Last updated on June 22, 2018 by Rob Mayzes

Today I’m going to share 11 EQ mistakes that I’ve made over the years.

By showing you my experiences, I hope to help you avoid the same mistakes I’ve made.

So if you want to learn how to use EQ with confidence, watch now!

 

Today I’m going to share 11 EQ mistakes that I’ve made over the years.

By sharing these mistakes that I’ve made in the past and continue to make to this day I hope that you can learn from my experiences and avoid wasting time yourself.

So if you want to learn how to use EQ with confidence keep watching.

The first mistake that I want to share with you is that I used fully parametric EQ for way too long before I considered using other forms of EQ.

Now, I’m not slating for your parametric EQ. It’s great for finding resonances to cut for, subtractive EQ for surgical applications.

So, I could just add a boost here; sweep around until I find a room resonance on this vocal.

That just cleans up a bit, but what if we want to start applying quite heavy tonal EQ. So, we want to boost the upper-mids quite a bit, and we want to boost the top-end, and then we want to add a low-cut.

And what if this was a snare or something that we wanted to process really heavily, so we wanted to add loads of more crack.

Maybe we wanted to actually taper off a high-end a bit, but when you’re working with a fully parametric EQ like this sometimes this can be quite off putting.

You feel like you need this much EQ to get what you want, but then you look at it you’re like, “Whoa! That looks like way too much I’m going over the top here.”

Add to that the fact that you’ve got a spectrum analyzer which can be really handy, but other times can mislead you.

There are downsides to have this much visual information, so for a while I started using analog modeling EQs like this Slick EQ is great and it’s free.

So, if you don’t have one in your DAW you can give this a try, and the benefit here is that we’ve just got a few knobs. So, you are forced to use your ears in a particular mix that often ends in a better end result, but overtime it forces you to train your ears more because you’re relying on them and not visual information.

So, for a couple of years my main EQ was an analog modeling EQ like this and that really helped me to progress faster.

Nowadays my go-to EQ is the FabFilter EQ which is fully parametric, but going through that learning experience of using a lot of analog EQs was really helpful for me.

The second mistake I want to share with you is that I never thought I’d be able to identify frequencies by ear, so I never bothered to even train.

I thought it was something you were born with like perfect pitch, but that’s not true.

Now, I can identify frequencies by ear, and that’s really helpful because you can just listen to a mix and identify issues.

For example, let’s take a listen to this track. This just had a rough balance nothing else.

Already all of these issues are jumping out of me and I could say that the electric guitar sounds a bit too pokey that’s maybe around 1 K, the acoustic guitar sounds a bit too sizzly and thin so we probably need to tame maybe around 4 K, the snare sounded a bit boxy so maybe we could cut the low-mids around 3-400 Hz.

Now, I am sure most of those frequencies won’t be 100% accurate, but it gives me a starting point then to figure it out.

It took me 12 years to get to the point where I’m comfortable doing that and that’s because I never tried to learn that sooner.

I highly recommend you use a service like soundgym.co or Quiztones to start testing your ears and developing your hearing abilities, because you can definitely do that in a matter of months if you actually go and try to do it.

Third mistake that I want to share with you is that I used to use way too much EQ on vocals.

Now, this applies mostly to the genres that I tend to work with like rock and pop, and what I found was when you’re EQing a vocal, when you’re trying to get it to sound the way you want so you start playing around with EQ and you’re like, “I want this vocal to sound more aggressive, brighter,” and we could just do something like that.

And maybe this is a step in the direction that we wanted to go, but it’s just too much.

In most cases I find that when I apply too much EQ to the vocals it just starts to get worse. It’s kind of a rabbit hole, and then it sounds worse so I add more EQ to try and fix it, and then suddenly I’ve got four different EQs and I found that was a big issue that I had to overcome by trying to be more careful with how I EQed vocals. I’m more selective about which frequencies I’d boosted and cut and by how much.

The fourth mistake that I made was that I tried to finish whole mixes, entire mixes with only subtractive EQ and I did that for a long time, because I read online that I was the best way to mix.

Now, if that’s how you mix and it works for you that’s absolutely fine, but personally I just couldn’t do it and I would get much better results when I combine subtractive and additive EQ.

And often when I have an intention like I want to make something sound brighter I can’t do it with subtractive EQ alone I had to use a high shelf or something like that to boosting to get that sound and that’s the way I do it. And if you are struggling with subtractive EQ I recommend you just kind of forget that for some time. Try not worrying about whether you’re using subtractive or additive and see if that works for you.

Nowadays I tend to use subtractive EQ first to clean up the source. I might even do that in a prep phase, so I’ll go on the vocal and I’ll find room resonances like you saw me do before.

Maybe I’ll cut out some of the low-end, see if there’s some harshness in the upper-mid range I can remove. And once you’ve done that I’ll use a separate EQ maybe even a different equalizer something like an analog modeling EQ like the Slick EQ just to shape the tone.

And that’s when I start to use additive EQ so add some high-end. Maybe I’ll add some presence in the upper-mids as well as maybe scooping the lower-mids a bit.

So, there are still lots of subtractive EQ going on. Probably more than additive EQ, but it’s the combination of them that works best for me.

The most important thing is to have an intention, and then whether you have to use subtractive or additive EQ to get there it doesn’t matter.

And that leads me onto the fifth mistake that I want to share, which is I often used EQ because I thought I had to.

I knew EQ was important, so I’d load on every channel and just play around until I thought I’d done the right thing.

But that’s not the right way to approach it. Instead I recommend you have an intention with every single move.

