One of the most important things I learned after about a year of computer music-making is that you just CAN’T create a well-mixed song without using good EQ on every track. When I began, I only wish I had a guide to give me professional tips like these along the way. It’s only over time that I discovered these handy EQ tips that drastically changed my editing process.
Luckily for you, this page somehow showed up in your search, putting you many steps ahead of where I was when I began.
And let me clarify – when I began producing music, I had not a cent of an idea what I was doing. I used Garageband for the first year of my audio education and didn’t understand how a mixer worked.
So no matter who you are, or how high your level of audio education, these EQ tips will quickly further your understanding of why EQ is so important, and how you can apply it in multiple ways.
The Highpass Filter
A highpass filter (often shortened to HP, or commonly known as lowcut) is a filter that removes all the frequencies below a certain point. You can adjust this by changing which frequency the rolloff begins at.
EQ Tip #1: Add a Highpass Filter to EVERYTHING!
(Yes, even kick drum and bass guitar).
Many synthesizers and guitars will put out loads of unwanted mud in the low-end, and oftentimes you can hardly hear it when you first listen to these tracks.
By adding a highpass filter, you will remove all the unwanted muddiness in the low frequencies, cleaning up your mix and allowing more headroom on your master fader.
If you have an EQ plugin with an RTA (A Real-Time-Analyzer shows which frequencies are happening as the audio plays back), it will be very evident when you solo the track and watch the low frequencies spike. Set your HP filter right around that frequency spike and immediately listen to the clarity change.
The Lowpass Filter
A lowpass filter is the exact opposite of a highpass filter, but affects the high frequencies.
EQ Tip #2: Apply a Lowpass Filter to Mellow Out the Sound
Applying a lowpass filter will remove some of the piercing high frequencies on ringing cymbals, synths, and vocals.
This filter can sit around 15-20kHz on an EQ without changing the shape of the sound too drastically. Even though you may be listening to your mix on one set of monitors and think it sounds fine, other speaker systems may have a stronger frequency response in the higher range. This means that high frequencies may be there without you even knowing it!
That being said, it’s always a good idea to use a LP filter – even if you don’t think you need it.
Bonus Tip: You can also use the lowpass filter as a cool mixing effect. Automating a sweep up the frequency range just before a large impact will help to increase the intensity of that impact.
The 3-Step EQ Method
EQ Tip #3: Apply the 3-Step EQ Method – Boost, Sweep, Cut!
This method was a game changer in helping me to understand how EQ works, and how to use it to shape the sound of the track.
To rid your mix of unwanted ringing in certain frequencies, BOOST a frequency band, keeping the Q very large (the Q value makes the band thinner), SWEEP it across the EQ plugin, and right where a frequency rings out, CUT it!
You can read a more detailed description about how to apply this method in this post.
Use this method on multiple frequency bands to fine-tune your track and improve the clarity of your mix.
Bonus Tip: Use wide frequency bands to shape the sound. Use a very small Q (this will make the band thicker), and cut at a very low gain amount. If your track needs a little more presence, increasing a wide frequency band around 2-5kHz or a high shelf will solve your problem. If your vocal sounds a little muddy (this is VERY common in live settings) – cut around 200-500Hz in order to clean up the overall sound.
Leave Room for the Vocal
EQ Tip #4: Cut the Frequency Around 200Hz-700Hz to Leave Room For the Vocal.
Cutting the frequencies in guitars, synths, and bass around 200Hz-700Hz will allow the fundamental pitch of your vocal to peek through the mix. Depending on if the vocalist is male or female, and what their range is will depend on where the fundamental pitch is. This is another place where an RTA will come in handy.
It may also help to cut brighter synthesizers and guitars between 1-4kHz in order to allow some of the presence of the vocal to be heard in the mix. Adding a high shelf around 2kHz on the vocal track will help to compensate for some of this loss in the higher frequencies. These are some of the subtle tricks that begin to make your music sound professional.
Bonus Tip: After you fine tune your EQ, bypass the plugin and you will IMMEDIATELY hear all the frequencies that were ringing before. This is a good way to affirm your EQ choices. If there isn’t that big of a difference, then maybe you should reconsider your use of EQ.
CUT, don’t BOOST!
EQ Tip #5: ALWAYS Err on the Side of Cutting a Frequency Band Rather than Boosting it.
Doing this will keep you from overloading your tracks and causing them to peak and distort. That being said, it’s not always bad to boost frequencies. However, if you find yourself boosting all over the place, THAT’S when you’ll start to have issues.
The same goes for mixing levels. If you start with all of your tracks at 0dB and begin increasing the levels of the ones you want to hear more at different moments, your master fader will peak out almost immediately.
The better technique is to mute every track, start with your foundational instruments like the kick drum and bass guitar, adjusting the levels so that the two of them are hitting the master fader around -6dB. Then begin to unmute the tracks, starting with the most important tracks (other than the lead – save that for last) and following with the less prominent instruments. This way you can make sure the prominent tracks aren’t fighting with each other.
Remember – you can always go back and solo two or three specific tracks in order to double-check that they are mixing well together.