You know how your favorite songs sound crisp and distinct, yet blended? Making that happen is all about balance. You can get that same incredible blend. EQ, or equalization is one of the tools to help you get there. The following 3 essential EQ concepts are not rules by any means, save for the last one (it’s pretty indisputable), but they do work for me.
- Cut for Clarity
- Boost for Color
- Frequency Masking
Cut for Clarity
Remove the unnecessary frequencies from your sounds. You love the sound of your 808 kick by itself, but when everything else is in, it sounds muddy.
Simple solution: Make room in the mix for it using EQ. You can make your low-end crisp by using a high-pass filter on all the sounds (yes all the sounds) that don’t need to have bass.
Do your strings sound muffled? Even worse, when your strings play at the same time as your vocals, does everything get muddy?
Could be another situation where EQ can help you. Setup an EQ on your strings to make a large cut. Sweep the cut (move the frequency higher and lower) until your vocal sounds clearer. Lessen the depth of the cut a little bit. Widen it out some if you can (most EQs have a Q setting that lets you determine the width of the bell). You’ve just taken a step toward a clearer sound.
The same concept can be applied everywhere. We’ll take more about that in the Beware of Frequency Masking Section.
Boost for Color
While EQ can be used to make sounds more clear, it can also be used to make sounds more interesting or colorful. You’d be surprised with the results you can get with additive EQ. With that being said, I probably cut for clarity at least 20 times more than I boost for color. Try to record things as close to how you want them to sound as possible.
Feel like your vocalist could use a little more presence? Assuming she or he recorded clearly, you could use EQ to make that happen.
Setup an EQ on the vocal to make a semi-wide boost. Sweep the frequency until you find the area that gives you the additional presence you want.
Side Note: It doesn’t make sense for me to give you specific Hz values because they’ll differ based on the elements in your mix, the sounds you’re going for, and the sound you have.
Beware of Frequency Masking
So you can cut for clarity and boost for color, but you don’t know why it’s necessary. Why does cutting the sound in one frequency make things clearer? Frequency masking is the answer.
When multiple sounds occupy the same frequency region, they compete for your attention. You want both your snare and your vocal to be crisp but when you turn the vocal up you snare disappears. That’s frequency masking. You want both your bassline and kick drum to be distinct and powerful but together they just sound muddy. That’s frequency masking.
The way to overcome frequency masking is to EQ accordingly, and EQ according to your priorities. Don’t worry about how sounds sound soloed. The most important thing is how the sounds work in the mix.
So to sum up, cut for clarity, boost for color, and when things are muddy and using the fader doesn’t help, your problem is probably frequency masking. Now go put these ideas into practice on your next mix.
Please leave your thoughts in the comments section. If this was confusing, leave a comment. If this made sense leave a comment.