Set limits with high-pass filters and low-pass filters.
These filters are important tools in any good EQ plug-in. A high-pass filter cuts the low frequencies and lets high frequencies pass through, while a low-pass filter does the opposite.
Producer and mixer Lo Boutillette uses high-pass filters to cut the low basses. “We can’t really hear them well anyway, and they can get out of hand and start rumbling your room,” she says. Berry does the same. When he’s mixing a vocal track, he tends to filter out everything below 100 Hz: “The microphone might pick up some subsonic frequencies, and that’s just going to muddy up your mix,” he says. “Even though you don’t hear it, it’s still making the speakers work harder than they have to.”
When mixing drum tracks, Berry uses low-pass filters to avoid snare or symbol bleed. Boutillette, a frequent podcast producer, cautions against setting a low-pass filter too low. The human voice exists mostly between 1000 and 3000 Hz, but sibilance and consonant sounds can reach higher frequencies. “If you pull down your highs,” she says, “there’s always the risk of losing the clarity of a person’s voice. You really have to be delicate.”
When he’s recording vocals, Berry monitors between 2000 and 4000 Hz and cuts a little if it seems harsh. He also looks out for “the honkiness factor,” when voices sound too nasal, which can come into play between 600 and 800 Hz.
Use a light touch when you tweak EQ controls.
Remember that when you’re cutting or boosting a band, you’re not just altering the gain (volume) of the center frequency. You’re boosting or cutting a range of frequencies above and below it. You can change the sound significantly with slight adjustments.
Berry says he rarely cuts more than one or two dB (decibels) because drastic changes can sound unnatural. When deciding whether to boost or cut, Boutillette usually opts to cut, and she says she doesn’t adjust past three dB in either direction.
The most important thing is to use your ears, not your eyes. “If you want a brighter sound,” Berry says, “you might not necessarily want to boost the high end. You might cut out some low muddiness, and that could brighten up your sound. If you’re looking for a darker sound, you may not want to boost any low end. You may want to cut some of the high end.”