1. Low-cut/ high-pass
When working on a track, I pretty much consider every sound for a high-pass filter, unless I have a good reason not to. Only very rarely do I feel that a hi-hat needs frequencies lower than 600 Hz. Pads, guitars, leads, vocals – I chop off below 2-300 Hz.
Use more gentle curves and lower Q-s for more natural and transparent results – unless you’re aiming for a more distinctive sound. In general, try to go for transparent with your supportive and distinctive with your dominant sounds/ events. In the previous tip, I’d probably go with a more subtle curve, something like this:
3. Boosting vs. reducing
In general, try reducing unwanted frequencies instead of boosting the ones you like. Boosting means an increase in volume, and because louder is often perceived as better, it can fool you into thinking your EQ settings were good, where in fact it’s only the volume increase you’re liking. Also, when you find something muddy, it’s often just another sound masking it, so always think of what else may be occupying that frequency range, and try cutting that one instead.
Don’t use the solo button more than necessary. Soloing can be a good idea (mainly to focus on a particular sound for a little) but may also be very misleading. When listening to only one sound, you’ll find it pleasing if it occupies a wider range of the spectrum, whereas if you’re listening to it in the whole mix, chances are you’ll be trying to find a frequency range to squeeze it into, so essentially you’ll be trying to make it as narrow as possible – without losing its character. Your preference is different when listening to a sound on its own than in context with the rest of the music.
By the way, the same applies when there’s only few instruments in your mix. If all you have is an acoustic guitar and vocals, you’ll aim for a bigger sound for both of them.
5. Punchier drums
For heavyweight drums, try boosting the kick around 60-80 Hz and the snare at 100-120 Hz, for the punch, try increasing both around 3-6 Khz, for the ‘slap’, try boosting around 8 kHz.
6. Snap compression make-up
If you made your kick punchier with a transient shaper or via snap compression (relatively high attack on a compressor to give a big snap to your sound), try boosting the low frequencies as you probably lost some of them in the process.
7. More highs for more attention
This is very easy to overdo but the main idea is, figure out what your lead sounds are and make sure you give them enough presence and sparkle by checking the mid-high/ high frequencies. In some cases I’ll even compress the highs to give the sound a constant presence there, so it grabs the listener’s attention all the way through. Supportive sounds might be better off with less in the high range – that way they also give space for the dominant ones.
8. Ableton Live EQ Eight tips
a) Use alt + click to set the Q of your band. Makes life waaay easier.
b) Enable oversampling, it allows for smoother filter behavior when adjusting high frequencies.
c) Find out what EQ settings you use most often and have them ready with the “Save as Default Preset” option.
9. L/R for stereo image
One way to create a stereo image out of a mono signal is to apply different EQ settings on the left and right channel. Most EQ’s have a L/R option for that. You can set the stereo width by changing the “Scale” parameter on EQ Eight. The only tradeoff here is the modified sonic character but it is only apparent on higher Scale settings.
10. Low-cut the side
I often come across a sound with a wide stereo image in the low frequency range, I’m sure you have, too. To get rid of it, just enable the mid-side mode on your EQ, and apply a low-cut filter on the side.
11. Create your own multiband split
Try applying different sets of effects to certain parts of the frequency spectrum. No need to put a chorus, or reverb on the sub part of a bass sound, for example. The way I go about this in Ableton Live is I create an Audio Effects Rack with three signal chains and put a Multiband Dynamics module in each of them, soloing the highs, mids, and lows respectively.
Then you can apply whatever effects you like on just a particular part of the spectrum:
a) If you have to boost or cut by more than 4-5 dB, go back to your mix and fix it there.
b) Use a linear phase EQ to avoid phase shifting, but watch out for pre-ringing on the low frequencies. I tend to use a linear phase EQ unless I applied a significant low boost.
13. Instead of an EQ
a) An exciter or some kind of overdrive will often prove to be a better solution to bring out certain elements in a sound.
b) Sometimes you’re better off multiband compressing the sound instead of reaching for an EQ straight away. A good question to ask is:
Is the sound dull/ dark/ thin/ weak or harsh/ muddy/ boomy all the way through or only at some points?
c) A wide stereo image may make a sound jump out of the mix. No need to boost frequencies = more headroom.
14. EQ’s I recommend
a) Ableton Live’s EQ Eight. Perfect in most cases, does L/R and mid-side, too. No linear phase mode, though.
b) Fabfilter Pro-Q. As everything by Fabfilter, top quality coupled with an amazing and easy-to-use GUI.
c) iZotope Alloy 2/ Ozone 5 EQ. Both excel in features and usability with curves ranging from classic analogue ones to digital precision linear phase.
Do you have any questions? Have you found the same? Have you found the opposite?
Let me know in the comments below!