In this post we will talk about 4 simple EQ tips for mixing your tracks. One of the most seemingly mystical areas of home recording is EQ. We've all been there. Something doesn't sound quite right and so begins the endless tweaking, often only making things worse.
The big picture here is that learning to use proper EQ takes time and practice. It takes time to develop an ear to hear what needs to be adjusted. It also takes practice to learn exactly how much or little actually needs to be tweaked. So lets talk about 4 EQ tips for mixing that will help you develop as home studio engineer.
EQ can be relative
Now when I say relative I am speaking about the way the human ear hears sound. I am not suggesting that there is no correct way to use EQ (though subjectivity still does exist here as well). However, adjustments made solely by listening are typically relative to the audio we hear most. This is simply good to know when you're learning how to properly adjust an EQ.
It can be very helpful to establish a frame of reference before tweaking your tracks.
Listening to an industry standard recording of the style of music you are producing can be extremely valuable. This can provide a great starting reference point for your own projects.
It is also helpful to know that ear fatigue is normal if you spend a large amount of time listening to a mix. Eventually your ears just don't hear what they need to hear. This means that taking a break between long periods of post production can literally save your final projects from being slaughtered by too much EQ.
Another powerful tool that can help identify trouble spots in your mix or tracks is a spectrum analyzer. I know that may sound like something from Star Trek but don't let the name intimidate you.
A spectrum analysis plug-in can be used to measure the gains of each frequency in your tracks or mix. This will output a visual graph showing you a picture of how balanced your overall project is.
Many EQ plug-ins also display a live spectrum graph. The ReaEQ that comes stock with Reaper does exactly that. I've included a screen shot below. The jagged colored line is showing the peaks and valleys of their respective frequencies.
Don't forget your source
In our list of EQ tips for mixing, this one may seem to be elementary but it is very much worth mentioning. The "starting" place for EQ on your tracks is remembering the source you're recording. Your adjustments should first be made from knowing what frequencies your source naturally produces.
For example, lets say you've recorded a female lead vocal. In most cases the female singing voice does not produce anything acoustically below 150Hz. With that being the case, an appropriate EQ adjustment would be to apply a high pass filter from 150Hz up or roll off from 150Hz on down.
A bass guitar on the other hand certainly produces frequency naturally below 150Hz. Cutting that range and below would virtually eliminate any low-end from your bass.
Now before you get too carried away with this tip just remember that it is a starting point. There are certainly reasons for boosting or cutting frequencies toward the outside ranges of your source. This we will addressed in our next tip.
EQ for your final mix
One of the most critical EQ tips for mixing is listening to your entire mix while making your final adjustments. Though you may have started the tweaking process as I've outlined above, it is best to finalize this process listening to the whole picture of audio. In this phase of mixing you are making adjustments to bring clarity and distinction to each of your tracks.
Boosting the highs (12-16k) on your lead vocals just a bit may help them cut through the mix better. Rolling off a few db of the 60Hz may help your bass guitar get out-of-the-way of the kick drum. Every track has its place and sweet spot. The trick is to listen to the whole mix and tweak each track only as needed.
A little is a lot
One mistake I often made early on in my own home music studio, was over doing a good thing. I often over did both EQ and effects When it comes to proper EQ, just know that a little adjustment is a lot. A 3db cut or boost can have a drastic effect on your track and mix. Be careful not to go overboard.
My personal rule of thumb is that if I find myself using more than 6-8db of cut or boost I try to re-record the track. The exceptions to this rule would be the use of notches and/or EQ for deliberate effects.
My hope is that these 4 tips have been helpful to you. What are your thoughts and experiences? You can add them to the section below.