Just think what are you trying to achieve with the equalizer before you load up. Why do you need an equalizer, because you probably don’t need one in lot of cases.

Once you’ve answered those questions what you’re trying to do, why you’re trying to do it then it’s easy because you know how you’re going to use that equalizer, what you need to dial in.

Now, you do need trained is for this or at least that helps. So, that goes back to that earlier mistake of not thinking I could do that.

So, combining intention of EQ with a bit of ear training is going to accelerate your progress so much.

Mistake number six is that I ignored the mix buss for probably the first 5 or 6 years as a mixer.

If there’s an issue with the whole mix like the whole mix is just sounding a bit muddy or the whole mix needs more top-end then we could do it on the mix buss, and this is often the first thing I do after balancing.

I’ll go on here and I’ll just see what the mix needs, if I can subtly nudge in the right direction and save time later on.

So, we’re trying to subtly nudge the mix in the right direction and this is going to increase your confidence, because now the mix is already sounding better.

It’s going to save you time later on, and I like to do these big broad sweeps early on in the mix.

How can we look at the mix as a whole and fix issues with the entire mix and see it as a more musical cohesive thing rather than dive in straight in with something like how the kick drum sounds.

So, don’t be afraid to use EQ on your mix buss and group busses anywhere in your DAW.

Mistake number seven is that I did all EQ in solo.

Now, I still do quite a lot of EQ in solo as part of the prep phase, so like I said I’ll go to the vocal and I’ll find any room resonances and cut them out.

However, once I’ve started mixing and I’m making more tonal decisions. I’m trying to make a snare sit better in the mix or I’m trying to bring out the vocal more by boosting up the mid-range.

Well, all of those things depend entirely on the context of the mix, so I find it helps to not solo the channel. If you struggle with that then let’s say you’re EQing the guitar and you can’t really hear it in the mix.

Well, what you can do is just turn it up, because then you still have the context but you can hear that channel more easily.

And then we can just drop it back down to the point we want it.

Ultimately, I think that’s a much better option if you’re struggling to EQ something than soloing.

Mistake number eight is that I often avoided being too aggressive, because I thought that it was all about adding you know 2 dB boost here and a 1 dB there.

But again it comes back to sort of intention. If you have an intention and the snare really needs so much more crack or aggression in the upper-mid range to cut through the mix and sound the way you want it to sound then if you have to add 7 dB then that’s fine.

Mistake number nine is that bought a lot of plug-ins.

I probably have at least 20 different EQs that I could go for in a mix and that was really over whelming at times. I wouldn’t know which to use, when should I use a Pultec versus a fully parametric EQ.

Ultimately, I think it’s best to have one go-to plug-in that you use most of the time and you can always have your other EQs with a bit more character for special situations.

But for me I now use the FabFilter Pro-Q 2 in most situations and that saves me time in the mix. I don’t have think oh which plug-in am I going to go for, and also it saves me money I’m trying not to buy more EQs in the sales.

It saves me time, because I don’t have to learn how to use those EQs and then in the heat of the mix I don’t have to waste time deciding which EQ to use. I just reach for my go-to. So, that works really well for me and I recommend you give that a go too.

Mistake number 10 is that I never volume match an equalizer and this is smaller and this isn’t as problematic, but the idea here is that we want to bypass the EQ once you’ve applied it to see if it’s actually making an improvement.

So, if we just solo this acoustic now for the sake of demonstration. Let’s compare before and after.

So, you can hear there’s a bit of a volume loss, because we are cutting mostly with this EQ. So, we need to compensate that, so when we bypass it and check it actually sounds better in the mix.

It’s staying at the same volume, because otherwise that change in volume can trick us into thinking it’s better or worse.

So, let us figure that out.

So, now we can accurately bypass it, re-engage it to see if we actually like the difference that’s making, and I do like how that sits better in the mix.

It’s playing a more supportive role here, so it sits a bit further back. It sounds a bit less harsh.

It’s not poking out as much, so I would be happy to move forward with that.

And then finally mistake number 11 perhaps the biggest of all is that I thought there was a secret to using EQ that I didn’t understand.

I thought there was more to it.

I thought there were techniques and strategies that I just couldn’t fathom, but of course the real situation was that I think it’s easy to over think EQ and you can spend all day trying to obsess over oh is this the right frequency to cut or boost or am I boosting or cutting this frequency by the right amount.

But ultimately it’s about having an intention, trying to achieve it, and then when you’re happy with that moving on and not obsessing over it.

Otherwise you can spend hours just EQing one element of the mix when in reality you should try to focus on the bigger picture and focus on mix as a whole rather than getting lost in the small details like tweaking between let’s say 2,700 Hz and 3,350 Hz.

Yeah it’s going to make a difference of course, and if you’re a professional then that’s probably going to be an important difference.

But if you are just a musician who makes your own music and you push for time and you’re still learning then don’t obsess over the small differences just get in the right ballpark, and then move on with confidence onto the next thing that you need to focus on.

Because there is no secret answer, there is no right or wrong it’s all completely subjective. So, just have more confidence in yourself and once I started to have more confidence in myself, my own decisions my mix has improved.

So, there you go 11 EQ mistakes that I’ve made over the years and continue to make.

If you want to learn more about EQ and the strategy behind it, and you want to use it with more confidence then I recommend you download our free EQ cheat sheet.

There’s a link in the description or a link on screen now.

It’s completely free and we’ve got loads of good information in that.

So, that’s it from me. Slightly different style of video this time, hope you enjoyed it.

I’ll see you next week and remember Create Regardless.

 

Audio professional, musician and founder of Musician on a Mission.

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