How To Use Subtractive EQ To Make Your Mixes Sound Better

How To Use Subtractive EQ To Make Your Mixes Sound BetterFor a while now I’ve been practicing with subtractive EQ while mixing my own music and I wish I had looked into it more earlier. I have used this technique to some extent yeah, but only recently I have been paying a more close attention to it and I must say this has been a kind of eye opener to me.

Subtractive EQ is an equalization technique where you cut frequencies instead of boost to let specific sound or sounds to stand out better in the mix. Its an opposite to additive EQ (boosting).

Lets take an example: you have a Sound #1 & Sound #2 in your mix. Sound #1 sounds sweet  and you want to preserve its sweetness throughout the mix, but Sound #2 has frequencies that overlaps badly with it making that sweetness to become more indistinct. Now, instead of boosting those sweet frequencies of Sound #1, you CUT the overlapping frequencies from Sound #2. This will make room in the frequency range for the Sound #1 to stand out better again. This is subtractive EQing.

But why cutting is better than boosting in a mixing situation like this? Boosting increases the volume levels of frequencies and it will easily lead to distortion (EDIT: not inherently of course, but if you don’t compensate it by turning down a volume level faders, it may happen – thanks to Kim Lajoie for pointing this out), muddy mix (EDIT: muddiness may occur if you boost too much low or mid-low frequencies, but with higher frequencies the issue is harsh or honky sound and not mud – again, thanks to Kim Lajoie for pointing this out) and cause other unwanted artifacts if you overdo it. Cutting instead leaves more room for the instruments and sounds to ‘breathe’. Its a way to add more sonic clarity to the mix.

Of course this does not mean additive EQ is wrong. It is needed for lots of things. For example, in electronic music, heavy EQ boost may be used as an effect to sculpt a sound into something specific. Or boost in the 10kHz area to add sparkle for hihats and other sounds that work in the high frequency area. And so on. There really isn’t strict rules for EQing, but subtractive EQ is definetely worth trying for when your mix is starting to sound bad.

Allright. Here’s how to use subtractive EQ:

1. Determine, what sound or instrument (or what frequency range of that instrument) you want to stand out better in the mix and try to identify what other sounds are masking it or making it sound indistinctive.

2. Once you have identified the overlapping instrument or sound, drop Fruity Parametric EQ 2 on to its mixer track.

Next, you need to detect the exact frequency area that is causing the problem. There’s couple of methods for this and the common way is to use EQ sweeping and its done like this: select peaking filter, set the bandwidth to narrow, boost around 8-10dB, press play and slowly sweep through the frequency range until the problem is starting to sound really exaggerated.

Use EQ Sweeping To Detect The Problem Frequencies3. CUT the problem frequencies by the amount that sounds good to you and also widen the bandwidth to get a more natural sounding result. Also, in the Mixer, increase the volume level of the ‘problem sound’ to make it fit back in the mix again.

Cut The Problem FrequenciesThe other method is to set the peaking filter already to “cutting position” with a normal bandwidth, check the PEQ2’s spectrum analyzer to locate in what frequency areas the input signal is peaking and sweep in these areas and when the problem comes less obtrusive, cut more/less and play with the bandwidth if needed:

Start Cutting From Peaking AreasThat’s it. :)

To put it in a nutshell: make sounds or frequencies to stand better out by cutting frequencies from other sounds.

Watch the video below:

About Petri Suhonen

Petri Suhonen is an electronic music hobbyist. He has been producing music with computers over a decade on such styles as trance, downtempo, ambient & experimental electronic using FL Studio.

Comments

  1. Thanks Bro . :-)

    By the way,If you can kindly give an tutorial on “How to make a Hard Baseline”
    Also a Tutorial Of “How to make a Hard Electro”

    Please

    Thanks.

    Love & Regards
    Dilon

  2. Darko says:

    Don’t think that nobody pay attention to tutorials!!! :P :DGreat tutorial n by the way I knew for this tips but very helpfull for those who doesn’t know . . . Keep doing tutorials , it always helps even if you knew techniques :D

  3. Avidosh says:

    Could you please make a glitch/complex electro bassline tutorial?

  4. Trez says:

    Thanks alot for this tutorial. It’s an eye-opener for sure.

  5. Mike Rodarte says:

    this was def a good tutorial. i recently read about this method of subtractive eq’ing and it is very helpful in the cases of using lots of instruments. I produce uplifting trance and with all the hats, pads, effects, you def need to eq with precision and i tried it last night(the sub eq) and it helped ALOT! awesome vid again!

    • Thank you, Mike!

      Yea things will clutter too fast in a busy mix and Subtractive EQ can be a real savior when used right even though it takes more work than boosting stuff. 8)

  6. DJ Spyke says:

    Great tutorial, i hope it helps with remixing, often i would get the hi frequencies from the origina songl and the remix beat i made and the woosh effect conflicting, so im gonna try to use this to make those high frequencies a bit clearer.
    Thanks. and Great Job

    P.S if you ever fing out how to make song swing more, please make a tutorial……: )

  7. Great tutorial man!! I was just wondering, how did you manage to actually learn all these methods/tips? Was it all from experience? Or did you watch/read tutorials like the ones you post? Anyway Thanks for all the tutorials, we need more people like you in the world.

    • Hey Jonty, and thanks for your comment!

      Some of the things you’re seeing in my website I’ve learned by experimenting/experience or by trying to re-produce a sound or beat from other producers songs, but lot of stuff I’ve also learned by watching and reading other tutorials over the net. Youtube is probably the BEST place to learn things like these!

  8. You did it again man!! This is awesome!! Very very helpfull!!
    Tnx a lot! Regards from Mexico!

  9. Erik Nilsson says:

    Hi Petri.
    Great tutorial.
    I was wondering if you could consider making a more in depth tutorial on how you use the phaser and the flanger in your mix. I see that you use them a lot but I have noticed you often use presets. It would be awesome if you could one day show us how to control them manually :)

  10. UnknowID says:

    Thx man !!!

  11. Thanks Petri! I’m really progressing by your tutorials, your a genius :) I also use your 400hz (low mid) tip on my melodies to make it sound cleaner, so it also works on melody’s k? :P

    Anyway, thanks you :)

  12. josse says:

    Thanks Petri, your the best! :)
    Can you also do this with moving harmonics?

    Greets

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