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Common EQ Mistakes (Part 1 – EQ in Context)
September 24, 2016
Guitar Production: Detailed Tutorial
December 2, 2016

Common EQ Mistakes (Part 2 – When In Doubt Leave It Out)

5 common eq mistakes continuum music studio

5 common eq mistakes continuum music studio

To avoid common EQ mistakes, do your best to educate yourself on the “rules” of EQ so that you can break these rules in creative ways!

The best advice we can give you (in our eyes this is the golden rule), from personal experience, is simple:

When in doubt, leave the EQ out!

How do I leave the EQ out?

There are a plethora of ways to mix layers without using EQ. Here is a short list of perspectives you can apply and adapt to your workflow to expand your palette of processing techniques:

1. Use a DeEsser the reduce high-end resonance
2. Use a compressor to smooth out tracks that feel like certain frequencies are poking out in unpleasant ways
3. Use expanders to tighten tracks and remove resonances
4. Use multiband saturation to change the contour and tone of bands
5. Use multiband transient designers or compressors to remove unpleasant regions
6. Use delay to mask frequencies
7. Use mid-side processing tools to augment unwanted frequencies
8. Use parallel processing by injecting more of a heavily processed track into the original sound source
9. Reamp tracks
10. Select new samples, go back to the sound design phase, record again, ask the client for new parts, use triggers

If the sound design, recordings, and sample selection are on point, little EQ should be needed. If these elements are not “as spot on” as they could be then, EQ moves will go a long way (as long as the EQ is not overdone). The same theory applies to compression and most mixing tools. As one of our hero’s Dave Pensado would say, “Don’t over cook the mix,” no matter how good you think it sounds!

Common EQ MistakesHere is a case in point:

If you are listening to a track in the mix and your intuition tells you to “cut 400 – 550 Hz,” then you might want to go with your gut! Pull up and EQ and crank it! No one is going to die by cranking an EQ (Laughter). Though it might be wise to do this with a quality EQ. Native and free EQs do not “break up” well when pushed hard.

Continuum Tip: If there are any advantages to high-quality 64-bit third party plugins it would be that these seldom get harsh when boosting aggressively. While it is not a necessity to own an extensive collection, having a few high caliber colored and clean options on hand can make your life much easier.

Once you hear what the EQ is doing, be objective, and pull the EQ back until the curve is felt in the mix rather than heard (unless you want the curve to be heard). The best EQ moves add a “musical character” to the track. Creating the sound of something “sounding EQed heavily” often does not sit in the mix as well as something simple “feels musical.” While this can be confusing to comprehend, just go with what sounds good to you!

Allow me to explain more….

Music is all about creating emotion. In fact, the very difference between music and noise is that music can make us FEEL something whereas noise is just something that we hear.

Continuum Tip: If your mixes are only reaching your ear holes, then you are doing something wrong. The mix should reach you soul and enhance the emotion embedded in the song.

When mixing sink into the array of sounds and feel something damn it (Laughter)! Listening (while vital to the task of engineering) is not the name of the game.

Listening allows you the ability to tune into the mix on a deeper, more connected, and would say more “spiritual level.” When you can listen (not simply hear) a mix in an emotional way, you will be on the road to creating something truly unique.

Mixing on a deeper “interpersonal/spiritual level” is how the best mixing engineers in the world operate, and all of the greats were once an amateur (Big Smiles).

Life is frequency, and everything is energy. We do not get emotional when a car passes us at high speed, or someone opens a creaking door. Even though both the car and the door emit the “same frequencies” found in the music that we create, mix, and love.

eq3Emotions are FELT and music has a way of translating sound to emotions naturally. Music is the most powerful when it makes us FEEL something amazing! Our job as engineers and producers is to make sure that other people FEEL what we feel in the studio. We, as working engineers, cannot stress this enough.

When we listen to music, we do not think very much. This is the best part about music. In fact, music has a way of reconnecting us to our heart for just long enough that we can get out of our head (Big Smiles). If you know anything about meditation, this is the summation.

Meditation is about “thinking less and being more.”

