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I often create tracks that consist of lots of layered (electronic) sounds. This gives me a hard time EQing the tracks so that the mix still feels right.

Instead of forming a solid wall of sound, It often ends up being smudgy. Or I apply too much EQ to some instruments until those simply sound crappy.

What are the most important (beginner) rules of thumb for EQing tracks? if there any any step-by-step method, that would be even better :)

Thanks,

Adrian

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5 Answers

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The problem with electronic music is that you can add several drum tracks, pads, leads, arpeggios, vocal bit, aux percussion, etc. Then you'll apply some efx and you have a huge mess. If you are really having issues and can't make a mix work, think about composition as well. Maybe two pads are not needed while that organ is also going on? Or maybe you're doing minimal electronica and this is not relevant ;)

I start with drums and bass and make them sound the best they can. With contemporary music they should be pretty rocking with a good amount of impact. Everyone talks about subtractive eqing - but don't be afraid to boost - although with electronic sound sources this is not needed as much as 'acoustic' music.

Finding what frequencies to cut can be done by setting your eq to a narrow Q and boosting the gain to about +10 or +20db. Solo the track if you'd like, then sweep through the frequencies where you suspect the problem is - the offending freq should stick out when you hit it. Once you've found it, widen your Q a bit and take the gain into the -5 to -10 area depending on the eq model (some seem to have more effect with lower settings).

Cut the lows out of some of your pads and lead synths. Cut some of the low out of the Bass synth until the kick is coming through nice and strong, then bring it back in a bit till you like the amount of fullness. I've gotten some raw tracks for remixes and was surprised how much low cutting I had to do to match the original track in the bass guitar.

Compare with recordings you admire to make sure you're not ending up going too far in any one direction. Lately it seems like alot of the electronic music I hear is waaaay compressed - especially compressing the bass using the kick as a side chain.

Mixing is a never ending learning experience for me - I've been at it for years, but still feel I could improve much.

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Thanks a lot for your advice! Some of this I am doing already,some is new and some is stuff that I also learned over the years but am still struggling to follow. I find it hard to resist to add that "just one more pad" to the track :-) –  Adrian Grigore Mar 7 '11 at 22:27
    
My first tracks had waaaay too many parts in them - so many. –  Sam Greene Mar 15 '11 at 4:18
    
Sam: Mine are even worse ;-) –  Adrian Grigore Mar 15 '11 at 10:26
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You should start with each EQ band at zero db (neutral), and adjust volume to a comfortable level first using the mixer faders or volume control.

From there, you should listen for peaks in the sound, freqencies that seem to stand out above the others. Find a fader or EQ frequency that influences this particular peak the most, and apply a small amount of cut to deemphasize it. Rinse and repeat.

If you are using a mixer, you can apply this method to individual instruments for greater control.

To train yourself how to identify peaks, play some ordinary (well-recorded) music through your EQ setup, turn up a frequency band, and hear how it affects the sound. Repeat for other frequency bands.

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So the goal is to make each frequency range stand out as little as possible? (sorry for the dumb question, I'm just not sure what I am looking for exactly.) –  Adrian Grigore Dec 17 '10 at 23:20
    
@Adrian: Essentially, yes; that approach will provide tonal balance. See the last paragraph I added in my edit to this answer. –  Robert Harvey Dec 17 '10 at 23:51
    
Thanks Robert! This sounds like a userful exercise! –  Adrian Grigore Dec 18 '10 at 10:06
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I would like to counter this that sometimes I mix/eq to make a specific tonal range on each track stand out. That way "mud" from the guitar doesn't mix with "mud" from the vocal. This is mainly an issue with many tracks. If you are going for an acoustic sound, then tonal balanace on all tracks is a nice sound. –  d-_-b Feb 3 '11 at 8:26
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EQ is one of the areas where often less is more. A good rule of thumb is to try pulling certain frequencies back before you try boosting others.

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That's roughly what I have already read. The problem is that I don't know which frequencies I should reduce and by how much. Of course this has a lot to do with experience, but my problem is that I don't have any, nor do I get much feedback from others... :-\ –  Adrian Grigore Dec 17 '10 at 23:23
    
With electronics, you can and probably should try to get away with no eq - you should be able to tweak the actual sound to get exactly what you want. Try playing with different effects to avoid the smearing. –  chris Dec 18 '10 at 19:01
    
@Adrian Grigore: Just try it. Fiddle with the filters until it sounds better. With experience you'll get faster. Work more with parametric EQ's than graphical ones. –  Lennart Regebro Dec 19 '10 at 17:31
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Without a great monitoring situation, (most aren't), where you can confidently judge your adjustments, it's actually hard to make EQ adjustments that are worth it, except for the obvious things, like cutting bass or adding a bit of 15+ kHz treble.

Especially in the midrange, it's not hard to add something there and some time later, convince yourself that something is out of place, and then find out that that adjustment was exactly it.

I find that concentrating on having actually the right sounds playing in the mix in the right moments/sections ends up paying off more than non-obvious, potentially damaging EQ action (in a less-than-ideal monitoring scenario as I assume yours, like mine is and many are). I.e., check for overly many things together actually clouding the mix.

There are EQs that show you signal's current frequency response together with the new EQ'd curve. This is good because it takes the monitoring out of the equation, if you know how to read that properly (I don't yet).

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This also what I have often experienced. For me it's often much easier to use exactly the right instrument instead of trying to make the wrong instrument sit decently in the mix by EQ and other effects. The problem with this however, is that it slows me down while composing, which can also be a problem for my creativity. –  Adrian Grigore Feb 27 '11 at 10:30
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Equalization is similar to mixing, in the sense that you have limited resources: the "space" for your music is scarce.

Talking about EQ, you can also try to focus each section to the frequency band it suits best. Which usually means cut off the frequencies that are not characteristic of the section and will interfere with other sections / instruments. Boosting should be used carefully just to make one or two tracks shine

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I know this principle and tried to follow it, but many times I ended up cutting away too much until some instruments sounded very thin and the whole mix was worse than before. –  Adrian Grigore Mar 14 '11 at 10:20
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