Equalisation as a mindset
EQing can be an extremely powerful tool that can transform your tracks. One of the most important things to realise and conceptualise when it comes to producing electronic music is that you only have a finite amount of space to work with, as excessive frequency doubling and overlap is always bad news. In order to make your mix tighter, you have to think about everything you put into your production as if it were a puzzle. Applying this as a mindset will let you gain a deeper understanding of production, resulting in a clearer, more coherent end product.
Most people are familiar with using EQ to treat and improve the sound of single tracks and/or samples. What we must understand is that the concept of equalisation is effectively one and the same as sample selection, use of plug-ins, arrangement and song writing, as they all accomplish the same thing; select and attenuate or emphasise different frequencies.
Imagine you have just started a new project and are designing a drum loop. From the start, you are faced with a few options and should be asking yourself; will my kick be round and subby or high and clicky? How punchy will it be? Will my snare be high pitched and woody or low and thumpy? Will my hats be digital and crunchy or more natural and washy? This method of seeing components of a track and their important characteristics as separate frequencies and choosing/building them accordingly based on what you know you will need is critical.
When it comes to your bass, you need to decide what kind of range it needs to fit with your drums. If your kick is subby you may want something with a more lilting sub bass and defined mid-range. Are your hi hats are super washy and big? Maybe the treble of the bass shouldn’t be the focus then and clash with them. You’re trying to make something cold and digital for the bass, so how much mid-range should you keep in or scoop out to get that desired sound? Trying to make something more ‘old-school’? How much low mid energy should there be to make it sound fat but not muddy? Is the distortion plug-in on your bass unknowingly adding far too many harmonics in this area? Maybe a duplicate bass with a bit crusher on it and the low end scooped out will result in the sound you need?
Now imagine you’re trying to create a pad to go under all this. You have to think, how will filtering this pad affect where it sits in the mix? Is it taking up space where the bass is? Maybe I need to scoop out some of the clashing frequencies. Sending the pad to a reverb send, how should you EQ the reverb? Should I sidechain it to the kick? Is the rhythm of what my pad plays fitting in with the rhythm of the bass? Does it distract from the important frequencies of the bass?
What I’m trying to illustrate here is the importance of thinking about placing each sound in your mix whilst you are producing each sound. Every decision you make whether it be deciding what sample to choose, creating a lead and even deciding how to arrange your track, should be related to this idea of ‘global EQing.’ Ultimately, you are manipulating sound and that means manipulating frequencies which is precisely what equalisation is, whether it be changing a sound by distorting it, EQing it, using a filter, adjusting volume or whatever else tool you may use.
EQing is the central tool that helps my productions become clearer, more powerful and effective as time goes on. Things start to click when you realise and identify what different frequencies in a sound mean and how they work for you in a track. You will become more acquainted with constructing sounds and know from the start what frequency characteristics to aim for, resulting in sounds which sound more related to each other, which contrast each other better and which, overall, fit together (like a jigsaw puzzle) to create a well-rounded production.
By Louis Fourie (Lockjaw)