The best music needs “little to zero” thought to experience. If you are thinking the whole time while in the mix, you are probably being too analytical for a process (mixing) which is rooted in creativity (a thoughtless process).

The beautiful aspect of music, and it is what we as sound designers, recording artists, music producers, and audio engineers aim to create sonic masterpieces to share with the world. If you are in your head while mixing, and not mixing from your gut then are most likely not mixing for what is best for the song (on a feeling level), but rather what you “think is best” based on what you know (on a mental level).

While it is important to understand the basics of EQ (and how to use) and conventional EQ mistakes (and how to avoid), it is equally important to comprehend EQ on an emotional plane.

Common EQ MistakesGetting back to the “facts”…

The purpose of EQ is to cut away the unwanted frequencies and/or accentuate the frequencies enhance the emotional landscape of the song.

We challenge you to do something today. Our challenge is simple:

Reframe the language you use to define EQ. Stop thinking of EQ is frequency and see it as energy. Yes, these technically (as we already discussed) both the same thing, but if you start saying things like “where do I want to feel the energy of the guitar in this mix” you will find yourself making better EQ decisions because you have a clear direction of what your objective is.

If you can feel something while mixing, you are on the right track (Laugher- pun intended)! Ask questions while you mix and use language that empowers you to be creative, not analytical!

What are ways I can approach EQ from a creative perspective?

Ask yourself (while in the mix) how can I:

1. Use EQ to shape the emotional dimension of the song
2. Use EQ to sweeten parts
3. Use EQ to add edge and dimension
4. Use EQ to remove what is obstructing the energy of layers, which need to shine
5. Use EQ to create clarity and synergy in the mix. Use EQ for specific reasons, not just because you “think” you should be using EQ
6. Use EQ to create contrast between the verse and drop/chorus
7. Use EQ to bury things that are not the focal point of the section
8. Use EQ to add excitation
9. Use EQ to compliment a vocal
10. Use EQ as a call and response between section or layers

While you “think” asking questions happens in your mind, this is only the case because you are “thinking” about answers. Start going off what you feel not off what you think. That is the moral of that small diatribe.

Try this on for size….

“What EQ could I use to complement the vocal?”

ssl-eqFor example: If the vocal is dark, round, smooth, and thick an EQ choice could be something bright, sharp, exciting, and shiny. Let’s say that the vocal sounds like it was recorded with a dark microphone, like an Electro-Voice RE20. This mic has a lot of low end and is very smooth. Perhaps you could compliment this vocal (while also creating contrast) by using an API 550b EQ which is tight, punchy, and can open up the top end with a shelf from 5k up. This is just one example, but you can see how learning a lot about the tone of gear and plugins goes a long way!

In summation ladies and gentlemen: Get out of your mind and don’t worry about what the guy in the YouTube video showed you yesterday! Even if you just got done watching one of our videos, the same concept applies! Use the knowledge you gain from blogs, videos, books, and more to give you more than just an education on EQ. After you learn, ask yourself questions, lots of questions. Then, (post inquiry) make “intuitive choices” based on how the “energy” needs to move in a mix to bring out the emotion of the song.

When it comes to EQ, and avoiding common EQ mistakes, just remember the golden rules:

When in doubt, leave the EQ out and mix in context.

Learn as much as you can. Study people you admire. Develop a solid foundation of knowledge. Meditate. Let your heart guide you so that you can use all the tools within your DAW, in your racks, and in your mind to enhance the vision of the creator along with the emotional journey that is the song.

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Kriss Walas
Kriss Walas
Kriss Walas is a constantly expanding musician, composer, music producer, mixing engineer, mastering engineer, writer, DJ, artist manager, CEO, record label owner, Reiki practitioner, meditation enthusiast, avid learner, and spiritual activist. Now, at age 31 Kriss has committed himself to living through heart and only spending his time on endeavors he is passionate about. It is for this reason he is proud to be working with the amazingly passionate and talented artists, partners, and educators who are affiliated with The Continuum Music Studio and The Music and Recording Arts Academy.
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