It can be confusing learning how to EQ. Fortunately, the process to EQ just about ANYTHING is actually a whole lot simpler than it’s made out to be. Sure, there are plenty of numbers and buttons to push and drag within an EQ plugin. BUT they all actually do pretty similar things. Much like the channel strip section of a mixing board – one channel strip has knobs and buttons for different features, and the rest are just copies of that first one.
So don’t be overwhelmed looking at your EQ plugin. The process to getting a great sound is as simple as 1 – 2 – 3. Of course there are plenty of other techniques you can use to fine-tune your EQ process. Some of my favorite ones can be found here. However, I so often return to this process as my foundation for getting an outstanding sound on my tracks.
The How-to EQ Guide
It is very common to use this process when applying EQ to:
- Acoustic guitar
- Drums & percussion
- Electric guitar
- Wind instruments
- String instruments
- Synthesized sounds
This 3-step process will help you to identify problem frequencies and get rid of them more quickly and easily than you ever thought possible.
So, hold onto your hats, and get ready to discover how to EQ anything.
How To EQ Step 1: Select a frequency band and BOOST it.
Select a frequency band. It doesn’t matter which one you use, just make sure it’s one of the peak/cut bands (there will most likely be multiple of these in your plugin – this one has four of them).
Make sure the Q is very high, about an 11 or 12.
The Q is the range of frequencies that are being affected.
Boost the gain on the frequency band as high as it can go. This will give you a very narrow range of frequencies to scan through when you implement the next step.
How To EQ Step 2: SWEEP across the frequency range.
Select the frequency band and sweep it slowly across the EQ plugin, up and down the range until you hear a problem frequency pop out at you. It should sound like your ear is ringing, especially in the 1-2kHz range. Problem frequencies are super common from here on up through the spectrum.
NOTE: Having a real-time analyzer built into your EQ helps this process dramatically. An RTA allows you to visually inspect what frequencies are happening at any given moment, making the process much faster! You can see this demonstrated by the white lines on the EQ snapshot above.
Warning: If you are EQ-ing using headphones, make sure the volume is lower than you would normally have it while mixing. When boosting frequencies like this, it is common for them to jump out quickly and be very loud, which could damage your hearing. Always take safety precautions while editing in this way – your ability to hear is valuable.
How To EQ Step 3: CUT the problem frequency.
Once you have identified a problem frequency, select the gain on the frequency band and cut it.
If the frequency is incredibly harsh, you may consider cutting it about -15dB to -20dB. However, the more you cut that frequency, the more other frequencies around it will be affected as well. This can be adjusted by changing the value of the Q.
You will want to consider just how much of a problem the frequency is. If you can allow a portion of it to still be audible in the mix, then maybe a -6dB cut will suffice. I often find myself doing this, then listening to the entire mix to see if the frequency is still a problem. If so, it’s just as simple to open the plugin back up and cut the frequency even more.
After you fine tune your EQ, turn the plugin off or bypass it and you will IMMEDIATELY hear all those frequencies that were ringing before. This is a great way to affirm your EQ choices. If there isn’t that big of a difference, then maybe you should reconsider your use of EQ.
In addition to this 3-Step process, there are hundreds of other EQ tricks that are easy to learn and quick to implement. You can find some of my best EQ tips and tricks here.