EQ is one of the three fundamental tools used to shape the mix. Bruce Aisher explains how to use it to clean up a track.
Many tools are available to us when mixing a track, but one of the most important is EQ.
EQ can be used in all kinds of subtle (and not so subtle) ways, but at its most basic, it offers a highly effective way of cleaning up mix elements to help them sit together better.
One of the most important tasks when mixing a track is to make the most of the bandwidth we have available to us. That means making space for every element in a mix. EQ plays two main roles in this process.
The first is to make each of our elements sound good in isolation. That might mean subtly boosting the upper midrange of a vocal to increase presence or the low end of a synth part to give it more weight.
The second – and arguably even more important – use for EQ is to make space for all the elements to fit together. If multiple elements of a mix occupy similar frequency ranges and attempt to fit into the same space, the result will often sound muddy, muddled and unclear. It’s this process which we’re going to focus on in this walkthrough, starting with a bad mix and using subtractive EQing to clean it up.
Here’s the messy, cluttered mix which we’re going to tweak:
In this raw state, the mix is clumsy and muffled. Let’s get started cleaning it up…
Start At The Bottom
Addressing the low frequency elements is a good place to start. In dance music mixes the best place to start is usually with the kick drum.
Here’s our kick on its own:
We’ll use a high-pass filter EQ to remove the extreme low end and help provide extra headroom. (Click images to enlarge.)
Here we’ve rolled off the lowest sub-bass frequencies, which won’t be reproduced on most systems and fall below the limits of human hearing but still take up crucial bandwidth.
Here’s how the kick sounds after EQing:
We can come back to the kick if necessary, but for now we need to hear it with the bassline in order to get a fuller picture of what else is required.
Here’s the bassline on its own:
And the unprocessed bassline with the processed kick:
As with the kick, let’s roll off the very low frequencies first. Next, we can use the EQ to notch out an area between approximately 200 and 250 Hz. In many cases we can make a cut like this to reduce muddiness in the low end without affecting the overall character of the sound.
Here’s how the bass sounds after we’ve applied our EQ:
And how the processed bassline works with the processed kick: