This post was originally published on The Pro Audio Files, with a somewhat less inflammatory title.
EQ is a pretty powerful tool. More powerful than almost every other tool in your mixing toolkit (second only to the volume fader). And with great power comes great responsibility.
Also, with great power comes great mistakes.
If you’re reading this, it shouldn’t be any surprise to you that there are plenty of ways people struggle with EQ. Sometimes the sound ends up worse than it started. Sometimes it takes far longer to get the sound than it otherwise should.
And so here are three different techniques people use that can sometimes do more harm than good. I know, I’ve used them too.
High pass everything by default
This is a good one. “High pass everything except kick and bass.” Every time. Cut out unnecessary junk. It’s just rumble and mud down there. Sound familiar?
Well, high passing everything is probably a good idea if you’re mixing a monster track with 60+ channels. If you’ve got that much stuff to jam together, most of the sounds will need to be pretty small.
But if your track needs a bit more life and realism, think before you high pass. Even better, listen before you high pass. Because they’re right – there’s some rumble and mud down there. But there’s also a lot of weight and warmth and vibe down there too.
By all means, don’t be shy about that high pass filter. But realise it’s just a tool. And sometimes it’s not the best tool for the job. Sometimes you need some weight and warmth and vibe – even for tracks that aren’t labelled ‘Kick’ or ‘Bass’.
Cutting your sound to shreds
Cutting is better than boosting, right? Well, sometimes. Do you use the ‘boost and sweep’ method to ‘find bad frequencies’?
Well, here’s the trap – when you’re looking for ‘bad frequencies’, you’ll find them. You’ll find heaps of them. Because when you boost a narrow range and sweep it all over the place, every frequency is going to sound pretty terrible. And then you’ll cut. And cut and cut and cut. How good is it that DAWs and digital mixers have four, five, eight, ten bands of EQ of every channel? Now you can cut all the bad frequencies!
If you know what I’m talking about, you’ll know that your sound very quickly starts to resemble a Worms game. And you can use a lot of different words to describe your sound, but ‘warm’, ‘thick’ and ‘juicy’ won’t be among them.
Don’t cut holes in your sound.
Forgetting to try switching polarity
Here’s one for the recordists out there. Any time you bring out two or mics at the same time, phase and polarity start getting interesting. Before you reach for EQ, try flipping the polarity on one of the channels (it doesn’t matter which one). Sometimes it’ll get you close to the sound you want faster than any EQ. You can fight and fight and fight with EQ, when a simple polarity flip will do all the work for you.
It won’t always work, but when it does you’ll feel like you just cheated a bit. That’s how easy it is.
So don’t stop thinking, and don’t stop listening. Don’t take anything for granted. And don’t forget that the less EQ you use, the more integrity is retained in the sound.
EQ is a powerful tool. So I recommend trying to find ways to use it as little as possible.