Improving Your Music With Equalization (EQ)

Equalization is an important part of the mixing process that is used to increase clarity and improve the overall quality of your music.

DJ adjusting frequency

So you’re looking to make your kicks huge, vocals that soar, and a bassline that’s powerful? To help you accomplish these goals you’ll use one of production’s most widely used tools – equalization.

What Is Equalization Anyway?

With equalization, or EQ, you increase or decrease the volume of certain frequencies in an instrument or a song. EQ is an immensely powerful tool that you will use in literally every tune you ever make.

There are many ways to utilize EQ. One example is to increase the amount of bass in your kick drum to make it sound more powerful.

To understand how EQ works you first have to learn about the audio spectrum. If you’re already familiar with the concept you can skip ahead. Otherwise, come with us into this blue box…

The Audio Spectrum: A Primer

The audio spectrum is the entire range of sounds that humans can hear – from the lowest growls to the highest whistles. This typically ranges from 20 Hz to about 20,000 Hz.

Every sound has its own unique frequency response. Shown visually, low sounds appear on the left of the spectrum and high sounds are on the right. Here’s what a kick drum looks like on the audio spectrum in an equalizer:

bass drum hit in FL Studio's Fruity Parametric EQ 2

If you’d like to learn more check out our in-depth audio spectrum article.

Let’s turn our attention back to EQ.

EQ allows you to manipulate specific parts of the audio spectrum so you can make your music sound precisely the way you want it to.

Once you begin EQing your music you will notice an immediate leap in the overall quality of your songs.

When to Use EQ

You will use EQ in every song as part of the mixing process. You’ll generally use EQ to accomplish three things:

  1. To increase the clarity of an instrument.
  2. To make the mix or instrument sound bigger.
  3. To make all the elements of a song better fit together.

You might increase clarity by increasing the highest frequencies of a female singer’s voice. Or, as we’ve discussed above with the bass drum, you can make a sound bigger by increasing certain frequencies.

When you’re putting together a song you’ll have multiple instruments with frequencies that sit directly on top of each other. What you’ll find is that while things might sound good on their own, together they sound muddied and don’t shine through as clearly as you’d like. To make a song better fit together you have to identify these weak areas in your music and correct them.

production headphones

A very common example of this is your bassline and kick drum muddying up the lower end of the audio spectrum in your songs. Your kick might sound great and so might your bass, but when you play them together the bass becomes mushy and the kick no longer sounds as powerful. These items are not fitting well together.
To fix this you can lower the frequencies of the bass line at the levels where your kick hits.

Another common use of EQ is to make substantial changes to a sound. Commonly used as part of sound design, you can create some interesting effects by making drastic changes to an instrument’s frequencies (such as completely eliminating the bass).

Issues You Can Fix with EQ

Here are some common issues you can fix with EQ:

  1. The lower frequencies of a song sound muddy and mushed together
  2. Vocals are competing with instruments and don’t shine through
  3. It’s difficult to hear certain instruments
  4. The song just doesn’t sound “clean”

Note that while there are other production methods you can use to help solve the above problems, equalization plays a substantial part in fixing them.

Handy EQ Tips for Beginners

Here are some helpful tips to help you get started with EQing your songs:

Make Small Adjustments
Unless you’re drastically trying to change the sound of an instrument, you’ll generally want to make small adjustments when tweaking frequencies. Less is definitely more.

Listen, Adjust, and Listen Again
When you hear something you don’t like, make your adjustment and then listen again. Keep repeating this process until the sound is right.

girl wearing pink headphones laying down on a pink floor

Try to Lower Frequencies First
As a general rule, you’ll want to try to lower problematic frequencies before boosting others, since boosting can introduce problems to your mix. This isn’t a rule that’s set-in-stone however – if it sounds good go for it.

Keep Your Output Volume Reasonable
You don’t want to EQ your song with the volume too low or too high. Find a sweet spot where you can comfortably hear the song. If you equalize with the volume too low you’ll probably make changes that are too drastic.

Remember That It Takes Practice
Since EQing is extremely subjective, it can be challenging for new producers to learn. Having the right gear certainly helps – make sure you’re EQing with a good pair of production quality headphones or monitors – but it takes a trained ear to be able to hear all the specific changes that need to be made in order to optimize the overall sound you’re going for. Keep practicing, you’ll get it down.