Imagine this, you’ve spent hours creating your track, handcrafted unique synth lines, programmed your drums, and have spent a ton of time arranging it to perfection.
You’ve written a track that sums up your vision as an artist, and You are now approaching the mixing phase, which for many young producers can be an anxiety-inducing moment.
“What if I ruin my track?”
“What if I kill the vibe of my music?”
These are common questions that a lot of people ask themselves, maybe not out loud, but in their minds as they move onto this critical phase of the music production process.
Today we want to discuss one of the most fundamental tools when it comes to mixing; EQ, and more specifically how to shape your tones to get the most out of your sounds.
What is EQ?
EQ is just what you think—it’s tonal shaping, a way to adjust and balance the frequency content of any sound to your liking.
With an EQ, you can hunt them down and either boost or cut them until you’ve found the balance of the tones you like.
Remember though just because you can equalize something doesn’t mean that you should.
Boosting vs Cutting EQ
The concepts of boosting and cutting are pretty straightforward. If there is a frequency that sounds harsh on a particular track then we may want to cut that frequency.
Alternatively, if a specific frequency range of your kick is masking the main tones of your bass, then you’ll also want to cut it. But what about boosting a frequency? Why would you want to do that?
As you get better at mixing you’ll start to become more adventurous and maybe a little more aggressive with your tone shaping. For instance, let’s say there is a frequency in a pad sound that you’ve made that you feel should be the focal point of the track or even something that should be heard in a specific section.
This is a great time to find that frequency, and simply give it a boost!
In the image above you’ll notice that we’ve given a hefty boost at 530hz. This means that our sound will occupy that space mostly. As you boost and shape your sound take into account the other frequencies as well. You’ll notice that we removed everything below about 75hz to give the low-end room to breathe and we also made a very slight cut at 182hz so that the sound doesn’t dominate the low-mid territory.
The more you experiment with this technique the more you will find the right frequencies to cut in relation to boosting a sound. Remember, we are using the EQ as a tone-shaper right now and as mentioned previously, it may take a few EQ’s to land on the right sonic qualities.
Mixing on a Bus
Let’s take a look at one other way we can utilize this technique. This will change the way you mix your high-end percussive elements right out of the gate.
Have you ever finished up your mix and your high-end was lacking energy? We all know that lower frequency sounds like the kick and bass tend to provide more overall tone and energy and it can be a struggle to get your high end to match.
First be sure to process your hi-hats, cymbals, and higher register sounds. Then you’ll want to route them together into one bus.
Then go ahead and load up your favorite EQ, in this case we are using the SSL Channel plugin from Waves (but this can be done by using stock plugins in Live, Logic, FL Studio).
Now you can boost to taste. In this instance, we made a mildly aggressive boost +4db at 8.59khz and another in the high-mids (green knobs) at 3.50khz. As with the earlier example, we made some cuts in the low-mids and lows to ensure that we aren’t drowning out any other sounds in our mix.
Once you’ve made these boosts we recommend turning the plugin on and off several times to hear the full effect.
This is a technique that will take some time to get used to. So many young producers either
A) shy away from boosting
B) do it haphazardly
Over time you’ll train your ears to know what needs boosting and what needs cutting. Once you can harness the power of tone shaping with an EQ, your music will start to sound full and professional.