In this article, I’m listing the 10 best tips about equalization that every producer/engineer should know, even producers that are not that much into mixing.
Knowing these pieces of info allows approaching equalization more knowingly.
What is equalization?
Equalization is a type of processing that basically consists of changing the volume of frequencies across the audio spectrum.
It helps make each sound fit the mix properly, which is crucial since many pieces of music have sounds with conflicting frequencies that need somehow to blend together smoothly.
Equalization is often used for sound design purposes too, but in this article, we’ll cover the best tips for using it in terms of mixing.
Learn more about Equalization
The 10 best equalization tips
Now let's go with the tips:
Pick the right EQ type
This is the basis. Most beginners just prefer a parametric EQ to other types because it looks complete, but the reality is that also semiparametric EQs and graphic EQs have their reason to exist, whether it’s for sonic characteristics or for better workflow depending on their application.
At a very basic level, keep in mind that:
- Parametric EQs are great for filtering, cleaning sounds, sound design, automating cuts and boosts for transitions.
- Semiparametric EQs are great for tonal EQ’ing.
- Graphic EQs are best-used to fine-tune the overall mix for a particular room, and they’re better suited for live applications. Unlike the previous two, it’s rarely used at the mixing stage except for fringe applications.
Many sounds come with some rumble in the low end, even if they aren’t meant to be bassy.
You can find rumble due to saturation or any other kind of processing on vocals, cymbals, percussions, etc.
Most of the time, this kind of rumble isn’t hearable, but it can build up, eating up headroom and interfering with your low end sounds, so it’s generally good to cut it right from the start.
EQ sweeping is a technique to cut resonances that consists of boosting a parametric EQ node by a lot and sliding it around the spectrum until you find a really unpleasant frequency and then cutting it.
The problem with this approach is that beginners might ignore that most frequencies sound bad by default if they’re boosted by tons of dB, and they might end up overcutting and coming up with a butchered sound.
A good method, if you don’t have a trained ear yet, might be sliding while cutting instead of boosting and finding at which frequency it sounds best.
Tonal EQ vs Corrective EQ
EQ’ing has different purposes, and the main two are tonal and corrective EQ’ing.
The first one is meant to shape the sound (and entire groups too) broadly so it takes its place and role in the mix, while the second is meant to correct imperfections such as rumble and resonant frequencies mostly on individual sounds.
EQ is generally referred to as static processing. You apply it and it affects the spectrum by the same amount at a given frequency all the time.
Dynamic EQ’ing is an EQ that reacts to the input source like a compressor by boosting/attenuating frequencies as soon as they surpass a given threshold. This way, you can deal with problematic frequency ranges only when they’re actually problematic, and not across the whole track.
Boost Wide, Cut Narrow
This is not a mantra, but still a good rule of thumb.
The concept behind it is simple:
- problematic frequencies are generally individual and show up in very narrow ranges, so you cut them with narrow nodes;
- the great majority of sounds are made by a few areas of the spectrum, each one made of many frequencies cooperating together to render that “part” of the sound, so it’s more efficient to apply wide boosts so they all come up together.
Linear Phase EQ
You might have heard of this magic EQ “mode” that doesn’t interfere with the phase.
The truth is that you shouldn’t slam Linear Phase EQs on every sound. The main purpose of Linear Phase processing is to control sounds that you don’t want their phase to shift, mainly because there are other similar sources that would cause comb filtering as soon as there are phase shifts. An example might be a recorded drum kit in which the kick track still has some snare and cymbals material, and the same is true for the other hits having the rest of the kit bleeding in.
In this case, you want to treat each element without any phase shift.
The same is true for the kick and bass if you’ve already nailed their phase correlation and you don’t want to fix it at another stage later.
Match Input and Output
EQ’ing can change a sound significantly, even if you’re applying just a few dB of boost/cut.
While it’s not a mantra, it’s still good practice to match the volume of the input and output signal so you can better evaluate how you’re affecting the source.
This trick is particularly effective on busses, vocals, and sounds that develop on a large time scale, affecting the tone of the mix significantly, while it’s a less important practice on shorter sounds.
Getting fooled by playing with the EQ is more common than you might think!
Always turn On and Off the EQ insert to evaluate how you’re shaping the sound, and also take advantage of plugins offering A/B settings so you can see if one setting is better than another with just a switch.
Remember that our ears can get used to how a source sounds pretty quickly, so keep comparing things this way so you never lose track of the tonal tweaks you’re applying.
This one is a really underestimated and overlooked feature. Scale is a slider that globally scales down all the boosts and cuts on an EQ.
Let’s assume you’ve nailed several cuts on a sound with plenty of resonances, but you end up realizing you’ve just cut too much. Instead of manually fixing every single cut, you can quickly check if lighter processing is optimal by using the scale function.
Also, the scale function can be used with a single automation line during transitions to increase/decrease the impact of the EQ instead of automating each node individually.
If you’ve found these tips helpful, then you’ll appreciate all the knowledge we’ve packed into Mixing Tips, our flagship PDF with a section dedicated to equalization among a total of 13 chapters!