Understanding EQ frequencies and how they affect our mix, is critical to creating a professional sounding project. In our last Podcast episode we've started dealing with EQ in a very general sense. Let's continue down that road and add a little more meat to our discussion.
As we begin, let me also remind us that there are truly no hard rules with how much, or how little, we are using specific EQ frequencies. On the flip side of this truth, there are ways to adjust certain EQ frequencies that may not be adding much value to your mix.
My desire in this post is to give you a general guide to begin experimenting with. The exact settings don't matter as much as the audio flavor you're communicating in your final project. Don't get me wrong. The exact settings do matter to a certain degree. Knowing how you've achieved a certain mix can help you do it again in a future project. However, the final feel, emotion, and energy of the song matters far more than the exact settings you used to get there.
To help us better understand EQ frequencies I'd like to take a closer look at what specific ranges tend to communicate in our mixes. I've also included an image to give a visual picture to experiment with.
Adding a few DB here can add that extra sparkle or shine to, vocals, guitar, synth, and even an overall mix. Too much here, like many other frequencies, can make a mix sound cheap depending on the system it's being heard on. This range is not always heard in some laptop speakers and home stereo systems.
Presence and siblence clarity. This is often the area where de-essing is needed (sometimes a bit lower as well). Get this right and the vocal is often much easier to understand.
I often see this area as the clarity spot of many tracks. A few DB here can pop a high hat out of the mix and add overall clarity to many middle range instruments. Don't push this area too hard or things start to be very ear piercing and unpleasant to listen to.
Often times this is the power and energy spot of a track. This area can cut like a knife. Use enough here and your vocal track can pop out of the mix where it needs to be. Use too much and your vocal track may encourage the listener to hit stop.
I call this area the "Sasquatch Zone". Everyone knows it's real but few know how to categorize it ;). Truth is, this region is critical to avoiding the amateur mix. The meat and body of many instruments lies here. However, use too much of these EQ frequencies and things start to sound very cheap and "tin canny".
These EQ frequencies provide much of the warmth and fullness in many guitars, keys, and vocal lines. In most cases, too much here, is the culprit to a muddy sound.
Here lies the crack to most snares, the top end power to many bass lines, and the boom to many tracks. Too much is very boomy, too little is thin and lifeless.
This EQ frequencies are typically the warmth, thunder, and thump in most kick drums. Often the bottom end of the bass line thunder is here as well. Get this area right and your mix will have girth to it. Too much here is cardboard sounding (I know, not very technical). Too little here and your mix will lack bottom end power and warmth.
Below 50 Hz
I don't personally boast a lot below 50 Hz. I often find too much in this range to push my compressors more than they need. I typically use a low EQ slope to taper off this range and keep it under control.
Experiment with your own mixes
Now that you have a general idea of what is happening with EQ it's time for action. I would suggest using the above as a guide to experiment with your own projects. See how adjusting EQ frequencies in these ranges change the feel, emotion, and energy of your music. Learn to develop a theory of using EQ to shape your sound. Don't just rely on stock settings to get the job done.
I'd love to hear your questions or comments. Please add them to the comments section below.