We’re always trying to get a cleaner, more present mix each time we’re behind the console, and a lot of that clarity comes from how we EQ our instruments. Let’s check out 5 ways to dramatically and easily improve our mixes!
1. Use Cuts Instead Of Boosts
Cuts just sound better than boosts in most situations. I look at it this way: when I’m cutting frequencies, I’m fixing problems. When I’m boosting frequencies, I’m trying to feature a tone that’s already good. Doesn’t it just makes sense to work on cuts first? For example, if I’m EQing vocals that are running through a slightly muddy dynamic mic like an SM58, I obviously want to get rid of that muddy sound. But I won’t start by adding highs, instead I’ll start by cutting the lows. That gets to where the root of the problem is. It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough high end in the signal, it was that I had too much low mid content. Just by listening for and then eliminating those problem areas you’ll discover that the time you spend EQing is DRASTICALLY reduced and your mixes will sound infinitely better and more clear.
2. Cut 600-800 Hz From Your Drums And Guitars
600 to 800 Hz is just a nasty range on a lot of instruments, and unfortunately, its a range that gets overlooked a lot of the time. It’s that frequency range that sound sort of “honk-y” or “bulky” in the midrange. I first noticed it when EQing cymbals and drum overheads because it sticks out as this very dense tone that almost sounded like white noise. When I cut it from the overheads with my EQ, my reaction was literally “Oh! Now I can hear everything else in my drum mix!”. It was masking and covering up so much other content. Suddenly the drums sounded more alive and three dimensional instead of closed in and boxy. Also, try cutting that range on acoustic and electric guitar. Sometimes, all that time you would have spent boosting the top end to try to get them to cut through the mix can be saved just by cutting that one range!
3. Don’t Be Afraid Of Drastic Low Mid Cuts
This one is tried and true. Low mids are from the devil himself. So let’s cut them like we mean it! Obviously, I’m not telling you to go to your master EQ and cut out 20 dB across your entire mix, cause that would just sound thin, but I am saying that if your kick or bass sounds muddy or saggy instead of punchy, don’t be afraid to kill off those low mid frequencies (200-400 hZ) with a vengeance!
4. Cut 2-4 kHz In Everything But Vocals
This is an easy on that sort of references point number 1, but in the context of a whole mix. If your vocal sounds good on its own, but when you put it in a mix it gets lost, chances are you don’t need to boost your vocal level or EQ, you just need to cut from the other instruments to make room. Typically the upper midrange from 2 kHz to 4 kHz is a great place to start, but it may be a little different depending on the vocalist. When you find the right area, just cut a couple dB at that range from other elements in the mix (especially guitars and keys) and sit back and listen in awe as your vocal magically appears!
5. Use Your Low Pass Filters
I saved this for last because it’s super easy: use your low pass filter! This is the filter on your EQ that cuts all the high end above a certain frequency. You set the frequency and it rolls off everything above it. This is great for opening up a mix. I use it on electric guitars around 8 kHz, kick drums around 6 kHz to keep out cymbal bleed, on acoustics to get rid of that glass-y top end around 12 kHz, snare drums and toms to get rid of the high end of the cymbals that can bleed in…the list goes on and on. The only place I don’t use it are on vocals because they really do have important frequencies that go up that high, and drum overheads/cymbal mics for the same reason. It sounds easy (because it is) but it will open up your mix like nothing else!