boost?To complete this series of EQ mistakes, we’ve got to talk about the big boy. The thing we all WANT to do when we first start messing around with EQ.

We’ve looked at EQ-ing without listeningnot EQ-ing in solo, and EQ-ing out of context. Once you’ve really mastered those three, what do you do once you’ve got the EQ open?

The tendency is to say This kick drum needs more low end and high end. So we reach for the low and high bands and start boosting. As I mentioned recently, removing some of the low-mids (around 400 Hz) can accomplish the same thing…and it usually sounds much better and more natural.

Cut Before You Boost

I guarantee that almost every track in any session you’re mixing will need some sort of EQ attention. But how you wield that EQ depends on your mix philosophy. I’m a huge proponent of subtractive EQ. Why? Because there’s already SO MUCH happening in the song. You’re trying to cram all of these tracks into one stereo mix.

Something’s gotta give. It’s silly to think you can make everything fit in the mix by applying EQ boosts all over the place. If you recorded the tracks properly, you have everything you need to get a great-sounding mix. Chances are you don’t need to do any boosting. You need to take things away.

That’s what we did this past weekend at the Simply Recording Academy. We literally only used EQ to cut out frequencies in the tracks. We didn’t boost ANYTHING.

And? Yep, it sounded great. Because Graham and I have magic ears? Nah. it sounded great because we simply took away a few dB here and there on all the tracks. We made subtle adjustments to the individual tracks. When you add up all of these little changes, you end up with big, powerful results.

Every time I mix a song I’m surprised by how much more effective cutting is than boosting. Honestly, I’m still surprised by it. I think it’s my American brain. I assume that if the track sounds great, then boosting the great parts even more will make them sound even better. But the theory of less is more proves to be true…every time.

Are your mixes getting better? Need some help wrapping your mind around how to use EQ to make those tracks shine? I’d love to help. Go grab a copy of Understanding EQ and see if your mixes starting sounding better.


  • The title of this post is really going to confuse a lot of people. I agree that subtractive EQ is the way to go, and the central advice of this article is spot on. 

    You should absolutely boost before you cut. Our ears are better at hearing when there is too much of something. When deciding what frequency range to cut you’ll actually want to boost the EQ, then dial in the frequency. You’ll know that you’ve found something worth cutting when you get to a frequency range that really makes everything sound horrible (obscures other instruments in the mix, makes the instrument you’re EQing sound boxy or harsh). When you find that frequency range return the boost/cut to unity (not boosted or cut), then start cutting that frequency as you listen to the effect it has on the clarity of the mix. Small changes to a channel eqs can help the overall clarity of the whole mix. 

    • I see what you’re saying, Noah.

      What I’m saying is do your EQ cuts before you do your EQ boosts. Meaning, rather than boosting the lows and the highs to hear them, cut the mids instead, for example.

      Of course you use the boost to HEAR what frequencies you’re cutting. I’m not suggesting not to do that. I’m suggesting that when we’re DONE with EQ, we’ve used cuts more than we’ve used boosts.

  • rca33

    Hi Joe.

    I have to be honest with you, and this makes me a lot of confusion (maybe it’s because I’m a newbie).
    But in the example that you gave here, you wanted to increase the EQ in two bands in the opposite side of the EQ. So it would make sense to cut in the middle (assuming it sounds more natural).

    Now, what if you want something like having more presence in the 3 khz range.
    Do you carve all below and above 3 Khz instead of boosting that specific range of frequencies?

    I may understand the concept of cutting instead off adding, but when you add 2dB (for instance) at 3 Khz, aren’t you changing less the overall signal than cutting a lot of frequencies above and below that range to achieve the same ‘target’ response?

    Sorry if this is a stupid question, but my brain is not American, and I still thing that EQ’s can add and decrease for a reason.

    But then again, I’m a newbie.

    Cheers and keep up with the great work!

    • Hey RCA. Great question. The thing is…if I’m having trouble hearing the clarity at 3 kHz, it’s NOT because I can’t hear 3 kHz, it’s because there’s something ELSE in the track that’s covering up the sound. If it’s something like a kick drum, if I cut somewhere in the low mids, suddenly I can hear the low frequencies AND the upper mids MUCH more clearly.

      I can’t tell you how many times doing a simple cut (and I’m only talking about maybe 3 dB) makes EVERYTHING sound cleaner. There’s too much information in the low-mids. Something’s gotta be removed to make things sound clear. Boosting will never fix that.

      In the end, you’ve got to try it. You’ve got nothing to lose by trying, and I bet you’ll find it works wonderfully.