A few days ago, we touched on some general tips regarding how beginners can to go about treating EQ by each specific range. We detailed some examples of what most people tend to cut or boost on a certain range order to attain a desired effect, such as giving the 60Hz frequency a boost in order to thicken up bass drums and sub-bass parts. If you have yet to check that out, we highly recommend doing so. Today we’re going to take it one step further and highlight a few more general – but invaluable – ideas and tips that you should keep in mind when it comes to proper EQing. Anyways, enough with the introduction, let’s get started!
When it comes to mixing and proper EQing, the key is balance – frequency balance, that is. Every instrument or part should ideally have its own place within the frequency spectrum. The bass and kick drum should reside between the 50Hz-100Hz range for example. If you happen to record a guitar part with too much low end, the heavier kick and bass drum will begin to overlap the sound, and conversely, the guitar’s low-end will end up masking the kick and bass, leaving you with a something that sounds cluttered rather than clear.
The good news is that it’s actually quite easy to prevent this by using a low-cut filter. A low-cut filter is essentially what it sounds like: a filter that cuts anything that goes below a predetermined frequency, such as 100Hz. Using this in our above example will ensure that the guitar won’t step into the bass territory, leaving you with a cleaner guitar along with a tighter and clearer bass and kick drum sound. This same principle should be applied to every other track, including voice. There will of course be some overlap by the key here is still overall frequency balance. The more balanced the whole mix sits, the cleaner, tighter and clearer the entire song will sound.
Consider guitar, piano, and voice—all of which overlap in several ranges. To make a voice stand out, boost the highs somewhat (try a high-frequency shelving filter boost starting around 2kHz) so it rides above the more “midrange-y” piano and guitar. Now, decide whether the guitar or piano will own the lower midrange, and let the other instrument own the upper midrange. For example, cut the piano a bit at 500Hz and boost around 1.5kHz to emphasize the upper mids, while boosting guitar around 400Hz and cutting at around 2kHz to emphasize the lower mids. Now the three instruments will sit in their own distinct ranges.
EQ is not a one size fits all affair. If the guitar needs to be mixed more prominently in particular places, don’t just increase the level. Think of EQ as a frequency-selective volume control. Find frequencies where the other instruments aren’t represented, and boost the guitar in only those ranges. The guitar will become more prominent, but without smearing the other instruments. Anyone can solo a guitar and make it sound good, with warm lows, sizzling highs, and a beefy midrange. But bring in the other instruments, and, like the bass and kick example above, the guitar will become less distinct because the frequency ranges of other instruments will mask the guitar tone. You need to be selective in where you cut and boost, based on what the other instruments are doing.
As far as panning goes – save it for last. Separating instruments by panning is the easy way out. In the example above, piano left, guitar right, voice center— problem solved, right? No. While they don’t overlap spatially, their frequencies still do. If you can EQ instruments into their own space when mixed in mono, when you create a stereo spread they’ll be even more distinct.
Also be aware that when it comes to mixing and recording, more is not always better. Layering can help smooth out a guitar so it sits back more in the mix, but for maximum prominence, a single mono guitar track can be the best choice.
One Last Thing...
The ear is very sensitive in the 3kHz-4kHz range, so you can make any instrument stand out in the mix by boosting in this range. Careful, though—too much of a boost will make the tone harsh, strident, and fatiguing. A little goes a long way.