I know you must have come across all sorts of tutorials and complex projections on the use of eq. Believe me, they just complicate things and mess with your head. That is why I wrote this piece explaining the simple use of EQ in music mixing. The truth is, you do not have to waste your time studying any EQ cheat charts and all that. You can even stop bothering yourself about paying mind to what number of Hertz or kilohertz you are processing while mixing. Reason is, all sounds are different, so they should be treated as they are.
The two main use of Equalizers in music mixing
Equalizers are nothing but sound sculpting tools to shape an audio’s tone or texture to what is suitable or desired. So they are used for two main purposes which are tone shaping and problem fixing.
Using EQ as a tone-shaping tool
This is the most common use of equalizers in mixing, and it is mostly achieved using the additive functionality. EQs are to sound engineers, what mud is to sculptors. You sculpt the sound to what you Want to hear in terms of sound texture and tone. We can divide the whole sound frequency span into three major segments. The high band which reproduces thin and piercing timbre of sounds like hi-hats, cymbals, shakes, whistle, tambourine e.t.c. The mid band which houses the detailed texture of sounds most friendly to our ears; snares, toms, congas, claps, pianos, synths, e.t.c. Finally the low band which reproduces heavy sounds like bass, kick, rumblings and so on.
It should be noted however, that most instruments produce sounds that span across these three bands. So, this is where the idea of tone-shaping comes into real play. Tone-shaping individual instruments will determine the tone of the entire mix altogether. So what you should be aiming for is the tonal balance across the entire mix. Your final mix should not be bass heavy and lacking in the high end, else your song will sound dull of muffled. It should not be too detailed in the high end and lacking the lows, else it will sound thin and light. So you have to balance things up.
The key to achieving this is to listen as you use the EQ. When equalizing, boost the part of a sound that gives you the desired tone, and get rid of frequencies that are not vital to the sound. While processing individual instruments, make sure you are listening to it as it plays with every other elements in the song. This helps you to equalize in view of achieving overall tone balance. Simple huhhn?! But remember, when boosting a lot you should avoid getting the signal much louder than it was before the boost, lest it obviously sticks out and cause imbalance in the mix. To balance things up, reduce the output control of the EQ to match the previous volume till it sounds even. To do this, simply activate and deactivate the plugin to compare volume levels.
Using EQ as problem fixing tools.
EQ is best used as a problem fixing tool by making use of its subtractive feature. This is the use of EQ in fixing problem frequencies by filtering out unwanted nuances from the audio. For example:
If your mix is feeling muddied up and lack clarity, getting rid of the extreme bottom end of instruments like snares, toms, percussions, pianos and synths through high pass filter will help clean things up. The low end ring offs and rumbles these instruments give usually do not contribute anything to the instruments tonality, so when they accumulate, they muddy up the arrangement. Like I said, just listen attentively as you filter them out up to the right point where it doesn’t bite away some goodness from the actual sound.
Also, if there’s harshness in the higher part in any way, you should find the offending frequency and subtly filter it out either with a bell shape with a fairly tight Q, or high shelve. If the trouble is coming from the extreme highs, you may use the low shelve or the low pass filter. I must add that using equalizers for problem fixing doesn’t necessarily have to be about the subtractive functionality alone. It depends on what problem you are trying to fix. If the problem is a sound being too dull, you are obviously going to be boosting some life into it.
I hope I’ve tried my best explaining the simple use of EQ in music mixing ?. All I am saying is – forget about the technical jargons. Learn the basic EQ controls and their functions, and just manipulate sounds till they sound good in the mix. Then watch your mixes start to sound right. In case you need to learn about compression too, read this detailed explanation of compression in music mixing.
You can also check out a list of 10 of the best VST plugins released in 2017, to know which recent plugins to acquire to achieve a pro sounding mix.
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