Top 10 Equalisation Tips For Beginner Mix Engineers

Equalisation is one of the most essential steps in the mixing process. This is where you'll trim your sounds and remove any frequencies that are unpleasant to the ears and boost those that are pleasant to the ears. This not only gives you more headroom in your mix but also allows you to place elements where you want them in the song.
Proper Equalisation is the key to good mixes. It can make or break your mix. Yet most beginner engineers tend to underestimate equalisation, or they overdo it.

In this article, you'll learn the Top 10 Equalisation Tips That Pro Mix Engineers Don't Want You To Know.

Top 10 Equalisation Tips For Beginner Mix Engineers

Here are the Top 10 Equalisation Tips For Beginners Mix Engineers: -

  1. Have A Reason To EQ
  2. EQ In Terms Of Frequencies And Consider The Importance Of Elements.
  3. Cuts Work Better Than Boosting
  4. No One Will Hear It In Solo
  5. Think Left/Right, Middle & Sides
  6. Notch and Clean
  7. Semi-Parametric EQs Are Your Life Savers
  8. EQ The Bus Channels
  9. Listen In Mono and Use M/S For Tightness
  10. Train Your Ears and Use High Fidelity Monitoring

Tip #1: Have A Reason To EQ

Most beginners tend to overdo EQ-ing and processing. Stop. Before you even begin to EQ, have a reason as to why you need to EQ.

Listen to the mix and give some thought to different frequencies that are present in different elements of the mix. Is the mix bass-heavy? Is the mix getting cluttered in the Mids? Is it falling apart in different sections and lacking clarity?

Think, plan and try to find a reason as to why and what region of frequencies you should EQ before you start.

Having a vision and a clear goal always helps you EQ better and make better mixes.

Tip #2: EQ In Terms Of Frequencies And Consider The Importance Of Elements.

As a mix engineer, you should think and work in terms of frequencies. Understand the frequency spectrum and how different sounds behave.

It is always beneficial to consider the elements present in the same frequency spectrum and EQ them to avoid phasing issues and create space. Make space for the important element by cutting out or lowering the less important elements.

E.g., If you have a kick and an 808 bass, both of the sounds will take up the low-end region, i.e., between 30Hz and 150Hz. Look out for the fundamental frequency of both the instruments before you make any EQ decisions. Most certainly the 808 basses will have their fundamental frequency lower than the kick drum. So to make space for the kick drum use a low shelf filter or a low cut filter to cut out or reduce frequencies below 50Hz on the kick drum.

Similarly, you can boost counter frequencies between kick and bass and make them more pronounced. Watch the video below to learn more about EQ-ing Kick and Bass.

Tip #3: Cuts Work Better Than Boosting

Cutting out(subtractive EQ) or lowering the amplitude works better than boosting the frequencies(additive EQ).

Subtractive EQ keeps your mix spacious and adds clarity. Boosting on the other hand can cause phasing issues in a mix. So if a problem can be solved by doing subtractive EQ over additive EQ, go for subtractive EQ.

E.g., if you are facing masking issues between a mids rich synth sound and a snare drum. Lowering synth sounds around 800Hz-1.5kHz can make space for the snare sound and help it cut through the mix. On the other hand, if you boost the snare drum around 800Hz-1.5kHz, it will clutter up the mix and also cause more phasing challenges with the vocals and other mid-rich elements.

Always consider the importance of elements and treat them accordingly. Try to lower the frequencies of elements that are less important for the mix rather than boosting the important ones.

Tip #4: No One Will Hear It In Solo

Most beginners try to EQ sounds in solo mode to make the sound clear and shining when heard alone. As soon as they turn the solo mode off, the sounds does not fit in the mix.

Apart from notching and cleaning the trouble frequencies, it does not make any sense to EQ in solo mode.

While EQ-ing, one always thinks and considers the impact of changes with perspective to other elements in the mix.

E.g. boosting 1.5kHz on a snare drum might make it sound mid-rich and fuller but it will also lead to phasing issues with vocals and make the mids crowded in the mix. You will need to consider the importance of the elements and tradeoffs of such an EQ decision.

Tip #5 : Think Left/Right, Middle & Sides

L/R or left-right EQ-ing stereo channels work wonders for a mix. Creating contrast using L/R EQ-ing will help elements like guitars, and synths stand out in a mix.

Using a low shelf on a left channel and a high shelf on a right channel of different mics of a guitar will create interest.

M/S EQ or mid-side EQ is another EQ-ing technique that can help you treat middle or centre imaging and sides imaging separately. this can help create space and clean up a mix.

If your mix is feeling crowded and cluttered, using M/S EQ you can create space for the low end.

Tip #6: Notch and Clean

Cleaning out sounds using a notch is a widely used technique by the pros.

Notch Filtering is an EQ technique that can greatly assist you in locating problematic frequencies in your songs.
It is easiest to use when using an EQ that includes a spectrogram in the display.

To create a notch, simply use a band pass filter with high Q value and increased gain. Sweep across the frequency spectrum looking for troublesome frequencies using notches. You will be surprised as to how much clarity it brings to a mix.

A word of warning - do not overdo notching. Most beginners go all-out crazy with notches, resulting in a lifeless mix.

Tip #7: Semi-Parametric EQs Are Your Life Savers

Semi-parametric EQs like SieQ By Sound Toys, are widely used by pros to EQ. These are fast to use and add character to sound.

Having limited control actually helps keep up the pace and keep the mix clean as well. Most semi-parametric EQs have fixed bandwidth or Q-factors. This actually ensures that you do not mess up the sounds by doing extreme EQs that make no sense.

If you are a newbie or a PRO, semi-parametric EQs will help your mix workflow and keep it simple.

Suggested Read : Types Of Equalisers For Processing Audio

Tip #8: EQ The Bus Channels

Using an EQ to clean up and boost your bus channels can be the difference between a great mix and a good mix. Always account for what artefacts do to your mix buses and what they bring to the mix, and treat them accordingly.

E.g. EQ-ing a reverb bus with a low cut around 1kHz and high-cut around 6kHz can keep it controlled and focused. On the other hand, a reverb without any EQ will spread out and make your mix loose its tightness and clarity.

Tip #9: Listen In Mono and Use M/S For Tightness

Listen to your mixes in mono and try to analyse how good the centre sounds. If the centre is crowded, always make space using an M/S EQ. Lower or cut out the mid and high frequencies from the centre. 

You will be surprised how much tight a mix sounds if you cut out slight highs from the centre imaging on the low end.

So make sure you listen in mono and make EQ decisions as per the need.

Tip #10: Train Your Ears and Use High Fidelity Monitoring

I saved this one for the last. This is the ultimate advice I can give you on this list. If you cannot listen, you cannot EQ.

Listening is a two-part job. The first part is your monitoring system. The second part is your listening skills—how good and trained are your ears.

Use a good pair of headphones, an acoustically treated room with a good pair of speakers and reference monitors.

If you do not have a good reference monitoring setup, use spectrum analyser as a guide. Do not solely rely on spectrum analysers while you EQ.

 In the Next Article, Learn How To Ear Train For Engineers.

Suggested Reads

EQ Fundamentals Article

Fundamentals Of Sound For Audio Engineers

How To Set Volume Levels In A Mix

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Udeeksh Sood on

Udeeksh is an Audio Engineer. He loves to produce music, research music gear, play guitar, go on treks and road trips.