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.

2. Curves

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:

highpass gentle curve

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. 

4. Soloing

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.

Oversampling

c) Find out what EQ settings you use most often and have them ready with the “Save as Default Preset” option.

Save as default preset

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.

LR widening10. 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.

mid side lowcut

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.

Band Separator high

Then you can apply whatever effects you like on just a particular part of the spectrum:

Band Separator mid12. Mastering

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!

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Comments.

  1. Andrew

    January 5, 2014 (00:17) Reply

    Hi AMB, feeling daft about this but may I just ask what you exactly mean by using ‘wide stereo image’ instead of boosting frequencies in section 13. c.) (Instead of EQ-ing).
    Is it something to do with panning maybe?
    Also, If you have any tips on how to start arranging a track ance you got the sounds done in ‘session’ or any example on track structures would be great….I hope i’m a decent rooky to get stuck at times where i can’t find the way out of the loop or an idea i managed to record, what the next element should be in the structure to bring in in order to keep the flow of the track…??!! …….so I;m having such issues and would be fantastic to hear that there is a solution, please. also about that when is it best to do the EQing:
    – in session view when chopping and manipulating sounds…
    – or whilst working on the track’s arrangement…
    – or maybe just after the final arrangements done.????
    when i make music i often feel like i cant get forward until the track i have so far are sounding pretty much the way i want it to be so after a while it start to work it out itself …if this makes any sense..??!!

    Thanks in advance and I’m looking forward to some more tips………….

    • AMB

      January 5, 2014 (13:15) Reply

      If the left and right side of your sound are identical, it’s basically mono and you’ll hear it from the so-called phantom centre, which really feels like a third speaker, in front of you. Now, if you find that sound to be a little too buried in the mix, you might wanna bring it out using an EQ but actually, you’re often better off giving it a wide stereo image, i.e. lots of difference between the left and right channel. There are many ways to create stereo out of mono, one of them being what I described in the post. One of the most radical ones has to be the Haas effect though and for that very reason it works great but you wanna chuck it onto just a couple sounds in your mix, if any. There is a free VST plugin that you can get here: http://www.vescofx.com/vfxFreeHaas

      Re: structure, I don’t work in Session mode really but when I do I usually record a performance into the Arrangement and modify/ fine tune everything there.

      I like to do my EQ-ing and basically all my mixing on the fly, but mind you I’ve been producing tracks 20 years now, so my advice to producers starting out would be, don’t stress about EQ-ing too much when working on other aspects of a track, no need to get bogged down in mixing constantly, it might be quite counter-productive. It’s often difficult enough just to follow through an idea before it’s gone.

      I’ll do a post on structure tips, though!

  2. Maia

    January 5, 2014 (12:08) Reply

    Thank you, this is all so, so useful and so well explained. I’ll be going through all of this with my current tracks and looking forward to whatever you post up next!

  3. Andrew

    January 6, 2014 (05:14) Reply

    Big up for the quick response and for the vst too…….It is a massive help !!!!!!! Thanks for making an effort on sharing all these stuff with us!

  4. Animus Invidious

    January 8, 2014 (18:33) Reply

    Great tips. i would add that the solo button is great for honing in on problem frequencies.

  5. MMI

    January 8, 2014 (19:56) Reply

    In #11, using EQ3 to create the frequency split on each chain will be easier on your CPU than using the MB Dynamics plug.

  6. jeax

    January 9, 2014 (13:26) Reply

    Thanks for the great instruction! How do you determine the specific frequency parameters of the bands when splitting in EQ?

  7. francesco

    December 12, 2014 (17:21) Reply

    Hello, I’ve ableton Lite 9 Live but Eq Eight not present..
    Please help me!

  8. Doug Beney

    December 28, 2014 (04:00) Reply

    Very cool stuff. Good tips as well. I just thought I’d throw a few suggestions, because I like your site. You should remove the links on the images here. They just go to the images file. Not really to necessary. I also like your shop with the “name your price” thing. Very cool! Perhaps on each product/song you could find a way to implement a comment system. That’d be cool.

    • AMB

      December 28, 2014 (16:34) Reply

      Thanks for the tips, I haven’t yet got round to disabling the image links but yea will go ahead and do now. I removed the review feature from the shop but it might just be a good idea to enable it actually…

  9. steve knots

    February 24, 2016 (03:12) Reply

    control-click for Q in EQ8… WHY DID I NEVER KNOW THIS UNTIL NOW thank you thank you thank you

    • AMB

      February 25, 2016 (18:19) Reply

      I knoooow, I was stoked when I found it, so happy to bring great news to others hhaha, such a time-saver!

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