Electronic Music Production

Using Subtractive and Additive EQ Techniques For your electronic music production

Updated: 15. August 2023

Table Of Contents

So we have reached part 3 in this quiet Comprehensive look at using EQ (Equalizer) plugins for your Electronic Music Production.


Subtractive(cut) and additive (boost) EQ techniques is crucial for achieving a balanced and cohesive sound in electronic music production. Subtractive EQ helps to address mix problems by cutting or reducing problematic frequencies, while additive EQ enhances specific elements by boosting certain frequencies.


Using Subtractive(cut) EQ Techniques

Subtractive EQ is one of the most common techniques used by producers to solve mix problems and create a more balanced and cohesive sound. It involves cutting or reducing specific frequencies to address issues such as muddiness, masking, or frequency clashes. Here, we will explore various subtractive EQ techniques that can elevate your electronic music mixes.

Identifying Problematic Frequencies

Before applying subtractive EQ, it’s crucial to identify the problematic frequencies in your mix. Listen critically and pay attention to elements that sound muddy, cluttered, or lacking clarity. These issues often arise from an excess of energy in certain frequency ranges.

For example, if the low-mids are congested, instruments like bass and kick drum might lack definition. If the upper-mids are overwhelming, vocals and guitars may become harsh or piercing. By pinpointing these problem areas, you’ll have a better understanding of which frequencies need to be addressed with subtractive EQ.

Making Targeted Cuts

Once you’ve identified the problematic frequencies, use your EQ plugin to make targeted cuts in those areas. Start with a narrow Q (bandwidth) setting to precisely target the problem frequency range. Decrease the gain gradually until you find the right balance. Be careful not to overdo it, as excessive cuts may result in a dull or lifeless sound.

Keep in mind that subtractive EQ is all about maintaining the integrity of the mix while addressing specific issues. Take a surgical approach by addressing each instrument individually or focusing on frequency ranges that are causing the most imbalance.

Carving Out Space for Each Element

Subtractive EQ is not only useful for troubleshooting problematic frequencies but also for creating space in your mix. By cutting frequencies in certain instruments, you can make room for other elements to shine through more clearly.

For example, if you have a busy mix with multiple synths and percussive elements competing for space, use subtractive EQ to carve out frequency pockets for each instrument. By reducing overlapping frequencies, you can achieve better separation and clarity, allowing each element to be heard distinctly.

Addressing Masking Issues

Masking occurs when one sound masks or covers up another sound in the mix, resulting in a loss of clarity or definition. Subtractive EQ can help alleviate masking issues by reducing frequencies in one element to make room for the masked sound to come through more clearly.

For instance, if you have a vocal that gets buried when the snare drum hits, you can use subtractive EQ on the snare drum to reduce frequencies that clash with the vocal’s important frequency range. This will create space for the vocal to shine and improve overall intelligibility in the mix.

Treating Frequency Clashes

Frequency clashes occur when multiple sounds occupy the same frequency range, leading to a congested or cluttered mix. Subtractive EQ can help address these clashes by notching out frequencies in one sound to allow another sound to occupy that space more effectively.

For example, if you have a synth bassline and a deep kick drum that share similar low-frequency energy, there may be a clash that obscures both elements. By using subtractive EQ on either the bassline or kick drum to reduce overlapping frequencies, you can restore clarity and ensure each element has its own defined space.

Subtractive EQ is a powerful technique that empowers you to shape your mix and address common issues. By identifying problematic frequencies, making targeted cuts, carving out space, and addressing masking and frequency clashes, you can bring balance and clarity to your electronic music productions.

In the next section, we will explore the concept of additive EQ and how it can be used sparingly to enhance specific elements in your mixes.


Using Additive(boost) EQ Sparingly

While subtractive EQ is a vital tool for solving mix problems, additive EQ allows you to enhance specific elements and bring out their desired characteristics. However, it’s important to use additive EQ sparingly and purposefully to avoid introducing artifacts or making the mix sound unnatural. Here, we will explore techniques for using additive EQ effectively in electronic music production.

Enhancing Specific Frequencies

Additive EQ involves boosting specific frequencies to emphasize certain aspects of an instrument or sound. This technique can be used to bring out the natural tonal qualities, add presence, or highlight important elements in a mix. However, it’s crucial to approach additive EQ with intention and restraint.

When applying additive EQ, start with a narrow Q setting and make subtle boosts. Avoid excessive gain increases, as it can lead to a harsh or exaggerated sound. Listen critically and make adjustments that enhance the desired characteristics without overwhelming the overall balance of the mix.

Shaping Tone and Character

Additive EQ can also be used to shape the tone and character of individual instruments or sounds. By selectively boosting frequencies, you can add warmth, brightness, or depth to specific elements, giving them a unique sonic presence in the mix.

For example, if you want to add warmth and body to a vocal track, you might consider boosting the low-mid frequencies within a controlled range. Alternatively, if you want to add sparkle to a synth lead, you can experiment with gentle boosts in the higher frequency range.

Remember that subtlety is key when using additive EQ. Small adjustments can go a long way in shaping the overall sound without overpowering or altering the original character of the instrument.

Correcting Tone Imbalances

In some cases, additive EQ can be used to correct tone imbalances or compensate for deficiencies in a recording. For instance, if an instrument lacks presence or clarity in the midrange frequencies, a slight boost in the appropriate frequency range can help bring it forward in the mix.

When using additive EQ for corrective purposes, be mindful of the overall tonal balance. It’s important to strike a balance between addressing the specific issue and maintaining a cohesive sound across all elements in the mix.

Complementing Subtractve EQ

Additive EQ can work hand-in-hand with subtractive EQ techniques. While subtractive EQ helps address problematic frequencies and create space, additive EQ can be used to enhance or emphasize specific elements within that space.

For instance, after applying subtractive EQ to carve out frequency pockets for different instruments, you can then use additive EQ to bring out the desired characteristics of each instrument or sound, ensuring they stand out in the mix without conflicting or overpowering one another.

A/B Testing and Critical Listening

When using additive EQ, it’s essential to exercise caution and use your ears as the ultimate guide. Always A/B test your changes by comparing the sound with and without the additive EQ adjustments. This will help you evaluate whether the changes enhance the sound or if they introduce unwanted artifacts or tonal imbalances.

Additionally, practice critical listening throughout the mixing process. Pay attention to how each additive EQ adjustment impacts the overall balance and clarity of the mix. Continuously reassess and fine-tune your settings to achieve the desired result.

By using additive EQ sparingly and purposefully, you can enhance specific elements in your electronic music mixes, bringing out their desired characteristics and adding depth to your productions.

In the next section, we will explore how analog-style EQ plugins can impart unique characteristics onto your recordings, adding warmth and fullness to your electronic music mixes.

You can view the 2 previous posts here:

Comprehensive guide in how to use an EQ plugin in modern electronic music production. Introduction
Diving into the various types of EQ Plugins for your electronic music production.

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