Mistakes: It Could Be That The Purpose of Your Life is Only to Serve as a Warning to OthersOn last night’s webinar, I talked about EQ. During one section, I focused on common EQ mistakes. I wanted to share my thoughts here on HSC, too.

EQ-ing Without Listening First

Are you guilty of this? Come on, be honest. Have you ever opened up a mix and started slapping EQs on every channel and twisting away at the knobs?

It’s okay, I’ve done it, too. Do you know why this is a bad idea?

Last night I was working on a mix, and the ol’ temptation to throw a bunch of plugins by default came a-calling. I held strong, though, and starting mixing WITHOUT any plugins. I brought up all the tracks, kept everything in mono, and started balancing levels.

A few minutes later, the mix was already sounding pretty good. WHAT?! A decent-sounding mix without plug-ins? Shocker, right?

But that’s the point. Sometimes simply balancing levels can cut out the need for a bunch of plug-ins. Bass too boomy? Sometimes all you need to do is turn it down rather than EQ it.

That said, you obviously need to use EQ to clean up the mix and make everything audible and purdy. But before you reach for that favorite EQ, listen to the tracks. Maybe you’ll decide you don’t need an EQ. Maybe you’ll still need one, but you’ll have a much better idea of what the track sounds like and what you like/dislike about it.

Have a Goal

This ties into listening. When you grab an EQ plugin, do you know what you’re trying to accomplish with it? If not, scroll back up a few paragraphs and listen some more. If you don’t know WHY you’re using EQ, you’re probably not going to come up with anything super helpful.

Here are some examples of “goals” I have with EQ:

  • The bass is muddying up the midrange a bit. I’m going to clear out some of the low-mids with EQ to make room for the other instruments and give the bass some punch.
  • The kick drum could be punchier. I’m going to use EQ to cut out around 400 Hz to do that.
  • The lead vocal is hard to understand. I’m going to remove excess low end with a high-pass filter and some low mids with EQ.
  • The delay on the vocal is too obvious. I’ll use a high-shelf and maybe a low-pass filter to roll of some highs and give it a darker, low-fi sound.

Know what you’re wanting to accomplish.

Be Realistic

You can’t work magic with EQ. I can’t make Music Man bass sound like a Jazz bass. I can’t make a crappy vocalist sound like Jeff Buckley. And I can’t make a thin snare sound huge and beefy.

Rather than trying to change the sound with EQ, try using EQ to enhance the sound. It’ll make life a lot easier.

So…are you guilty of EQ-ing without listening? Leave a comment below.

Ready to learn all about EQ? Go grab a copy of Understanding EQ.

  • JBRIX717

    When you eq are you eqing the recording or just the frequencies building up around the recording?

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  • Yeah, as much as I hate mono sometimes, it definitely exposes any flaws…which is maddening sometimes, but it’s a good thing.

    With regard to the high frequency buildup, I experienced that at one point in my studio when I bought a new preamp. It was a much cleaner, brighter preamp than I was used to using. The first song I recorded had the same problem you’re describing, all of the tracks had a little too much high end, and when combined together were too harsh.

    The solution for me was to focus more intently on the recording process. I changed microphones and placement to find the best spot for THAT preamp. As always, it came back to the source. Once I corrected the problem THERE, the mixes got better.

    So…what I’m saying is that chances are it’s the way you’re recording your tracks that’s causing the excess high end. There’s nothing wrong with using a high shelf to tame the higher frequencies a bit, but also try to adjust the way you’re recording, so you don’t have to keep doing that.

    • Ramiek

      As always, great advice Joe. I really appreciate your taking the time to help out here.

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  • Ramiek

    I’m intrigued by your comment about keeping everything in mono when you start a mix.  Do you mean to say that you balance the levels with the 2-bus in mono first?  The reason I ask is that I’ve been using mono more and more for balancing, EQ’g, etc.  It’s becoming a really useful tool for me.

    • Sometimes I leave everything in mono, sometimes I’ll just use a plug-in with a “mono” button on my 2-bus. That’s helpful because sometimes something hard-panned will have a slightly different level than something panned to the center.

      But yeah, I LOVE some mono mixing. If you can get it rockin’ in mono, the stereo mix is going to be killer.

  • Absolutely. Sometimes you DO want to use EQ to create an effect, but for the “meat and potatoes” tracks in your mix, EQ should just be there for subtle enhancements, not dramatic changes.

    We’re on the same page. Thanks for the comment, David.

  • I’m actually trying this with a new track I recorded Friday. I’m VERY guilty of throwing on an EQ or compression without listening first. All I put on it this time was a 1 band EQ on one guitar taking out some lows, and another EQ on the guitar track to give it a little body, and that’s it. I still need to separate the drums (ezdrummer) and mix those, and the bass has nothing on it as of now, and the track sounds HUGE! I’m gradually learning that the less plug-ins I use the better the track sounds, and the fact that the guitars sound pretty awesome already. Great tip as usual Joe!   

    • Thanks Bob. I’m mixing a record right now…and I’m challenging myself to use as few plugins as possible. As expected, the mix is NOT suffering. 🙂

  • Awesome advice, Joe. We see way too many beginners who forget that the recording, equalizing, mixing, etc, whatever is a *means* to the *end* of great music…not vice versa

    Then again, sometimes knobs and buttons can be just too much fun 🙂


  • Wjmiller333

    Can’t say that I have.  My first thought is Why would you?  I worked with a guy who did do that AND change everything else before ever hearing a thing, and he did it EVERY time. It Drove Me Nuts!

  • Nick Maxwell

    Great article, Joe.  I’ve definitely been guilty of this even outside of a recording context (I produce electronic music “in the box”).  

  • Stephenkfoster

    I’m guilty of this. I’ve taken the approach here lately of always balancing the volumes first. Then going from there. Like Joe teaches, I now always question why I am using this particular plug-in. Why is it necessary. Has definitely made life easier.

  • Wayne Johnson

    I come from the days of analog starting with 4 trk reel to reel. Starting with most of your levels and then going to EQ and compression but EQ first. Bought your Understanding EQ and it is great. There were things I never really thought after turning EQ for hours. Great videos I highly recommend that everyone get them from and old timer like me. You never stop learning when your mixing and recording there are always new challenges to overcome. Enough said if your having problems with mixes this is a huge advantage. Have fun making and mixing music. Wayne

  • Thanks Eric! Enjoy!

  • I’ve seen people start dialling in eq and compression thresholds before even getting a line check. Drive’s me nuts! – Kind of assumes it’s going to need work before you even hear it.

    • HA! It’s so easy to fall into that trap, but yeah, it’s definitely silly.