It’s no secret that EQ is one of the most useful plugins you can have in your mix.
The problem I find is that it can be really hard to know where to start. I might know that there’s a problem with a track, and I know that I could fix it with EQ, but I’m not sure how or where to start.
Today I want to give you some starting points. Some common EQ moves that I often use.
Note that these are not “rules”. They are recommendations and suggestions. Never use them blindly. Always use your ears, and do what sounds right for the song.
With that said, let’s dive in.
Cut the boxiness from the kit
First, we’re going to talk about drums for a bit. Depending on the genre, I’ve often found that the drums form the foundation of the song. Getting the drums right gives you a much better chance at a great mix.
There are a few go-to EQ moves that I use on drums, and the first, and most important, is this: cut the boxiness.
There is often a frequency in the drums that sounds “boxy” and “cheap”. It is in the ballpark of 350-400Hz or so, typically.
Do a boost and sweep around that area on your drum bus. Find the nasty sounding frequency, and cut it. Play around with the amount that you cut, and play around with the width (Q value) as well. Sometimes a smaller but wider cut can do the trick better than a narrow cut with more gain reduction.
In any case, this simple cut can clean up your drum sound significantly.
Kick drum click
This is not a “typical” EQ move, but it can be immensely helpful in some situations.
Your workflow may differ, but I usually start with the drums. Then I gradually layer things in as I go, until everything is in.
However, sometimes I find that although the drums were sounding great in solo, by the time everything else is in, I’m losing the kick drum. It gets buried under the rest of the mix.
This EQ trick can help with that. What I do is create a parallel kick drum track (either copy it or create a send). Then I apply a crazy EQ curve to the copy. And then I blend it in to taste.
Check out the picture to see what the EQ curve looks like. (This is from one of the songs on my latest EP)
So what am I doing here?
Basically, I’m emphasizing the “clickiness” of the kick drum.
Start by soloing the new track (I often call it “Kick CLICK”). Grab an EQ band and do a huge boost in the high mids to high range. Find where the nice high “click” sound is. Turn solo off to be sure that the “click” sound works alongside the rest of your mix. In my case, it was a wide boost at 4550Hz that worked. Your frequency might be different.
Then, you want to use your high pass and low pass filters to trim away the rest of the spectrum so that we only include the click sound (as you can see in the picture).
Finally, use the fader for the Kick CLICK track to blend it in with the rest of the mix. Your goal here is to give the kick drum a little more presence in the mix, so it cuts through a bit better, and isn’t as buried. Don’t overdo it.
Remove the ring from the snare drum
Another great tip for drums is to try to notch out the snare drum ring.
Often snare drums have some “ring” or resonance at a certain frequency. On my snare drum, this ring is in the 150-250Hz range.
Sometimes it isn’t worth messing with, since you don’t want to ruin the body of your snare drum. But if it’s being particularly annoying, you might want to notch it out.
First, do a narrow boost and sweep it around to find the ringy frequency in your snare. Once you’ve found it, pull the gain down.
You typically want a narrow cut here, because you don’t want to pull out too much. You’re just looking for that specific frequency, and you want to pull out as much of it as you can without damaging the sound.
Fit the kick and bass around each other
Now let’s talk about low end.
The key to the low end is getting the bass and the kick drum to fit together.
There are some tricks you can use for this, like sidechain compression and whatnot. But I would recommend seeing how far you can get with EQ first.
Often the key is to find the low range frequencies where the two instruments overlap, and remove those frequencies from one of them. So if the kick drum has strong frequency components in the 50-60Hz range, give the bass a bit of a cut in that range to make room. And vice versa for frequencies that the bass is occupying.
Cut low end from everything else
The high pass filter is your friend.
Most instruments don’t have any useful musical information in the low end. However, they may have some noise down there that can build up across several tracks.
I like to apply a high pass filter (or low cut filter) to almost everything except for kick drum and bass. I use a Top-Down Mixing approach, so for me this means applying a high pass filter to my main buses, and then to individual tracks as needed.
This is a simple way to clean up the low end. It ensures that the only instruments contributing to the low end of your mix are the ones that should be present down there, from a musical point of view.
Be careful with the low mids: too much is muddy, too little is empty
The low mids are one of those places on the frequency spectrum that I’ve had lots of trouble with. Too much low mid makes your mixes muddy. But too little makes them feel empty, and maybe a little harsh.
I’ve flip-flopped between the two extremes. Right now, I find that I’m more on the empty/harsh side, overcompensating to avoid muddiness.
So be careful in this range. Things can really build up in here, and it can be hard to pinpoint the problem when they do.
Be careful with the high mids: too much is harsh, too little is dull
Similarly, the high mids can be a tricky spot. Too much high mids sounds harsh, whereas too little sounds dull. Like the low mids, use your ears, and try to find balance.
If you’re recording a lot of electric guitars, turning down the gain knob can be a great way to reduce high-mid buildup. The fuzzy distorted guitar sound is great when playing live, but it can build up and add harshness to your mix if you’re not careful.
Cut the lows and highs in reverb and delay
On reverb and delay buses, it can be extremely helpful to apply low and high pass filters.
Reverb is a tricky beast, and can reduce clarity in your mix if you’re not careful. Apply a high pass filter will reduce the amount that the reverb can clutter up the low end of your mix. A low pass filter will reduce its potential harshness.
Delay is the same way. Also, cutting some of the highs on your delay can be a cool effect, as it makes the delayed signal sound a little bit more distant.
Do a shelf boost up high for some shimmer
This is handy for drums and vocals.
Doing a small 3dB boost as a high shelf can give a bit of extra shimmer and sparkle to your drums. It can make your vocal sound a little brighter as well, and make it cut through the mix a little better.
As always, this depends on the situation. Some vocals don’t work as well, and sometimes the high shelf on the drums causes harshness. Use your ears, and do what sounds right.
Use mix bus EQ with a reference track
And finally, I can’t end this post without mentioning a reference track.
If you never use a reference track when mixing, at least try using one near the end, and apply a mix bus EQ. This way, you can try to balance the overall spectrum of your mix to the reference. This can be extremely helpful in making your mixes translate. Plus it helps you to learn what a great mix sounds like on your speakers.
So there ya go. A bunch of great ways you can use EQ in your mix.
Keep in mind that although these are pretty common EQ moves, you need to use your ears, and your judgement. Just because they work in one case, doesn’t mean they’ll work in every case.
But nonetheless, they are good starting points.
If EQ is something you struggle with, I want to make you a special offer today.
It’s a new course that I’ve created called Intro to EQ.
It’s not a typical online video course. It not only encourages you to learn, but also to apply what you’ve learned. It includes several engaging activities designed to guide you through the work of getting to know EQ and what it can do for you.
If that sounds good to you, go check out the new Intro to EQ course here. It’s only going to be around until the end of this week, so go check it out now before I close the doors.
What are your favorite EQ moves? I’d love for you to add your best tips to the conversation. Leave a comment below!