Getting Perspective on EQ

Mixing is a tricky process. In fact, sometimes I find myself flipping back and forth between so many different tools — EQ, compression, reverb — that perspective gets thrown out the window and the mix becomes a mess. I thought it would be good to take a step back and examine about exactly how I use these tools. I’m talking about EQ today, and maybe you’ll find it helpful too (let me know if you do!)

Using EQ Surgically

When I’m looking to fix a poorly recorded instrument, I think of it like “surgery.” It’s a great analogy, because that’s exactly what you’re doing in these instances. You’ve got an offending frequency range — usually a very narrow band — and it needs to be very carefully removed, while leaving the rest of the sound intact. It sounds easy, but I often find that’s not the case. There are two things to think about here: the width of your cut, and the depth. Width refers to the Q parameter, or how much of the frequency band you’re affecting, let’s say from 450 to 460 Hz. When we say depth, we’re talking about the number of decibels you reduce that area by.

Giving Each Track Its Own Space

EQ can also be used to create “space” in the mix. If there are a bunch of tracks that occupy the same range of frequencies, you’re going to run into clarity issues. Think of a kick drum and an electric bass. They both can be found on the low end of the spectrum, but if you want to respect the role each instrument has — which varies from song to song, of course — then they each should be adjusted with EQ so they’re not stepping on each other’s toes. Pick which instrument is more important to the song, and cut away from the other to let that character through.

EQ For Style

This one is the most fun. Think of a song that uses that lo-fi radio effect on a vocal or instrument. That can be done with EQ! All it really takes is some experimentation with extremes on parameters and some amazing effects are possible.

So… Those are the basic ways I use EQ. There you have it.