, to me, that’s really poking out, it sounds just kind of ugly and aggressive. And I’m gonna probably wanna get rid of that. So we found our first problem here.
Now step number two is I wanna make sure that I have this frequency knob set perfectly. So I wanna make sure I’ve really found where the problem sounds its worst. So I’m gonna play the track one more time and just kinda fiddle around with the frequency. I’ll move it up and down a little bit. And make sure that we found the spot where this problem area really sits.
Okay, so it sounds like it’s right around there.
So after I’ve found the frequency, what I’m gonna do is solo this band. And FabFilter has a feature that allows you to just listen to that band on its own. So it’s like soloing that specific part of that frequency spectrum. Now this is not an essential thing to do, but I find it can be really helpful for this next step, which is we’re gonna find the right Q for this band. And the goal here is, we want the band to contain as much of the problem frequency as possible, but we also wanna exclude the good stuff on the left and the right of that problem. So we don’t want there to be frequencies that sound good within this band, we just want to have the problem there.
So I’m gonna solo this. And now with the Pro-Q 2, if I scroll up and down, you can see we make the Q either wider or narrower. And I’m gonna play the track, and I’m gonna try to find a spot where I hear as much of the problem as possible, but I don’t hear any of the good stuff that I don’t wanna get rid of on the sides of this problem.
See, you can hear that’s too wide, right? Because we’re hearing some good stuff on the left and right of the problem.
So that sounds good to me. So a Q of around 12 sounds like we’re containing the problem, but we’re not getting a lot of the good stuff on the sides of that problem.
So now I’m gonna reset this gain back to zero. And I’m gonna give my ears a couple seconds to rest. Now we’ve just kind of slammed our ears with this loud annoying resonance. So we wanna kind of give ourselves a couple seconds to reset. And I think that’s really important.
So now I’m gonna play the track and I’m gonna try to identify that problem resonance that we heard in the track. And I’m gonna slowly pull this gain knob down until that problem disappears.
Okay, so I found around -8 to me seems like it gets rid of the problem.
So the last thing that we’re gonna do is test our fix. So I’m gonna bypass this cut and I’m gonna listen to the track before our cut. And then I’m gonna enable the cut and see if the cut is an improvement.
So this is without our cut.
And this is with the cut.
So, to me, with the cut sounds much more natural. There’s not that kind of harsh ringing that pokes out of the track. The track just sounds more balanced, more solid. And this is gonna fit much better in our mix.
So after we’ve applied this cut, we wanna make sure that we finish sweeping up the entire frequency spectrum, because sometimes there can be more than one problem frequency. And so we wanna make sure we don’t miss anything above that problem that we just found.
So I’m gonna go ahead and add another boost, set it up with a Q of 8, and a gain of 18. And then I’m gonna start where we left off, and just continue sweeping all the way up to the top of the frequency spectrum. Cool, so I don’t hear any problems, so I’m just gonna delete this. And then we can move on to the next track in our mix.
So there’s a couple things you wanna watch out for when you’re using this technique. The first is you wanna make sure that whenever you hear a problem in a track, it’s actually in the track itself. And it’s not being caused by the acoustics in your room.
Now most rooms, especially home studios, where the acoustics aren’t ideal, are gonna have peaks and valleys in certain areas of the frequency spectrum. And so if you’re adding a boost on an EQ, and sweeping it up through the frequency spectrum, if the frequency that you land on corresponds with a peak in your room, that frequency is just gonna get brought out in a really aggressive, kind of ugly way. And so you might hear that and say, “Wow, that’s a big problem in this track and I need to cut that out.” But that problem isn’t actually in the track itself. It’s being caused by your room.
So the best way I’ve found to address this is to use headphones when you’re using this sweep and destroy technique. Now I don’t recommend mixing on headphones exclusively, I think that can create other problems, but headphones are really helpful for this technique in particular, because they remove the sound of the room from the equation. So if you’re listening through headphones and you’re using this technique, and you hear a problem, you can be much more confident that that problem is actually in the track itself and is not being caused by the acoustics in your room.
The second thing you wanna watch out for is, you wanna make sure that whenever you’re taking a problem out of a track, that that problem is something that appears consistently throughout the course of the performance. So it’s not just a problem that kind of jumps out on one note and then goes away.
