Mix bus processing can be intimidating and can make or break a mix. Certain processes, such as EQ, can help tremendously in polishing and finalizing a mix. When it comes to EQing the mix bus, there are no simple step-by-step instructions because every mix is unique. However, there are certain considerations we should take into account if we choose to EQ the mix bus, which is what this article is all about.
Before we go any further, I should state that there are no hard rules with EQ or any other mixing process. The tips mentioned in this article are simply suggestions and techniques worth considering when EQing the mix bus. No procedures work 100% of the time, and every mix is unique in its own needs.
Here are 11 pro tips for EQing the mix bus:
- Dealing with low-end and high-end extremes
- Automating EQ bands
- Revisiting the individual tracks
- Listening for sweet spots
- Listening for problem areas
- Use reference mixes
- Always A/B test
- Boost and cut gently (if at all)
- Reference on as many playback systems as possible
- Take regular breaks
- Note the differences between EQ before or after compression
Let's discuss each of these tips in more detail to give you important considerations when EQing the mix bus.
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Dealing With Low-end And High-end Extremes
Mix bus EQ can help to ensure the rolling off of frequencies beyond the audible frequency spectrum (20 Hz to 20,000 Hz) if we choose to do so.
This is a somewhat contentious issue, with many arguing that there's no need to keep any information outside the audible range and many others arguing that even though we can't hear beyond 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz, we ought to keep these frequencies in the mix.
I'm of the opinion that extreme low-end frequencies, when overly present, are liable to do more harm than good. If we can't hear them in the mix, it may be best to filter them out to avoid mixing without being able to monitor them. It could be the case that there are nasty resonances in the deep low-end and infrasound frequencies (below 20 Hz) that will become overly apparent in large playback systems, leading to poor mixes.
With that said, perhaps another strategy is to leave these low-end frequencies in and rely on a mastering engineer with the ability to monitor down to 20 Hz and below to make those decisions for you.
Furthermore, buildups in the extreme low-end can quickly eat up headroom, so it's often advisable to filter out what we can't hear to help get more loudness and clarity out of the mix.
As for high-end frequencies, there is an argument to be made that the ultrasound frequencies (above 20 kHz) contain harmonics and other information that affects the audible frequencies, and so it should be left in.
In the analog world, we have analog systems that often roll off the high-end frequencies anyway (though often well above the 20 kHz limit).
In the digital world, the Nyquist theorem states that the sample rate frequency must be at least twice that of the highest sine wave frequency sampled in order to reproduce that sine wave accurately. So if we have a sample rate of 44.1 kHz, for example, we can accurately reproduce frequencies only up to 22,050 Hz (above the 20,000 Hz limit).
So perhaps rolling off the very high-end above the audible frequencies is worth doing, but it likely won't make as big a difference as rolling off the extreme low-end.
For more info on using bussing in your mixes, check out my YouTube video here.
Automating EQ Bands
Automating mix bus processing can be intimidating, but it can work wonders in some cases.
While it's often advised to get everything sounding as good as possible with the tracks and buses of the mix, we can sometimes benefit from EQ automation in the mix bus.
Although the gain of a band is often the go-to choice for mix bus EQ automation, we can also opt to automate the cutoff (or centre) frequency in some instances or even toggle certain bands on and off with automation.
Perhaps the most common mix bus EQ automation technique is to give a slight high-end lift at climaxes and choruses. To help make these song sections bigger, brighter, and more energetic, we can opt to either engage a high-shelf boost (from off/bypass) or automate the gain of the high-shelf upward for the brighter section.
Alternatively, we can reduce the low-end (with a low-shelf cut or even a high-pass filter in some cases) before a big part of the song arrangement. When the chorus/climax begins, bypass/turn off the EQ band, bring the gain back to unity (low-shelf) or bring the cutoff back to its original position (high-pass) using automation.
There are other, subtler uses of mix bus EQ automation we may consider. Experiment with what makes sense for your mix!
I have a video discussing my top 11 automation tips for mixing. Check it out here if you're interested.
Revisiting The Individual Tracks
This is perhaps my best tip for you when it comes to utilizing EQ on the mix bus: use it to identify issues and enhancements in the mix and proceed to address them in the individual tracks and buses.
We can use a mix bus EQ to listen critically and try out slight variations in the overall frequency balance of the mix. If we find that a certain EQ curve makes the mix better, we can try to adjust individual tracks or buses to accomplish such results rather than relying on a mix bus EQ.
In this way, we can improve our mixing skills at the track and bus level and also have more intricate control over the frequency balance of the overall mix.
This is especially useful if the mix bus benefits from a remarkable amount of EQ, say ±3 dB in any band. If this is the case, there are issues worth addressing in the mix.
Otherwise, it may be best (and certainly more convenient) to utilize the more gentle boosts and cuts on the mix bus. It's ultimately up to you if you want to dig into the mix at its tracks to adjust the frequency balance or if you want to keep the mix bus EQ.
As an additional point, if, when playing around with mix bus EQ, you find that the EQ improves the mix by bringing certain elements up and down, you can experiment with simple fader movement on such elements to help improve the mix.
Listening For Sweet Spots
When EQing the mix bus, we can listen critically for any bands that, when boosted, bring out a nice character in the mix. The subtler the better.
As discussed in the previous tip, if any given enhancing boost is overly narrow or increases the gain by, say, 3 dB or more, it'll be beneficial to revisit the tracks of the mix to reach this boost in the overall mix more naturally.
