Pro Tips, Tutorials

All Things Equalized: A Hands-On Guide to EQ’ing Your Music

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One of the essential parts of producing music is learning how to mix your audio tracks. Mixing can be broken down into four elements: Volume (how loud the track is in the mix), Effects (such as reverb, delay, filter sweeps), Panning (how far left, right, or center the track is), and Equalization. In this post, I’ll be focusing on the latter, also referred to as EQ. Equalization is a simple concept: it’s about making certain parts of your audio track (like a guitar or snare drum) get louder, while making other parts more quiet. EQ’ing in the mixing stage is no different than mixing your car stereo, adding a bit of bass boom or adjusting the high-end treble to make the song sound best.
 

What Is EQ Used For?

As you can see in this graph, instruments fit into different ends of these frequencies, ranging from low to high. While there are countless other instruments to account for, this illustrates how you need to think about EQ’ing. You want every instrument to highlight certain frequencies so they can all pop out in the mix; you don’t want your vocals to have much low end, nor do you want your bass to have much high end. EQ’ing can also get rid of unsavory sounds — if you were to record an electric guitar through an amplifier, for example, EQ’ing the track would allow you to hear all of the grit and twang of the guitar while making the hiss or feedback from the amplifier quieter.

Hands of a sound engineer
Hands of a Sound Engineer Adjusting the Regulators by Imagebroker
 

How to EQ a Song

In this tutorial, we’ll be deconstructing one of my songs using Logic Pro 9’s built-in graphic equalizer for every track (bass, acoustic guitars, synthesizers, vocals, etc). Although there are many types of equalizers, using a graphic EQ is great to start with, as it allows you to visualize what’s happening to the track while you’re working on it. Since this track has already undergone every other stage of mixing (volume, panning, and effects have all already been set), all that’s left to do is EQ each audio track.

Here is my song before equalization:

Here it is again after equalization:

You should be able to hear an audible difference — the version with EQ makes everything pop, allowing the individual tracks to sit together without clashing with one another. Although all of the levels and panning are the same, this mix feels like every element is allowed to shine.
 

The Low-End Range

Now let’s get into the individual ranges, going back to the original track and adjusting them one at a time.

Sub Bass

Before EQ:

After EQ:

Sub bass is a primary sound in many genres, from hip-hop and pop to electronic music. The sub bass gives a track that low-end bounce. My sub bass here is a simple sine wave, produced using Logic’s ES2 synthesizer. EQ’ing sub bass is tricky, but relatively simple. For this song, I began by adding a low-pass filter (which you can automate by clicking this button):

Once you click the button, a curve removing all the high end will appear.

Hold and drag the new slope that comes up and you can then drag it all the way down the frequency spectrum, getting rid of all the high end and leaving only that loud sub-bass area as audible.

Now that all of the high end has been removed here, you can accentuate the frequencies you want to be audible. CLick and drag to create a curve at the 20-50hz range and drag up to boost the bass frequencies. Do this to your taste and make sure it doesn’t clip or distort.

Sub bass before EQ:

After EQ:

Since I produce electronic music, I prefer my sub bass to be one of the more prominent elements of the mix, but do whatever sounds best for your track. Many film composers love to use a sub-bass rumble to add depth and impact to their tracks. Hans Zimmer, in his soundtracks for The Dark Knight and Inception, uses sub bass quite a bit.

Kick Drum

As a personal preference, I use several tracks of different kick-drum sounds, then send them all through one EQ via an audio bus. Similar to sub bass and bass, the kick drum is still operating on the low end of the frequency spectrum. I carve out the high end again and boost the 20hz range. I don’t add too much volume here, as I don’t want the low end to clip (which will happen if you make too many sounds in the same frequency range too loud). Here is my kick before, and after.

Before EQ:

After EQ:

A nice, prominent kick drum is a essential part of hip-hop and dance music. However, these practices can apply with rock music, as well. Listen to how prominent in the mix and how well EQ’ed the kick drum is for this song by Radiohead.

