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How To Use EQ: 11 Quick Tips for a Professional Mix

By Matthew Vultaggio

August 7, 2023

Using EQ (equalization) effectively is a critical skill for achieving professional-quality mixes in music production.

EQ allows you to shape the frequency balance of individual tracks and the overall mix so that each part can be heard clearly and works together to have a full and balanced final result.

Having personally recorded, mixed, and released over 50+ songs with 6.5 million Spotify streams over the last 15 years, I’ve found 13 key EQing tips that will help you achieve a professional-sounding mix.

1. Listen First, Then EQ

Before applying any EQ, listen carefully to the individual tracks and the overall mix.

Identify problem areas, such as frequencies that are too boomy, harsh, or lacking clarity.

Knowing what you want to achieve and having a plan first will make sure that you are using EQ to improve your mix and not simpling EQing tracks for the sake of EQing tracks.

2. Clean Up The Mix With High-Pass Filters

A simple trick that I’ll automatically do for every single track is to have a high-pass filter on it so that I can quickly remove lower frequencies in each track to reduce muddiness and leave room for the kick and bass.

The trick here is to start cutting out the low frequencies slowly until you hear the point where the track is starting to lose “body” or “fullness”.

Once you reach that point, simply dial it back just a bit more to re-introduce a bit more of the low-end to prevent you from taking away too much of the track.

3. Always Start With Subtractive EQ First

It’s a best practice in the world of EQing to use subtractive EQ rather than adding or boosting any frequencies.

Instead of boosting a frequency to make something stand out, consider cutting other frequencies that may be masking it.

This approach helps maintain a cleaner mix and lets each track’s natural and most pleasing frequencies shine rather than being artificially pushed past its point of sounding natural.

4. Use EQ in the Context of the Mix

Remember that EQ decisions are not isolated; they affect the overall mix.

Make sure you listen to the entire mix when applying EQ to individual tracks.

Although it can sometimes be useful to EQ a track in isolation, it is often best to EQ while listening with the rest of the track playing so you can hear how your adjustments are complimenting the entire mix.

When I used to play in and mix rock bands, I always wanted to keep as much low end in my guitars for a “thick” sound…

However, this was actually masking the low end of the bass and making it sound muddy.

Although it sound cool on its own, in the context of a mix the guitars sounded fuller and better with the low-end cut-out because the bass could cut through and add weight to the overall mix.

5. Use EQ to Create Space

EQ should be used to give instruments their own space in the mix based on the natural frequencies that each instrument or element takes up.

For example, cutting some low mids from guitars and boosting the same frequencies in vocals can help them sit better together because you are “carving” out frequency space in one track so that those frequencies can cut through on another.

6. Remove Harsh Resonant Frequencies

Addressing any frequency clashes or unwanted resonances in individual tracks can help make your mix sound smoother, cleaner, and more polished.

Use narrow bandwidth (Q) and cut frequencies to remove unwanted elements gently. For example, remove mid-range rumble in bass tracks or reduce harshness resonant frequencies in vocals.

7. Avoid Extreme Boosts

Avoid extreme boosts, especially in the high-frequency range, as they can introduce harshness and sibilance.

If you find you need to do this too much, it may be worth considering re-recording or finding a different sample.

8. Reference Tracks

Use reference tracks from professionally mixed songs in a similar genre as a guide. Compare your mix to the reference track and adjust EQ accordingly.

It can definitely feel a bit awkward and unnatural at first, but this is a tip that I’ve personally used to make massive leaps forward in quality in my own mixes.

9. Use Your Ears and Trust Them

While there are plenty of general guidelines and frequency charts for EQ, remember that every mix is unique.

Use your ears as the final judge for your EQ decisions.

It may take some time but slowly you will develop an ear for EQing that you will be able to depend on 100x more than any chart you find on the internet!

10. Use Your Eyes Too…

Here’s a hot take: your eyes can be super useful when EQing in combination with using your ears.

Many modern EQs have a frequency visualization for the incoming audio that you can use to help guide your EQing decisions.

It’s important to ultimately rely on your ears but you can definitely use your eyes to get an idea of where the build of frequencies of resonant spikes may be occurring in your tracks.

11. Automation

Lastly, consider using automation to adjust EQ settings over time, particularly for vocals or instruments that need specific frequency changes during different parts of the song.

The EQ you set up on a track that sounds perfect near the beginning of the song may not work so well later in the track when more layers and elements have been added to the song.

Use automation to get the best of both worlds by changing it up to fit each moment of the song.

Putting It All Together…

Remember, EQ is just one tool in your mixing arsenal.

Proper use of EQ, in combination with other standard mixing techniques like panning and volume, will help you achieve professional mixes that sound balanced, clear, and cohesive.

Practice and experience will be your best teachers in honing your EQ skills, my friend. 🙂

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Thank you for reading this article, my friend, and I hope you found it helpful as you build your own successful career in music. 🙂

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