Equalization : what is it all about?

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Equalization : what is it all about?

Post by sAy-music » Wed Nov 26, 2014 12:24 pm


I come here with a big question concerning EQ.
I found many advices on the Internet but I am quite mixing everything up (and I am sure that many Ableton users here does too!).

So here are the questions I keep asking myself, some cases I am frequently facing but I don't know how to solve. I would be glad to know how you guys face it in order to provide the best out of a track when it comes to EQing and mixing.

1) The volume

When I try to mix all my tracks, what frequently happens is that my master is overdriving (becoming red).

I found three solutions:
  • EQ each track and remove the useless frequencies
    Lower down the volume of each tracks
    Lower down the overall volume of the master
The problem is that if I lower down the volume of my tracks or the master, I come with a song which is not as loud as the other songs I can listen to (for example on Soundcloud).

For example, in one of my current song I have a piano and a bass. When playing together, the volume of the master is 0db (perfect), because my piano is at -3db and my bass at -4db.
When I am having a solo piano part, the sound is too low.

My question is: how do you manage the volume of your tracks in order to avoid the master from overdriving? Do you often adjust the volume in the track? (such as raising the volume of the piano on a solo part). And finally, do you try to stick to 0db during all the song or can you deliver a song which is at -3db for example?

2) The final signal with flat speakers

I enjoy having sub basses in my music, because I think it adds another dimension to the music when listening on good speakers.

The problem is that I don't know how much db we usually need to have on the frequencies (such as sub frequencies, < 80db) when mixing electronic music.

My question is: how "flat" must be the final mixing? How many dbs +/- is it good to have? (like "it is not good to go lower than -3db or higher than +3db").

4) Multiple tracks on the same frequencies

The last point, about having multiple tracks on the same frequencies.

How do you manage it if you want to clearly hear every sound?

For example, let's say you have a saw bass, which is interesting because it has some low-mid frequencies AND a bit of mid-high frequencies.
But besides, you have a lead which is already using these mid-high frequencies.
So everything is a bit messing up and it is hard to clearly distinguish both parts.

I used to add some sidechain compression or remove some frequencies on one of the instruments, but sometimes it is not possible or it is changing the sound of the instrument too much.

My question is: How to make it easy for the listener to hear every instruments, even if they are on the same frequencies?

Thank you for your answers, EQing is a real job on itself which is hard to master and needs a LOT of practice.

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Re: Equalization : what is it all about?

Post by Tarekith » Wed Nov 26, 2014 3:09 pm

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Re: Equalization : what is it all about?

Post by JoshG567 » Wed Nov 26, 2014 8:51 pm

Pretty fundamental questions about mixing there. To me it's a big about pragmatism - there's not infinite space in a mix for every frequency of every track. What it boils down to are psychological tricks, basically. Assuming your levels are under control (which it sounds like they aren't, i.e. appropriate gain staging and use of compression), think of EQ as something to highlight what crucial frequencies exist in an instrument's timbre for the mix and attenuate what matters less. For a simple example, the brain has a tendency to fill in missing fundamentals in the presence of ample upper harmonics/overtones, and that's why you can high pass guitars at frequencies that make them sound thin when solo'd and they still sound fat in the mix with a bass guitar. Aside from EQ, crafty side-chain compression is great for making some things stand out, especially drums.

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Re: Equalization : what is it all about?

Post by sAy-music » Thu Nov 27, 2014 11:08 am

Thank you for your answers

@Tarekith: the guides on innerportalsstudio.com are A W E S O M E, I read them all and they helped me getting a really better mixdown and mastering.
Even when I asked a few friends of mine to compare the previous version and the new version of a same track, which I just re-mastered and re-mixed, they told me that there is a HUGE difference.

I encourage you guys to read the guides on innerportalsstudio.com:

Last edited by sAy-music on Thu Nov 27, 2014 11:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Equalization : what is it all about?

Post by Tarekith » Thu Nov 27, 2014 3:22 pm

Great, glad they were helpful!

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Re: Equalization : what is it all about?

Post by YanceyG » Fri Nov 28, 2014 5:01 am

Thank you @sAy-music great question that got a great answer.

@Tarekith wow, I agree with @sAy-music your guides on innerportalsstudio.com are A W E S O M E.

I read the first, Mixdowns, and took notes. Felt like I was in "class" this morning. Hoping to have Eric's permission here are my notes. I'll delete if this is too much here.

For those reading so far, Eric of http://innerportalstudio.com/ has more guides and also has a business of doing Mastering, Mix Downs and Consulting.

The guides read really well. I took notes for myself to keep track of steps. Thought Eric would enjoy seeing them.

tl;dr Make your goal to mix so your mastering is simple.

Notes from: http://innerportalstudio.com/articles/Mixdowns.pdf

Recognize the focal point of song.
Never touch master fader. 0dB
Leave 6dB of headroom - loudest parts not above -6dBFS on meter.
Keep monitors quiet. good at low vol = good at high vol. | good at high vol ? good at low.
Mix with volume just below conversation level.

