Tip #1: Use low pass and high pass filters to clean up each track in a mix.
This is the most fundamental way to use and equalizer, and it is also one of the most basic steps for creating a good sound mix. The strategy involves removing all the frequencies that are not important for each particular aspect of the mix, creating more room for the important parts of the mix. The necessary tools are a low pass filter and a high pass filter, both of which are usually found in most equalizer plugins.
A transparent filter is best because you don’t want to influence the “color” of the sound at this early stage. Equalizers with a transparent 6 dB or 12 dB filter are quite effective for touching up audio tracks. For most sounds in the mix, removing all content below 40 Hz is a safe action.
Vocals, for example, don’t require any frequencies below 180 Hz. However, knowing which frequencies need to be moved in advance is nearly impossible because each sound is different.
Tip #2: There are no magic frequencies.
This is major! There is no such thing as a magic frequency! You may have heard that boosting 10 kHz will make vocals “airy” or that increasing 200 Hz will make a snare drum more powerful. While these tips might be true in theory, they should never be applied automatically. What happens if you have a snare sample in which 200 Hz is already boosted and you decide to further boost 200 Hz because it’s something that you heard you should do?
The main skill is to listen to a mix on the whole. Pay attention to and analyze the different aspects of your mix before starting equalization. What sounds wrong in the mix? Think about this and then use frequency tips as a rough blueprint. If a certain instrument needs to cut through more, you’ll sometimes have more success by lowering certain frequencies in part of the mix instead of boosting the frequency of the instrument you want to hear more.
Tip #3: Always listen in context when equalizing.
This means that you should not equalize parts of a mix individually. The mix must be considered as a sum of many parts, and each of those parts must be considered equally and in relation to all other parts of the mix.
A better practice is to listen to the whole mix when using an equalizer and think of each part as a building layer of your mix. It’s similar to baking a cake. If you add lots of sugar to each layer of your cake so that it tastes good on its own, you’ll end up with a rather gnarly desert when you layer them all together.
Tip #4: Remember that boosting is not the only choice.
This is one of the most important equalization tips. The idea is to control the natural tendency to boost sounds when you want to make something sound better. By increasing frequencies, you’re increasing the volume of a sound and not necessarily fixing the issue from the perspective of the mix. You should try to make an aspect of your mix cut through by lowering certain frequencies from another aspect of your mix. It also works for a single track. To make a vocal recording sound more crisp, take away some of the bass frequencies in the vocals.
Tip #5: Take a break every now and then.
You ears are the most important tools in the mixing process. You mix will most likely suffer if your ears are tired. How do you keep your ears rested and fresh?
Work with lower volumes. This will cause less strain on your ears and allow them to work for longer longer in a sitting. Another tip is to take short breaks every so often so that your ears can recalibrate themselves and relax. This also gives you a fresh point of view when you return to your mixing project. Around every half hour, take a ten minute break and let your hearing refresh. You’ll be able to make better mix decisions if you work this way.