One thing I hated learning about in audio school was the “recommended EQ” charts. You know the ones that told you the best frequencies to boost for a trumpet or kick drum?
For one, the charts were busy, complex, and had simply too much information for me to memorize for all future mixing sessions, even as starting points.
But the more important reason I hated them them (and still do to this day) is that they focus on the wrong question.
What Is “The Best” Frequency To Boost For…?
Instead of asking “What is the best frequency to boost/cut for an instrument?” we should be asking, “What strategies can I employ that will help me ensure I make the best EQ moves possible every time I mix?”
Memorizing frequencies is like learning the “right” answers so you can pass a test. It’ll fool you into thinking you’ve actually gained new knowledge when all you’ve done is plugged in answers.
Instead of doing that, I’d rather you know how to always EQ correctly no matter what the tracks are giving you.
Today let me give you two EQ hacks that will virtually guarantee you pick the right frequencies every time.
EQ While Listening In Mono
One of the smartest things you could do when mixing is to flip that thing into mono as soon as you begin reaching for an EQ.
The reason? Stereo is “fake” separation and it easily fools you into thinking you can hear each instrument clearly.
The moment you flip your mix into mono, you struggle to hear each track on top of each other which can only mean one thing – EQ masking is happening. Better grab an EQ plugin and get to work!
So where do you boost or cut?
Wherever it helps your track stand out in the frustrating environment of mono.
When do you have the right EQ?
When you can hear everything clearly in mono. If you still can’t hear each track then you’re not finished with EQ. It’s really that simple.
EQ While Listening In Context With The Other Tracks
One of the dumbest things you and I could ever do with EQ is to do it in solo.
What good is a perfectly EQ’d snare drum in solo, when you’ll never hear it that way in the mix?
You need the other tracks in the mix to inform you about how each track is fitting together.
That’s the whole point of the word “mix” – we are blending multiple things together. Not working on isolated sounds.
So what this means practically is that you should start with one instrument (I prefer the most important instrument sonically) and then bring each other track in one at a time, never soloing.
Eventually you’ll have all the tracks playing together, on top of each other, in mono, and you’ll be forced to make better EQ decisions.
Now, can you drop into solo for a hot second to zero in on a frequency? Sure I do it in most mixes – but it accounts for about 5% of my EQ time and it’s generally when I’m hunting for some problem (hiss, pop or click, etc).
With These Hacks You Can’t Help But EQ Better
Here’s the thing: I’m not that smart of a mix engineer.
By that I mean I’m not very technical or scientific about it. I don’t have a lot of frequencies memorized, nor do I understand all the nuances of the math involved in acoustics.
But none of that matters.
All I care about is using simple hacks to force me to make better mixing decisions – so I can mix until it sounds awesome.
Mixing in mono and avoiding the solo button are two of the smartest EQ moves you could ever make simply for the fact that if you know nothing at all about frequencies, you still can’t help but make better EQ moves.
They literally force you to make the right choice – even if you aren’t the smartest tool in the shed.
Watch These Two Mixing Hacks In Action
If you want to see (and hear) these two EQ hacks in action then watch last week’s video of The One Hour Mix.
I did the entire song’s EQ in 10 minutes, in mono, in context with the other tracks. The before and after results at the end are powerful.