If there is one tool every music producer needs to understand and utilize, it’s the EQ. It is one of the most effective and utilized tools in music production, mixing, and mastering. Think of the EQ as a robot that can control how your instruments sound and blend together. Except, it’s not a smart robot. Instead, it needs your direction for it to perform its job. The hard part is, what instructions should you give the EQ to perform for you? Well, here are 17 EQ tips that can help you determine what to do.
17 EQ Tips
1. Cut frequencies first before boosting.
2. Cut narrow, boost wide. It balances out the frequency spectrum.
3. Cut to manage frequencies and allow other instruments to break through.
4. Boost frequencies to add characteristics and tones to the instrument.
5. You cannot boost a frequency that is not there. Which leads me to my next point.
6. Do not apply cuts or boosts unless your ears tell you it’s needed. Doing so on a whim can damage your mix.
7. Clean up the low end by using a high pass filter on instruments that are in the upper octave regiments
8. Hard-cut frequencies below 100hz on reverb & other FX tracks to prevent extra muddiness in the low end.
9. Carve out frequencies of the bassline to allow the kick drum to punch through if they clash.
10. EQ the Left and Right channels separately to fine-tune and widen the mix.
11. Use 0.5 dB intervals to pinpoint the perfect amount of cut/boost.
12. Most frequencies only need a bit of EQ (-/+3dB max) to fix the problem at hand. However, extreme cutting and boosting are required in some cases. Apply when appropriate.
13. If EQing does not give you the tone you’re looking for, try a different sample or re-record the instrument with a different microphone. The sound you start with limits what you can add to it.
14. Cutting at 250hz helps reduce muddiness.
15. Boosting at 1K adds the “am radio” sound.
16. Cutting at 8K reduces sibilance – apply to vocals and harsh hi-hats.
17. Boost frequency harmonics of an instrument to accentuate characteristics. If the bassline is at 150hz, boost multiples of 150hz (300, 450, etc.) to highlight the groove. This helps prevent muddiness and adds clarity.
Keep In Mind
Despite having these EQ tips readily available to use, do remember that each device you listen to music through (monitors, headphones, etc.) can affect how you hear the song. Many headphones and monitors EQ the sound themselves, giving you a misrepresentation of how the song sounds. Make sure to utilize flat-EQ monitors and headphones. For headphones, we strongly suggest the Sony MDR-7506. They are fantastic and are true to the sound.
Another good habit is to bypass the EQ after making adjustments to hear if you made the correct adjustments. The best way to do this is to hover the mouse over the Bypass button, close your eyes, and then click the Bypass button multiple times. With your eyes still closed, listen to the instrument and how it fits into the mix. Afterward, hit the bypass button and listen to the instrument again. Go back and forth until you decide which version you prefer. Open your eyes and see if you ended up liking the track with or without the EQ edits. It’s ok if you choose the non-EQ’d version, it happens all the time!
Which EQ Is Right For You?
There are many EQs out there that have different EQ curves, features, and interfaces. We suggest starting with the EQs that come with your DAW. In most cases, they will do whatever it is you need them to. From there, test out other EQs and change the scenarios. How does one EQ perform on a bass compared to another? How does a specific EQ curve change the tone on a guitar? Let your curiosity roam and get the better of you. It will only help you down the road.
And remember, at the end of the day there is not a wrong or right way to EQ. That’s the beauty of art and music, you do what you think sounds best to you. Stay creative, stay foolish, and be humble. Good things will come.