You’re sitting in front of a mix, and you know you need to use some EQ on the guitars to get rid of some of the muddy-ness. You grab your favorite EQ plug-in and get ready to wield your magic.

You use a high-Q boost to find that offending frequency. Now what? Cut it by 15 dB? Sounds like a plan!

Hold on. Easy there, tiger.

This past Saturday night I was hanging out with all of my brand new VIP Members at our very first live VIP Session. During the session I showed them how I would mix a live recording from a concert I played in a few months ago.

The entire mix is centered around a pair of acoustic guitars. Because it was a live recording, we had to place the mics really close to the guitars to avoid feedback. We ended up getting a decent sound, but there was a fair amount of low end in the recordings (due to the proximity effect).

Without EQ these guitars would have made the mix sound too muddy and indistinct. The screenshot above shows you how I ended up EQ-ing both guitars.

Do you see any monster 15 dB cuts in there? Nope. Just a high-pass filter at around 130 Hz and a small low-mid cut (one was only -1.7 dB, the other was -1.9 dB).

When you think about EQ and decibels, you tend to think that you’re not going to hear such subtle boosts or cuts. Wrong. As I bypassed the EQ a few time for the VIP members, they could instantly hear a difference. Suddenly the guitars sounded full and vibrant, rather than have that “woof” of the low-mid buildup.

A little EQ was all it took.

I’ve been doing a couple of mastering projects recently, which always helps me appreciate the use of subtle EQ moves. Sometimes a half dB is all you need to solve a problem. Sometimes just 1 dB of compression is all the track/song needs.

Do yourself a favor next time you’re mixing, if you’re tempted (like I am) to do big, dramatic EQ curves, stop yourself. Dial it back to something small, and let your ears tell you if it needs more. More often than not, you’ll find that just a few small, well-placed EQ adjustments can go a LONG way towards getting a great-sounding mix.

Comment Question

Do you over-EQ sometimes? Tell us about it below.

Also, if you’re interested in becoming a VIP, you can join today and access the full recording of Saturday night’s VIP session. And you’ll have access to all future sessions, too. Click here to find out more.

  • Cush

    EQ’d, friend or foe is a difficult thing to know. Most articles do provide invaluable info like those Joe brings to us. Though this topic almost always overlooks / assumes every one has a $10,000 pait of monitors usually wired to a Behringer board. We must always stick to the basics. And not everybody regardless of time spent will morph into a Bob Rock, Mutt Lang et al.

    • Who’s assuming everyone has $10,000 monitors? 🙂

  • Whoa, way behind on my HSC reading :/

    Anyway, I’ve gotten a lot better about my use of EQ. Part of this is just from experience, while some of it has to do with the Mix With Us course and from the ear training trick I learned from Joe’s Understand EQ tutorial. However it’s kind of fun (but also sort of frightening) to look back on tracks that I recoded in the past, some of them only a couple months ago, and be able to tell immediately that I abused the EQ on it. Pull up the plugin and sure enough. Boosts and cuts, and big ones, galore. Hooray for practice.

  • Mike Burrows

    Sorry if this is a bit off topic but I would be interested to hear how they were EQ’d in the live mix on the night.

    • Not sure. We didn’t run much acoustic through the live mix. It was mainly an “acoustic set” with very little sound re-enforcement. We just recorded everything.

  • Kizartik

    Latley, I’ve been working mostly in electronic music and I’d be interested in hearing more about mixing electronic elements (synths, etc.) so they play nicely with each other. That being said, I did have a question regarding the screenshot in this post:
    Is there a reason you left the MF, HMF and HF EQs enabled when they’re all at 0db? Does enabling them impart anything to the sound (I wouldn’t think so)? Doesn’t it suck up your resources?

    • I’ve never had EQ’s cause any processing problems or suck up too much power. I just don’t ever even think about it.

  • Thanks Wayne.

  • Thanks Noah!! 🙂

  • Garrett sale

    My favorite artist and do-it-yourselfer is Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, I recently read an article with an interview of him talking about the recording of For Emma Forever Ago which is his debut album. They talked a lot about warmth and how he achieved so much warmth using only protools 6 something, an sm57, and an “old pro tools interface.” He said it had to do a lot with the mix and how the mastering engineer helped him “carve out a lot of top end” and it was “like wrestling treble to the ground or something.”
    This confuses me because at home studio corner (and everywhere else) there is a lot of talk about high passing everything in the mix, to get rid of the boominess. This makes complete sense to me and has worked out well in my recordings, but at the same time I understand what Justin Vernon is saying about the warmth on the record and it does seem to have to do with a dial-downed top end.
    I guess my questions are, is it possible to achieve warmth by top cutting without getting boomy? Can cutting the lows remove some warmth from the song? or maybe you can better explain to me what he means by carving out the top end and wrestling with treble?

    • As far as low end goes, you can certainly remove some of the warmth if you
      cut too much low end. But I’m usually trying to cut just enough to get rid
      of any boomyness or muddyness.

      As far as high end goes…I try not to do a ton of EQing, just because it
      seems to be more obvious when I do. Condenser mics can sometimes capture too
      much brightness, so some EQ on the highs may be necessary.

      I’d still say start small and work from there.

  • jason mark yates

    Yes….I think i do over EQ at times….I think though in essence my problem is to do with the source sound….because if the original sound isnt good enough, you will over EQ in an attempt to put it right.

  • Good stuff Joe. I always say that if it were ONE MAJOR thing that anybody could do to make a mix perfect, we’d all do that… but it’s not.. its a hundred tiny things that make a mix sound great. Like small eq adjustments.

    Great Post.

  • Hey Joe!

    Nicely said. I’d add an “it depends though” caveat.

    EQ’ing a band with “traditional” instrumentation – what you’ve outlined above is definitely something you need to keep in mind as these instruments (guitars, basses, pianos, etc.) have migrated to being in ensembles because they support and compliment each other nicely – they have natural EQ signatures that help them sit well together, so drastic EQ is typically not necessary.

    However, the more you layer on, or the more non-traditional instruments (I’m talking about heavy use of synthesizers), you’ll have to start thinking about laying into more drastic EQ in order to get everything to play nicely with each other.

    Heavy arrangements typically need more thinning out with EQ so that each instrument has its own frequency band slot. On the synth side, you’re typically looking at patches that are full-frequency and with a lot of these playing at the same time you’ll probably need some significant strategic shaping so that key aspects of each sound punch through and others don’t interfere.

    Love seeing you back in the regular swing of things Joe!

    D

    • I totally agree, Dave. Sometimes drastic EQ is just what the doctor ordered…I just think sometimes we forget about trying subtle EQ moves first. 🙂