Otherwise, it's definitely okay to bring a little character out of the mix with subtle, broad EQ boosts on the mix bus.
Listening For Problem Areas
When EQing the mix bus, we can listen critically for any bands that cause issues when boosted and cause the mix to sound better when cut.
As discussed two tips ago, if any given mix bus EQ cut is overly narrow or decreases the gain by, say, 3 dB or more, it'll be beneficial to revisit the tracks of the mix to reduce this problem frequency (or frequencies) more naturally.
But if a subtle cut in the mix bus EQ happens to improve the mix without sounding unnatural, we can certainly go ahead and move forward with it!
Use Reference Mixes
When EQing the mix bus, it's worth A/Bing our results against our reference tracks.
A reference mix is a mixed song, often in the same genre, that we reference our mix against as we go through the mixing process.
Unfortunately for us mixers, the human auditory system quickly adjusts to whatever we're listening to. When mixing, we can quickly lose perspective and our objective decision-making skills. A/Bing against a reference mix helps us to recalibrate our hearing by having something to compare our work to.
We may get carried away while mixing and end up with a mix that isn't as balanced as we'd like, frequency-wise. By A/Bing against our reference track, we can use EQ to try to match the frequency profile (within reason) of the reference mix we're interested in emulating.
Some EQs even have “frequency match” features to help match the EQ curves between two signals. Some reference mix plugins, like my favourite, the Master The Mix Reference 2 (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique), have graphs to show the differences in frequency content between our mix and the reference.
Experiment and listen critically to whether matching the reference mix's frequency content works for your own mix. Be sure to continuously A/B your work, and don't be afraid to scrap the EQ altogether if it doesn't make your mix sound better.
As was previously discussed, if there is significant work to be done with the mix bus EQ, it's likely best to revisit the mix itself.
I have a video in which I discuss reference mixes in more detail. You can check it out here:
For more information on reference tracks, check out my article Mixing: What Are Reference Mixes & Why Are They Important?
Always A/B Test
Because mix bus EQ has such a powerful effect on the overall sound of the mix, it's critical that any moves we make are for the betterment of the mix.
One of the best ways to do this is by A/Bing the EQ on and off. Periodically turn the mix bus EQ off and listen critically for 10 or more seconds. Turn it back on and continue listening critically for 10 or more seconds. Doing so will help recalibrate our ears and give us a strong reference point to compare our mix bus EQ decisions against.
If the EQ truly and objectively makes the mix sound better, go with it. If the mix honestly sounds better without EQ, get rid of it or continue to adjust parameters until it does.
If you're interested, be sure to check out my video on the top 5 A/B tests worth incorporating regularly into your mixes:
To learn more about A/B testing, check out my article A/B Testing & Its Importance In Mixing (With 5 Best Tests).
Boost And Cut Gently (If At All)
This one's pretty simple and has been alluded to already, but it's using EQ subtly if we need it at all.
We should always strive to get the best mix possible without relying too much on mix bus processing. That said, a bit of gentle mix bus EQ can really hone in the overall sound of the mix and polish it up before mastering.
So then, if EQ will help us improve the mix, it's generally the case that it'll be from subtle boosts and cuts. Anything more means we'll likely get better results by revisiting the mix.
Reference On As Many Playback Systems As Possible
Sound reproduction is interesting. A mix will sound different on different monitors and headphones.
Beyond that, our perception is liable to change as well.
So, to ensure our mix bus EQ will make the mix sound better and translate better across different listening environments, it's worth testing our EQ moves on as many different playback systems as possible in the studio.
This could mean listening through multiple pairs of monitors, different headphones, and even from our built-in computer speakers if we want to go that far.
Gather a sense of how the EQ affects the mix on each of these playback devices by A/Bing the EQ on and off, and make an objective decision about whether the EQ improves the mix or not.
Take Regular Breaks
As I've alluded to previously, our ears have the tendency to recalibrate quickly to whatever it is that we're listening to. That's why A/B testing is so important when listening critically to mix bus EQ and other processes.
To add to this issue, we also have ear fatigue. As we spend more time mixing, our ears get tired, and our hearing becomes impaired.
In other words, the longer we mix in a session, the worse we get at it.
Opt to take regular breaks when mixing and utilizing mix bus processing like EQ. Refresh your ears and recalibrate your perception. It will help you make better decisions with mix bus EQ.
Note The Differences Between EQ Before Or After Compression
Mix bus compression is common to help glue the entire mix together. If we're also utilizing EQ on the mix bus, the combination raises the classic question, “should EQ go before or after compression?”
I talk about the concept of glue in more detail in this video:
In general, EQ before compression will yield a smoother, warmer result. We can get a bit more aggressive with our EQ moves (though I'd still advise gentle boosts and cuts, if at all) since the compressor will smooth the frequency content out after the EQ anyway.
On the other hand, EQ after compression generally offers a cleaner, sharper result. We'll be adjusting the frequency content of an already-smoothed-out signal at this point, meaning the same EQ moves are liable to make a greater difference in the frequency makeup of the mix.
It's largely a matter of taste, and I'd encourage you to try both orders and listen critically to the differences. Make notes and find cases in which either order would benefit the mix.
I have a video on the importance of taking notes throughout the mixing process. Check it out here:
Other EQ Tips For Common Elements
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Be sure to also check out my top overall 11 EQ tips for mixing in this video:
Determining the best equalizer for your audio needs takes time, knowledge and effort. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Equalizer Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next EQ purchases.