Now to demonstrate how important this is, I wanna go ahead and take a look at this bass track here. So let’s solo this. And then I’m gonna add an EQ. Now the interesting thing about bass is that when we get to the bottom of the frequency spectrum, the notes that the bass plays correspond directly to frequencies.
So to demonstrate this, I’m just gonna play this track, and I want you to take a look at the spectrum analyzer on this EQ plugin here.
So you can see that these bumps here on the analyzer’s display mirror the notes of the bass performance. So when the bass goes up, the bumps go up, when the bass goes down, the bumps go down.
Now the problem with this is that if we were to apply our sweep and destroy technique, so let’s just pull up our preset, and then I’m just gonna turn this up so we can hear it a little bit more. And I’m gonna sweep this boost up slowly through the frequency spectrum. So you can see, like right at that spot there, the bass just kinda jumped out. We just heard a ton of boominess on that one part.
And so if we’re doing this, we might find, wow, there’s this area here that sounds really aggressive. And it sounds like a problem, and maybe we should pull it out. But I wanna play the track again and I want you to listen to this. And notice that the problem comes and goes. So it’s not always a problem, it just appears when the bass hits a certain note. So right there. But only on certain notes.
So this isn’t actually a problem that we need to fix. This just means that we’ve hit on a certain frequency that corresponds with a note in the bass performance. And so whenever the bass hits that note, that frequency is gonna get boosted aggressively, and the performance is gonna sound too loud. So you wanna make sure that you watch out for these types of scenarios. And make sure that when you find a problem, that it’s consistently a problem throughout the entire track, because whenever you’re cutting something, you’re making a hole in the track. And so if we take something out, we wanna make sure that we’re fixing a problem that’s a problem throughout the majority of the track and doesn’t just appear on one spot, because otherwise, we’re gonna make the track sound worse.
So the last track I wanna take a look at is this acoustic guitar track here. So let’s solo it.
I’m gonna add my EQ plugin. And we’ll pull up our preset. And then I’m gonna sweep this boost up through the frequency spectrum while the track is playing.
Okay, so this spot around 190 is poking out to me. I think we could probably clear this up a little bit. So I’m gonna play the track again and just move the frequency of this boost from left to right a little bit and find the spot where this problem sounds its worst.
Sounds like around 195 or so.
So let me solo this. And the next thing I’m gonna do is just adjust the Q until we feel like the problem is contained within this boost, but we’re not hearing a lot of good stuff on the left and the right of the problem that we don’t wanna get rid of.
That sounds pretty good to me…we could probably go a little bit narrower.
Okay, so now that we’ve found the right Q for that cut, I’m gonna go ahead and reset the gain. I’m gonna give our ears a couple seconds to rest. And then we’ll play the track again. And we’re gonna slowly dip this frequency out until the problem disappears.
So, to me, around four, four-and-a-half dB sounds great. And often times, these cuts are not gonna be super aggressive. Just dipping something out by three or four dB can make a big difference sometimes.
So now that we have our cut figured out, I’m gonna go ahead and flip this in and out of bypass and just listen to the track before and after our cut and see if we’ve made an improvement. So, first, let’s start with the track without our cut.
This is with the cut in.
This is with it out.
With it in.
So it’s subtle, but it sounds like there’s some muddiness that kind of got cleared up there. And these are problems that build up over the course of an entire mix. And so often times, you’re not gonna hear these types of things in context with the rest of the tracks, but they’ll just contribute to a sense of muddiness and kind of murkiness. And so by clearing up these problems right at the beginning, before we start to mix these tracks together, often times, you’re gonna be able to achieve better results. And then when you start mixing, you don’t have to worry about soloing things. You can just focus on context and focus on making these tracks fit together.
So I hope you found this sweep and destroy technique helpful. And if you use it, I promise you it’s gonna be much easier to achieve clarity in your mixes.
And if you wanna dive deeper, I put together a free EQ cheatsheet with tips and tricks for EQing common instruments, as well as my favorite EQ plugins. And this is really gonna help you approach EQ with clarity and confidence, so you can use it like a pro in your next mix. Click the link in the description below or in the video and you’ll get free instant access.
For more mixing tips, you can also check out my website, BehindTheSpeakers.com. Thanks so much.
Video features music by Clean Green Music Machine.