EQ Tips & Advice
I have two distinctly different approaches to using EQ.. The first is in the recording stages where the instrument (and amp when being used) should be the focus of creating and colouring the sound source, along with choice of microphone and positioning. I normally employ EQ to remove unwanted frequencies from the audio at this stage so that when the track has been recorded I can then use EQ again to enhance the sound rather than try to fix things.
As instruments are being added I may use a parametric to deal with reducing unwanted frequencies. But as tracks are being layered up, listening along with what’s already been recorded will heavily influence my approach to tone as each new instrument is added. This is a musical decision and there are no rules to suggest. A light goes on in my brain when the sound blends well… you know the feeling! Allow instruments to have their own “space” in the frequency spectrum; don’t make them fight for it. Understand that instruments of the same type can sound different, so EQ accordingly.
To me EQ is more than just frequency control. One of the tricks in mixing is to consider EQ as volume too. A deliberately balanced mix can be subtly fine-tuned further by using EQ to create tiny volume adjustments much more effectively then reaching for the fader. After all boosting or cutting a frequency is actually a volume change too. If in doubt try “notching” and cut frequencies instead of boosting. EQing won’t save your mix; you can’t EQ out bad sound. I always cut frequencies below 90Hz for vocals, they add little to the mix and just muddy the sound. I find is useful to listen to 15 minutes of well mixed music before a mixing session to attune my ears. I tend to make decisions as I go along in a production so that I don’t have to make hundreds of decisions at the mix and mastering stages.
When Mastering EQ can finish off a mix perfectly. Ideally the EQ at this point will just enhance an already good mix. The old RIAA AES mechanical rule for vinyl was to cut frequencies at 47Hz and 12k, and some truly great recordings were made this way. Human perception at extreme highs and lows is not all that accurate or sensitive, and a little goes a long way.
I’ve worked with some engineers who over work on the EQ with almost no reference to the emotional content of the work so beware of the boffins!. It’s a crucial and hugely important signal processing tool which can make all the difference between a ordinary and brilliant mix but trust your instincts, over clinical use of eq can be correct.. but somehow unmusical.
Check out this EQ chart to give an idea of the normal frequency ranges of Instruments.