As the first tutorial here on 99Sounds, I figured I could write down five easy tips for beginners who would like to learn more about equalizers. If you’re an experienced producer, you probably already know this stuff. But if you’re still making your first steps in the world of mixing audio, these quick tips will help you work faster and get better results.
Tip #1: Use LP and HP filters to clean up each track in a mix.
This is the most basic way you’d use an equalizer and its still one of the most fundamental steps for making your mix sound good. What you want to do here is to remove all of the frequencies which are not important for each particular element of your mix, thus making more room for important parts of the mix. What you’ll need in order to do this is a low pass filter and a high pass filter. Most equalizer plugins out there include both of these filter types.
Make sure you’re using a transparent filter. You don’t necessarily want to color the sound at this point. Instead, you just want to remove unwanted frequency content. You’ll find a nice list of freeware equalizers on Bedroom Producers Blog. Any equalizer with a transparent 6 dB or 12 dB filter will do just fine for cleaning up your audio tracks. So, for most sounds in the mix, it would be safe to remove all content below 40 Hz. Depending on the sound, you can go a lot higher than that.
For example, most vocals don’t need any frequency content below 180 Hz or so. However, you never know in advance which frequencies need to be removed, since every sound is different. Which brings us to our next tip…
Tip #2: There are NO magic frequencies!
Write that one down. There are NO magic frequencies! You’ve probably read somewhere that boosting 10 kHz will add “air” to your vocals or that boosting 200 Hz will make your snare hit the listener’s chest in a club. This is all true in theory, but you should NEVER apply these tips automatically. What happens if you have a snare sample which already has a 200 Hz boost and you decide to boost that range because you’ve read somewhere that you should do this?
The trick is to listen to your mix as a whole. Analyze the various elements of your mix before proceeding with equalization. Close your eyes and listen to your mix the same way as you’d listen to your favorite album. Think about what sounds wrong in your mix as you’re listening to it and then use these frequency tips as a guideline, but never as a rule. If your snare needs to cut through the mix better, sometimes you’ll get better results by lowering certain frequencies in another part of your mix instead of boosting that 200 Hz band.
Tip #3: Always listen in CONTEXT when equalizing.
What this means is that you should never equalize a part of your mix in solo. Think about it, if all the parts of your mix sounded absolutely fantastic when soloed, it would mean that each of them already occupies most of the audible frequency range on its own. If you layer several such sounds on top of each other you’ll get nothing but an absolute mess.
What you want to do instead, is to listen to your entire mix when using an EQ and think of each element as a building layer of your mix.
When equalizing your bass, don’t just play it in solo and boost the bass frequencies until it sounds good to you. Play it along with the rest of the mix and equalize it to glue nicely with the kick, the snare, the guitars, the synthesized parts, etc. Remember your actions and then proceed with equalizing the other elements in your mix.
Think of it as making a cake. If you add loads of sugar to each layer of your cake so that it tastes good on its own, you’ll end up with a rather gnarly desert when you layer them all together. A good cake has a nice crunchy bottom, a sweet creamy middle and some nice fresh bits on the top. Yum!
Tip #4: Remember that boosting is NOT the only choice!
I’ve already mentioned this, but here it goes again. After all, it’s one of the most important EQ tips in my opinion. Basically, the idea is to control your natural instinct to boost sounds when you want to make something sound better. As a listener, you’re used to boosting frequencies on your playback device. Not enough bass? Boost it using the equalizer!
This isn’t always the best idea in the world of mixing. Quite honestly, it’s not a good idea most of the time. By boosting frequencies, you’re boosting the overall volume of a sound and not necessarily fixing the issue from the mix perspective. Always try to make an element of your mix sound more prominent by cutting certain frequencies from another sound of your mix. It also works in the context of a single track. To make a vocal sound crispier, take away some of its bass frequencies!
Tip #5: Take a BREAK every now and then.
When mixing your music, your ears are the most important part of the process. If your ears are tired, it’s obvious that the resulting mix probably won’t be satisfying. So how can you keep your ears fresh? First of all, work at lower volumes. If you blast the volume on your speakers or earphones while mixing, you’ll get tired much sooner than if you listened at optimal levels. Imagine what happens when you look at the computer monitor with high brightness settings, especially if the room is dark. Your eyes will get tired and you’ll even get a light headache sometimes.
The other method is to take short breaks every now and then, so that you can re-calibrate your ears and let them relax. It also gives you a fresh perspective when you return to your project. So, every half an hour or so, take a short ten minute break and let your hearing refresh. You’ll be able to make better mix decisions if you work this way.
That’s all for our first tutorial about mixing! Feel free to leave a comment with any questions you may have about equalizers and the mixing process in general. See you soon in our next tutorial article! While you’re here, take a look at our free Rain And Thunder sample library. There’s nothing more relaxing out there than the lovely subtle sound of rain.