Start with Core Elements: Kick, Snare, Bassline and lead synth/vocal.
Mute all. Unmute kick, snare and bassline. Raise until -10 to -8dB and balance.
Watch for kick and bassline competing. If bassline is deep or sub, use kick with less low end.
If kick is lost layer another kick w/ brighter beater.
Kick/Bassline balance:
Use sidechaining sparingly w/ compressor on bassline when kick hits.
Use EQ; cut frequencies below 30Hz in bass drum and bassline to gain headroom. Use spectrum analyzer to see if anything is down there to cut first. 5-6dB might be all it takes.
Add puch if needed with a sine wave under bassline.
Ditto on kick drum, lay deeper kick for added weight.
Use EQ to cut and boost certain frequencies in each part to give them a sonic territory in the frequency spectrum. Example: cut few dB at 80Hz on bassline while cutting some at 120Hz on the kick.

Choosing sounds that mix well during arrangement makes mixdowns easier.
Work fast while keeping the overall song in perspective.

Dance music the bass is in mono giving stereo imagine a center to play off of.
Kicks are always mono.

For rock and breaks music the snare is mixed a little louder than in other forms of music.
As a focal point it helps tie together the various rhythm elements to a predictable pattern.
Most snares need very little processing. A dull snare can take an EQ boost around 2kHz.
Boosting around 8kHz and above can add “air” or openness to sound.
Use a low Q value and a couple of dB’s of boost to keep as smooth as possible.
Flat sounds - gentle boost around 400Hz - more drum and less rattle.

Sometimes snares in mono, if stereo sample might stay in stereo, experiment.
Make sure your master level is not above -6dB.

Too many effects can bury, be careful. Less is more, especially with reverb and delay.
Use reverb and delay to make sound seem further away in the mix.

Most leads are dead center in pan. Panning can be ear catching but also annoying and can distract from other song elements.

Main elements of song should now work together with drums and bass foundation and lead focal point.

Ancillary drums should support the main groove so don’t make too loud in mix.
Beginners tend to make hi hats too loud.
Can be helpful to roll off (gently cut) frequencies below 1kHz w/ cymbals. Just a few dBs.
Boosting cymbals and hi hats can make them harsh.
Toms and hand percussion work best panned to each side.
Try to split instruments for equal number on each side of stereo mix.
Low toms might need to cut some of the lower frequencies to keep from clashing with bass drum. Higher toms opposite is true, try to keep from clashing with snare.
Very low Q values keeps sounds more nature. Gentle shaping is what we're usually after.

Pads, Chords, And Background Vocals
Use to support harmonic or tonal aspects of song.
Create them with very narrow frequency ranges in first place or EQ them in mix.
Need very little low end so roll off everything below 600Hz and maybe some of the top too unless it’s an ‘airy’ pad sound.
Pan and use reverb and stereo delay. Panning delays are fun but don’t detract from the main song elements.
Copy track and delay one by 4-5ms panned all the way left with other right. detune left by positive 3-7 cents and right by negative 3-7 cents.

If volume is too loud, group and reduce equally.

Sound Effects and Ear Candy
EQ to remove lower frequencies so you can have more volume.
Sound effects and small elements can make a song hard to mixdown. Can clash in terms of frequencies causing messy cluttered sound. Use EQ or synthesis to shape each sound to have it’s own space in the mix.

All mutes should now be off.
Take nature break so ears can hear a different ‘room.’ Go outside for 10 minutes.
Come back and make little volume corrections. Can you hear all the tracks at the right times?
Parts that don’t add and clutter should be removed. Render out unneeded parts and save to make the deleting process easier.
Listen to the song while moving around room, from the hall, another room.
Can you still hear the main parts? Anything too loud? Listen at different volumes.
Listen on headphones, earbuds, in car, friends system, in club or on bigger system.

By playing with the EQ and spectrum analyzers you learn how each parts fits with others in the song. Can remove all EQ reset all levels to 0 and start over. Sometimes the second time works better.

“New York Trick” for drums. Create a send or buss track with compressor on very fast and hard setting to squash this channel. Send all drums here. Blend two versions. Now once uncompressed with transients and quieter version heavily squashed together underneath adding punch.

For other instruments set attack to max amount and decay to fastest setting. Ratio to 3 or 5 and lower threshold until 3dB on the gain reduction meter on plug in. Set make up gain to auto. No auto - set make up gain to same amount on gain reduction meter.

Now play with attack and release settings. Lowering attack setting will dull sound for tweaky synth or basslines. Raising the release gives drums and percussion more ‘oomph’ but can cause compressor pumping.

Many times you might only need 1 or 2 compressors total in one of your songs, if even that.


Goal to produce mixdown that doesn’t need any other processing.
Mastering should just be converting bit rate, adding dither and raising the level.

Again: Eric of http://innerportalstudio.com/ has more guides and also has a business of doing Mastering, Mix Downs and Consulting.

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Re: Equalization : what is it all about?

Post by Tarekith » Fri Nov 28, 2014 5:09 am



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