3 Steps To Make Your Mixes Sound Better With Subtractive EQ

When I first started making and recording music, the methodology was always: MORE, LOUDER, FASTER! And while it felt good, we were always missing something. Either being not the best musicians or not having all the gear we felt we needed. Hence adding more to the mixes. Adding more compression. Adding more EQ. More reverb. MORE MORE MORE! In the end it was lacking in dynamics, flat and unfocused. After moving on from the 4-track and to larger consoles and 2″ 24 track machines and in turn larger rooms, I quickly realized that I could get there faster by taking away things that were getting in the way vs. boosting everything around it. It was a mindset that took years to really hone in on as I had to correct less efficient impulses.

This is a mixing technique so take frequencies away to add clarity to your sounds and mixes.

Klontz MES-435s Five Band Mastering EQ (Sontec 432 Clone)

Step 1: Add Your EQ

First, add your choice of EQ on an insert on a track.

I like Logic Pro’s stock EQ because it has a built-in spectrum analyzer, it’s pretty powerful and it sounds great.

To get started, add a new band, or grab an existing band.

Set the Q to 10, giving you a fairly narrow bandwidth to work with.

Set the frequency to 20Hz, to start your sweep at the bottom of the frequency range.

Set the EQ to boost +24dB, making problem areas pretty clear. (If you hear any clipping, turn the track down before hitting the EQ.)

 Then sweep up the spectrum in an effort to find problem areas.

Start with a low frequency like 20Hz to start with and then sweep up the spectrum in an effort to find problem areas.

Step 2: Sweep and Listen

Grab the frequency number in the EQ plugin and slowly sweep up the spectrum. Listen for harsh, nasty frequencies that stand out and are not pleasurable to listen to. You’ll know them when you hear them – they will sound jagged, ugly, and something that could make your head hurt.

If your EQ has a built-in spectrum analyzer (the stock Logic Pro EQ has that built in), you can use it to help you find potential problem areas even more quickly. (Problem areas will show up as peaks that stick out in volume in the spectrum analyzer’s display.) But use your ears first and foremost.


A potential problem frequency appearing as a peak on Logic's Pro's Channel EQ / Spectrum Analyzer

A potential problem frequency appearing as a peak on Logic’s Pro’s Channel EQ / Spectrum Analyzer

Step 3: The Fix

So you’ve found the problem frequency. Now what? First step back. Stop the audio. And let your mind and ears rest.

Then, slowly and carefully widen the Q until you start hearing parts of the spectrum that sound okay when boosted. Then, dial the Q back up a bit to make the band narrower again keeping the good frequencies out of that band. Basically you want the frequencies in questions inside that Q and the ones that are ok, outside of it.

Play the track without the EQ boost (IE. bypass the plugin) and try to hear the problem in context. Chances are this will be easy, as the sound of the problem frequency will still be echoing in your brain. If not, try boosting it a few dB to remind yourself. Once you can hear the problem in context, slowly start taking away a dB at a time until the frequency is no longer a problem.

Once you’ve determined the right amount of cut, toggle the EQ band in and out of bypass to see if you like the result. If the track sounds better with the cut engaged, give yourself a cookie. You deserve it.


This is the cookie you now deserve with the completion of subtracting EQ from an audio source in your mix.

This is the cookie you now deserve with the completion of subtracting EQ from an audio source in your mix.

Add another band and continue sweeping up the rest of the frequency spectrum. (It’s not uncommon to have more than one problem per track). If everything sounds okay, move on to the next track and repeat the process, if needed. If a track doesn’t have any problems, remove the EQ and move on.

Take the time to see how this works on instruments that just aren’t sitting right in a mix. Your mixes will gel more, be more clear and sound more defined! And have a second cookie while you are at it!

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