You read about equalization boosts and cuts in every trade magazine or audio blog online. They all tell you to boost and cut various frequencies in order to make the instrument sound better. I’ve written a fair amount about the subject myself. But if there is one aspect of equalizing that is considered taboo, then it is the art of filtering.
You see, filtering too much can severely compromise the sound of an instrument. Too much high-pass filtering and you end up with a toppy sounding and thin signal.
Too much low-pass filtering and you end up with an instrument that sounds like it’s coming through the wall.
Try it, cut all the high end down to about 500 Hz or so and listen to how you’ve effectively created a wall between your ears and your sound source.
But how do you beat the fear of filtering too much?
When you are using EQ you need to be aware of how everything sounds together. Something might sound really tight and punchy with all those EQ boosts, but when you add it in to everything else it just smothers the mix. You have a limited canvas, and you need to paint a picture where you can see everything. You need to filter out the roots of the trees in order to see the grass that’s on top.
Use an analyzer
In Logic, you can turn on the frequency analyzer to see the frequency information of a specific sound or instrument. It’s a nice crutch when you’re not sure where the dominant frequencies of a specific instrument are located. One time I was equalizing a melodica and was getting afraid of filtering too much. I just turned on the analyzer and filtered all the way up to 5 to 700 Hz or so! There was nothing going on below, and even though I heard nothing changing as I filtered more and more I needed a visual to tell me I was all right.
Use your ears
Of course, it all starts and ends with your ears. Sweep that filter up until you notice the sound getting weaker, not until you hit a frequency that you read about being needed for a specific purpose. If you can’t hear the sound changing, chances are you’ll be fine.
Don’t filter your instruments in solo mode. It’s a good idea to start it off in solo, just to hear the instrument better, but in the end everything relates to each other. You might be able to face your fear better by filtering when everything is going on, since it won’t be as noticeable that you’re filtering past the “standard Hz you should always NEVER filter over”.
Use a low-pass filter too
Although high-pass filters are the backbone of EQ’ing out unnecessary low end, low-pass filters shouldn’t be overlooked either. They can be handy when there is an overabundance of high frequencies that you need to take care. They can also be used quite effectively to reduce noisy electric guitars. Use the same mentality when using high-cuts(that’s another name for low-pass filters). Use your ears and filter until you notice that you’re taking something away from the signal.
Back off a little
When you’ve found the area where your filter is finally working and your sound is getting thinner or bassier, back it off a little. Only if it compliments the mix should you filter an instrument severely. I use my filters to take out inaudible low or high energy, not to take the fundamentals out of it. But like I said in step 3, don’t filter in solo and filter so that it compliments your mix. Contradicting myself? Maybe, but it’s an art.
Use your ears, get help from an analyzer and try to filter when the mix is all going on at once and you’ll conquer your fears. Use your filters moderately if you that’s your style, but never be afraid of using them.
For more mixing tips like these, as well as an in-depth guide on planning the perfect mix, check out Mixing Strategies right here.