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January 14, 2013

Demystifying the Art of Mixing, Part 1

How to Use EQ to Get the Sonic Effects You Desire


Mixing can appear to be a black art to the uninitiated. In this article I will break down how I have used EQ (Equalizer) in my remix of ‘Memory Lane’ by K.I.N.E.T.I.K. I will focus my attention to application of EQ on the main sample, drums and bass.

Before I get into the breakdown of my use of EQ in this track, I should briefly point out what EQ permits you to do and how it’s often used. EQ allows you to change the tone of an instrument. It’s used to remove unwanted frequencies and boost desired ones. In the context of a mix it allows you to carve out pockets in the frequency spectrum (20Hz-20kHz) for instruments to reside in. EQ will need to be used on the majority of your parts to help blend them all together to create a cohesive mix. When you understand EQ and how to use it effectively, you should notice immediate results in your production work.

One more point before we dive into the mixing analysis: It is always worth noting the lyrical content and ‘feel’ of the track. Establish this first, as it will affect your mixing decisions (as you’ll read later). For this track, I started with the acapella and worked backwards to create the beat. ‘Memory Lane’ is about reminiscing back to the days of childhood, when life was simple, you listened to Hip Hop, played video games and your world was turned upside down when you were told wrestling was fake. This nostalgic theme had an impact on how I used automated EQ.

Application of static EQ

Using EQ is more about reducing and removing unwanted frequencies than boosting pleasant ones. Therefore, the biggest tip I can offer when using EQ is to always have a HPF (High Pass Filter) on all tracks that have no need for low frequency content. Essentially, this is everything except the Kick drum and Bass. There is more often than not unwanted low frequency content on signals. This will build up without you realizing, and take valuable dB of your mix. You can use 100-150Hz as your starting point.

In “Memory Lane,” I applied a HPF at 165Hz to the main sample. I have done this as I have then added my own sequenced bass line underneath. This prevents both signals from fighting for the same space and creates a cleaner mix. The sequenced bass is comprised of 2 tracks playing the same riff. One played by a bass guitar software instrument and the other a sine wave. The sine wave is very low in the mix, but helps boost out the fundamental frequency of the bass line. I have a LPF (Low Pass Filter) on the bass guitar at 530Hz (see image below) removing the higher harmonics, as I wanted the bass to sound ‘round’ and ‘full’.

Listen to the audio examples below of the bass mix, with and without EQ.

Bass without EQ:

Bass with EQ:

The drums have a modest amount of EQ, just enough to bring out the sweet spots of each drum sound. Below is a list of the EQ applied to each drum and what it is achieving.

Kick: Peak boost of 8.5dB centered around 100Hz. This is the key area to be boosting if you want more ‘boom’.
Snare: HPF at 65Hz, a peak boost of 7.5dB at 200Hz (add fuller tone) and a high shelf boost of 6.5dB (for more ‘slap’ and brighter tone) beginning at 4.1kHz.
Hi Hats: HPF at 160Hz, high shelf cut of 4.5db beginning at 8.4kHz. I used this because I deemed the raw hi hats too bright for the track.
Shaker: This is used in the chorus and has a HPF at 350Hz and high shelf boost of 9dB beginning at 5.4kHz (for brighter tone)
Toms: HPF at 47Hz and wide Q peak boost centered around 200Hz (add fuller tone)
Cymbals: HPF at 200Hz and high shelf boost of 5dB beginning at 5.3kHz (for brighter tone)

Listen to the audio examples below of the drum mix with and without EQ.

Drum mix without EQ:

Drum mix with EQ:

Application of automated EQ

At the end of the chorus I have used the “Synthetic Substitution” drum break by Melvin Bliss. I included this break as it is used on many hip hop records and projects that takes the listener back into an earlier golden era of hip hop. I have added a LPF with the cutoff being automated (moved over time) from 20kHz down to 700Hz through the duration of the one bar break. This helps the transition down into the verse and also emphasizes the nostalgic lyrical content mining the depths of your memory.

In addition to this I have a LPF on the sample chop that opens and closes through automation during the verses. It generally opens at the end of every 4 bars, then is reduced again. Artistically, this adds some tonal movement to keep interest in the beat during the verses. Practically, it creates space in the frequency spectrum for the vocals so they don’t compete for the same space. The LPF opens up into the chorus giving the desired lift for the hook.

(Image below shows the automation of the LPF for both the sample and the break)

Full Beat Comparison

Listen to the audio examples below of the full beat with and without EQ. I haven’t done much more than use EQ appropriately, but the difference is obvious. There is a noticeable lack of clarity and unwanted low frequency rumble on the version without EQ. When EQ is added, the mix is clear, tight and sounds alive.

Full beat without EQ:

Full beat with EQ:

You can listen to the full track in the player below.

Dave Walker (Imperial)

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."


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