Bass

Last up is the bass line. In this song, I used a Massive bass plug-in.

Before EQ:

After EQ:

For the bass synthesizer, I once again accentuated the low frequencies quite a bit and removed some high end. However, to keep from clashing with the sub bass too much, I did two things. One is that the bass is playing one octave higher; the other is that I accentuated more of the mid frequencies by just a tad, evening out the bass to provide a healthy amount of resonance in the low end, but just enough in the mid range to fill out the track even more.
 

The Mid Range

Percussion

For my percussion tracks, I used three tracks that have been sent to one EQ. This includes two claps and a snare drum. If you’re producing a genre like rock or acoustic music, any sort of percussion instrument, such as a snare drum or tom, can fit in this range.

Before EQ:

After EQ:

For percussion, I carved out the low end and only a little bit of the high end to really accentuate the mid-range frequencies. I prefer to keep a tiny bit of high-end prevalent for my percussion tracks as a nice contrast to the low-end groove set by the other elements, like the kick drum.

Synthesizers

For this track, I used two synthesizers, playing in two octaves. One is playing at a higher octave and the other at one lower, just to fill out that mid-range a little more. Like my percussion and kick tracks, I send multiple tracks into one EQ.

Before EQ:

After EQ:

If you listen closely to the synthesizers without EQ, they sound very bright, shiny, and treble-y. In some cases, this bright-sounding synthesizer track would work great. However, since I’m using a vocalist, I don’t want the vocals (which are typically in the high range) to be clashing with these synths. For that reason, I pulled out most of the high end, in addition to carving out the low end as usual. I was happy with how the mid frequencies sounded after this, and didn’t boost them too much for these instruments.

Acoustic Guitars

Guitars, like other live instruments, can be a hassle to EQ. You have to account for a number of accidental mic pickups — whether it’s a low-end background hum or different mic placements picking up different sounds. For guitars, I recommend reading about microphones and mic placements before attempting to fix any issues in the EQ stage. Different mic placements can pick up different frequencies — placing the mic too close can produce a bassier sound, and placing it close to the guitar neck can get more of a bright sound. In any case, I recorded two acoustic guitars with a Shure SM57, placed the mic close to the sound hole.

Before EQ:

After EQ:

I don’t want the acoustic guitars too bright to clash with the synthesizers, nor too low to clash with the bass, so I EQ’ed them to pop in certain elements of the mid-range without conflicting with the percussion. Like the other mid-range instruments, I cut out the low-end and high-end, as well.
 

The High-End Range

Hi-Hats

For the high-end-frequency element of my percussion tracks, I wanted to carve out the mids and lows to really accentuate those driving hi-hats. My hi-hat tracks consist of one hi-hat sound and another set of chimes.

Before EQ:

After EQ:

Although I’m producing an electronic track, this is handy for mixing any kind of drum set’s cymbals, and applies just as easily to mixing a crash cymbal or a ride.

Vocals

I’ve saved the hardest for last. Mixing vocals can be a nightmare for many engineers and producers, as it depends on the singer’s range, style of singing, and genre of music to get a good result. Any way you look at a vocalist on the EQ spectrum, it’s impossible to use a “one-size-fits-all” mentality with EQ’ing their voice. Regardless, I decided to add just a tiny bit of treble to highlight this vocalist’s recording to sit nicely in the mix. Because vocals are a special case, I’ve decided to use Waves’ CLA Vocals plug-in rather than the stock Logic EQ.

Before EQ:

After EQ:

The CLA plug-in is great for adding a nice band of compression while balancing bass and treble for the track. Waves produces a number of great VST plug-ins, once you feel comfortable EQ’ing your tracks and feel ready to take the next step.


Mixing Board by Aar Studio

Practice EQ’ing your tracks with these tips in mind, but remember that the most important advice you can get is to trust your gut and ears. In the end, if it sounds right, it is right. Leave any questions or comments below, and stay tuned for more audio tips and tricks!

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Top image: Hands on Mixing Console in Music Recording Studio by Dolgachovo