I Dare You to Break Your EQ
I got a frantic response from Michael, one of my subscribers, about EQ that I thought I would clear up:
Here’s what he had to say:
Your class was awesome and I really enjoy your articles so thank you for taking the time to help people like me!!! But…
I have read so many articles and have printed out so many tips and tricks from just about everyone on the internet, I signed up for your forums thinking they would help but I just can’t understand a lot of it.
I really need it broken down into simple “layman’s” terms… Something that somebody can say “ok, this is what this means and this is what this will do.
I just don’t get it when they say… “cut here but then add at this Hz and then boost at that Khz”…????? It’s all so confusing! Cut what at where? Add what at where? I have the Ableton 9 program. When I look at the EQ’s they give you to use there are several boxes listed with several options Low filter, High filter, Hi/Low filter, and other ones I just don’t know what all the symbols mean!!
Maybe you can clear all this up for me? Please help!!
Maybe I’m taking this the wrong way but it seems like there’s experimental-paralysis going on here.
Michael sounds so afraid of doing something wrong because he doesn’t understand it 100% that he just won’t even try it at all.
Equalizers are actually pretty simple. They only have three things you need to understand:
Where you select which frequency you want to manipulate, from the frequency spectrum of 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. You’ll see this represented as a visual frequency spectrum in a visual EQ or as numbers on an analog-style EQ.
Where you decide whether you want to increase (boost), or attenuate (cut) the frequency you’ve selected. The more you boost or cut the more you change the sound of the instrument.
Where you decide the width of the EQ curve and how much you want to affect the surrounding frequencies around the one you choose.
What Can You Do With Those 3 Functions?
When it comes to the Low-Filter, High-Filter, EQ curve selections you can make inside your DAW, like in Ableton for instance, you have a few options:
When you filter frequencies you eliminate them completely. High-pass filters are frequently used to eliminate unnecessary low-end frequencies from a mix and low-pass filters are common to tame the high-end hiss.
When you cut a frequency you reduce its power in the frequency spectrum. Sometimes you need to cut annoying ringing sounds and resonances in a specific track. Sometimes you need to cut certain frequencies to make room for other instruments in a mix.
When you boost frequencies you’re adding more of them to the mix. You boost to add something that’s missing, like presence in a vocal track, attack to a guitar or body to your bass.
It’s All Useless Information Until You Play With It
You can’t hope to learn how to EQ by just reading about it.
You’re not going to break anything. You won’t set off World War II. You won’t ruin your computer or break your song beyond repair.
So instead of feeling paralyzed by all the options, how about you just play around with and train your ears to hear what’s going on?
Add What? Where? How Much??!
When somebody says something like, “Add a 5 kHz boost for more presence” they’re not giving you an exact solution with only one right answer.
That’s where I think a lot of beginners go wrong because they’re looking for the one right solution where none exists.
This isn’t an algebra class, it’s an art workshop.
What they mean is that if you feel like your track is lacking presence, you can add a boost in 5 kHz to bring out the presence in the instrument.
That’s also impossible to answer unless we’re mixing the same track and we have the same exact preferences and mixing tastes.
How much you add depends on how much you need in order for it to sound better, and to cut through the mix while sitting nicely with the rest of the arrangement.
So if we’re working with a vocal that lacked some presence, you would boost 5 kHz until the vocal sat nicely and was “present” in the mix, according to your tastes and preferences.
Maybe the vocal needs only a 3 dB boost to sound good. But maybe it doesn’t start cutting through until you crank it up 10 dB.
All that matters is how good it sounds in the context of the mix, how good it sounds to you, and how good it sounds to the artist you’re mixing.
Go Try to Break Your EQ. I Dare You.
So instead of wanting the right answer for every situation because you might be afraid of breaking something, why don’t you just try?
Try to break your EQ. I dare you to experiment so much that you make your tracks unrecognizable!
It will actually teach you a lot more about how EQ works instead of desperately searching for the single right solution.
However, if you’d like some broader guidelines on where to fix those frequency problems you keep getting in your mix, and experimentation just isn’t cutting it, then watch my Ultimate Guide to EQ for even more advanced information on EQ.
Here’s where you go to check it out:
Want More Help?
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Equalization, Music Mixing