EQ-ing Without Listening First. Are you guilty of this? Come on, be honest. Have you ever opened up a mix and started slapping EQs on every channel and twisting away at the knobs?
It’s okay, I’ve done it, too. Do you know why this is a bad idea?
Last night I was working on a mix, and the ol’ temptation to throw a bunch of plugins by default came a-calling. I held strong, though, and starting mixing WITHOUT any plugins. I brought up all the tracks, kept everything in mono, and started balancing levels.
A few minutes later, the mix was already sounding pretty good. WHAT?! A decent-sounding mix without plug-ins? Shocker, right?
But that’s the point. Sometimes simply balancing levels can cut out the need for a bunch of plug-ins. Bass too boomy? Sometimes all you need to do is turn it down rather than EQ it.
That said, you obviously need to use EQ to clean up the mix and make everything audible and purdy. But before you reach for that favorite EQ, listen to the tracks.
Maybe you’ll decide you don’t need an EQ. Maybe you’ll still need one, but you’ll have a much better idea of what the track sounds like and what you like/dislike about it.
Have A Goal
This ties into listening. When you grab an EQ plugin, do you know what you’re trying to accomplish with it?
If not, scroll back up a few paragraphs and listen some more. If you don’t know WHY you’re using EQ, you’re probably not going to come up with anything super helpful.
Here are some examples of “goals” I have with EQ:
—The bass is muddying up the midrange a bit. I’m going to clear out some of the low-mids with EQ to make room for the other instruments and give the bass some punch.
—The kick drum could be punchier. I’m going to use EQ to cut out around 400 Hz to do that.
—The lead vocal is hard to understand. I’m going to remove excess low end with a high-pass filter and some low mids with EQ.
—The delay on the vocal is too obvious. I’ll use a high-shelf and maybe a low-pass filter to roll of some highs and give it a darker, low-fi sound.
Know what you’re wanting to accomplish.
You can’t work magic with EQ. I can’t make Music Man bass sound like a Jazz bass. I can’t make a crappy vocalist sound like Jeff Buckley. And I can’t make a thin snare sound huge and beefy.
Rather than trying to change the sound with EQ, try using EQ to enhance the sound. It’ll make life a lot easier.
So…are you guilty of EQ-ing without listening?
Joe Gilder is a Nashville based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner.