Subtractive EQ Can Actually Be Better For Your Mixes

Subtractive EQ

The more practice you get with mixing, the more you will see just how effective EQ is for your mixes.

Just like any other tool, you can use them properly and improperly.  Today I am going to try and demonstrate how you can properly use and EQ.

Should You Be Boosting?

If you have been doing audio for any length of time, you are probably familiar with what an EQ is and how it works.  And equalizer give you the ability to increase or decrease the volume in and around a certain frequency range.  This works well for sculpting and creating space in your mixes.

But if you are just starting out, you are probably like me where you are boosting a lot more than you are subtracting.  You know you do it – be honest.  I think everybody who is starting out, does this because it’s so simple to do.  We have a kick drum that needs some more bottom end so we boost up around 60Hz and there you have it, the perfect kick drum sound.  I wish it was that easy.

If this is how you approach mixing than by the time you are finished a track, you are going to have a huge mess of frequencies.  So if all your doing is boosting, than you are just boosting up a bunch of noise which is not good for your mix.

Use a Backwards Approach

So instead of boosting frequencies  you want more of, why not trying doing the opposite and take away the frequencies that you don’t like.  This is essentially what subtractive eq is – listen to the tracks of the song to identify what you don’t like about them and then take them out so that the best parts reveal themselves.  Going back to that kick drums example, instead of boosting up the low end, you could cut out some of the low mids to get rid of the mud, turn it up and now you have a super subby kick drum.

Just think about how the home studio guy mixes (including me), we want a really nice bottom end as well as a nice top end.  So what is that we tend to do?  We’ll grab the EQ and boost the bottom end as well as some of the top end.  We could achieve similar results by taking out some mids but instead of adding noise, we are taking it away.

You Need Nerves of Steel

I’ll be the first to admit that I heard many pros talk about cutting frequencies instead of boosting but I just really ignored the advice. So Why?  The main reason is because you need a lot of patience to get rid of things you don’t like versus the things you do.   So subtractive is philosophy of mixing in which you look at the different parts and simply improve them by subtracting frequencies instead of boosting them.

So You should never boost then?

I’m definitely not saying that at all.  When you do boost, just try to be subtle with it so you can maintain a clean and clear mix.  Make subtle adjustments because our ears get used changes and soon we won’t even be able to hear where we went wrong.

So if you have never tried Subtractive EQ then today is the day you start.  Try it out on your next mix.  Try to experiment by pulling things out instead of boosting them, I bet your mixes will thank you as well.