Every artist relies on the tools of the their trade when creating. The painter has the paintbrush, the sculptor has the chisel, and the producer has the equalizer. In this tutorial, we’ll break down everything you need to know about how to use EQ in mixing.
Equalizers change the way an instrument sounds by altering its frequency response. Just like a car stereo, they can be used to add more “bass”, turn down the “treble” and much more. Most EQs use multiple bands to give you control over separate frequency ranges. Parametric EQs are typically broken into low, low-mid, midrange, high-mid, and high frequency bands. Each band uses three basic controls to shape sounds: frequency, gain and “Q”, or quality.
Not all EQs feature Q controls, but those that do offer more flexibility when tweaking your tone:
The frequency control allows you to select the specific frequency you want to adjust for each band. The gain control is used to control how much you cut or boost the selected frequency.
The Q knob adjusts the slope of your EQ curve. Bands with low Q settings have a gentle slope that affects a wide range of frequencies, while high Q settings offer a more focused shape.
Cutting frequencies is called subtractive EQ, and works well for making tracks sound cleaner or clearer. Boosting frequencies is called additive EQ, and is better for emphasizing a specific frequency range in a recording.
In addition to these controls, there are three basic EQ shapes: filters, shelves, and bells.
Filters do exactly what the name suggests—they filter out unwanted frequencies above or below a certain point. Filters are useful for removing unwanted low-end rumble from recordings, or taming the high-end on harsh-sounding instruments.
Shelf EQs can be used to cut or boost frequencies above or below a certain point. Shelves are commonly used to add low-end to kick drums, add high-end to guitars, or toning down overly bright cymbals.
The bell is the most common and versatile EQ shape. With a high Q value, they offer hyper-narrow curves ideal for pinpointing and reducing problematic frequencies. With a low Q value, bell curves offer a subtler slope over a wider range of frequencies, which works well for boosting.
Learn how to carve out space for each instrument using subtractive EQ. Train your ear to identify problem frequencies using the sweeping technique.
Now that you know how to use an EQ, it’s time to get mixing!