The Art Of Equalization

This is my first ever publication! From 1994. It was written for a class I was TAing at the University of New Mexico, put on a web page, and then published in Cubase Newsletter without my knowledge or consent! Back then I guess people didn’t think IP laws applied to the web. They gave me credit. Aka my name. We all did stuff like that all the time back then. You could use movie samples on your CD to your heart’s content, we figured, as long as credit was given. How naive. Anyway, here’s the “article”, which is from when all our eq’ing was done using hardware EQs.

EQ can be used in a variety of situations, from live sound to recording to tape to mixing down. Mainly, it should be used to enhance signals that have some problem. The golden rule of EQ is less is more. If something seems fine without it, I avoid EQing it at all. Then, if I do use it, I try to remain subtle. My personal golden rule is nearly never EQ signals going to tape (as in a multitracking situation). I always try to get the original sound on tape, then I can mess with it later. Putting EQ (or any other effect) on tape usually just leads to trouble. The other rule (the silver rule 🙂 ) is cutting is almost always better than boosting, especially when fixing problems. For example if a guitar sounds too thin, first try cutting high frequencies and boosting the gain a bit, instead of boosting the lows. The more clutter you can remove from a mix, the better. A better example is I very often cut a bit of high away from hats. Another example is, many times you may not hear something well in a mix…You might try cutting some frequencies in a different track that seems to be interfering, rather than boosting in the track you want to bring out. With these basic rules in mind, I’ll tell you my rules when I enter a mixdown session:

  1. Rule Of Opposites: Usually, tracks with high sounds, (a high guitar, hats) need cutting in high frequencies and boosting in lower, and vice-versa. This is really only a starting guide, not a rule. Also, sounds that interfere with each other can be separated in a mix by EQing them in opposite directions.
  2. Bass usually needs a boost in the mid range somewhere and sometimes the high. This way it can cut through and be heard on smaller speakers.
  3. Kick drums usually need that same mid and/or high boost on a subtle level so they too can cut through on smaller speakers. For hip-hop, kick needs a low end boost, but NOT TOO MUCH.
  4. Snare drums always sound warmer with a boost in the low-mid range and some cut of the highs. An annoying CRACK can be softened with this high cut. Sometimes I boost the lows in snares to make them even fatter. But it really depends on the snare sound. The rule of opposites usually applies here. Snare sounds that were thin to begin with I usually warm up a bit, and heafty snare sounds I might thin out a bit.
  5. Hats almost never need any EQ if they’re recorded clean. Usually an EQing for my hat tracks is to cut highs to get rid of an annoying hiss.
  6. Guitars are similar to snares for me. A thin original guitar might need boosting in mids and lows (depending on what the desired sound is, and what else is present in the mix) or a hefty guitar might need to be thinned out a little by cutting lows and low-mids.
  7. Vocals usually like to have a boost in the mids or high-mids, but it depends on the voice. Vocals nearly always get lost amongst guitars…a good way to deal with this is the rule of opposites. Boost mids in the vocals and cut them in the guitar, or something similar. Vocals can also have annoying hiss or sibilance, and sometimes cutting high frequencies can help that.
  8. Strings, and more specifically good string patches from a synth, usually need little EQ. If they are merely a support player, I may thin them out a tiny bit, or if they are meant to be present, I may thicken them in the mids a little (or sometimes the opposite…this stuff is highly subjective). But they usually work well left alone. Really clean piano or keyboard synth patches are the same way.
  9. I like to leave reverb returns alone, but if the reverb becomes annoying and noisy, cutting some high can soften it up a bit…same with strings.
  10. Extreme EQ setting create sounds of their own. Experiment. But for a non-novel track, be subtle.
  11. AC hum from a track can almost always be fixed by cutting 60 Hz all the way off. (Sometimes this can take away from bass or kick sounds, but I believe that most frequencies audible in a song are above 60 Hz).
  12. Play with EQ settings thoroughly to find appropriate settings.
  13. I don’t mix horns too often, but when I do, I like to leave them alone. Clean horn tracks usually seem fine to me.
  14. NEVER EVER EVER force yourself to EQ a track that sounds fine, just because you think you should use the full capabilities of the studio. NEVER NEVER NEVER!
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