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Balancing expectations from the recording process

From: Foundations of Audio: EQ and Filters

Video: Balancing expectations from the recording process

One of the most common critiques I have when I review my students' mixes has nothing to do with the mix at all. When the signal you're working with was poorly recorded, sometimes EQ is just not enough, and knowing when the signal just isn't going to get better using EQ is an important skill when working towards the big picture. Take a listen to this guitar that I've purposefully recorded using poor mic placement. Notice the clipping in addition to the overpowering signature of the room's acoustics and the hollowness of the guitar sound.

Balancing expectations from the recording process

One of the most common critiques I have when I review my students' mixes has nothing to do with the mix at all. When the signal you're working with was poorly recorded, sometimes EQ is just not enough, and knowing when the signal just isn't going to get better using EQ is an important skill when working towards the big picture. Take a listen to this guitar that I've purposefully recorded using poor mic placement. Notice the clipping in addition to the overpowering signature of the room's acoustics and the hollowness of the guitar sound.

(music playing) You might be surprised, but many novice engineers would find this to be a perfectly suitable starting point in the mix process and then wonder later what they did wrong with EQ or compression when the mix didn't turn out well.

The reality is that no amount of EQ can make this guitar sound like it could have if I would've taken more time to place the mic correctly and capture a good source signal. First off, EQ will never be able to remove the sound of the room from this recording. In fact, there really isn't a tool that I've worked with that can effectively remove the reverb from a recording to my satisfaction. Also, the distortion caused by clipping the analog-to-digital converter inputs can't be repaired with an EQ, no matter how hard I try.

EQ can only improve on what's there. Think of it this way. If you can make a signal sound 20% better with EQ and your source signal is 50% of what it could have been had you taken the time to record it correctly, you will never end up with 100%. It's really that simple. If you start with compromised material, you need to have reasonable expectations of what EQ can do for you. Can EQ make a poorly recorded signal sound better? Yes, but you wouldn't wonder why your homemade stew doesn't taste as good as your favorite restaurant's after knowingly using crummy ingredients, so don't expect EQ to do the same thing for your mix.

In fact, over-EQing tends make things even worse. Too much EQ, especially on acoustic instruments, can result in a strained unnatural-sounding signal. So how do I prevent this from happening? You listen. When recording a signal, ask yourself, am I going to need a lot of EQ to get this sounding right? If the answer is yes, then maybe consider a different mic placement, instrument, or signal chain. Seriously, it's not rocket science. If the input signal sounds bad when it's coming in, then do something right then and there.

As an exercise, try pretending EQ didn't exist and try to capture a signal that will have a pleasing frequency balance using only basic recording techniques like mic selection and placement. Now don't get me wrong, performance always triumphs audio fidelity. So if I have captured the perfect take with less-than-ideal sonics, I will work with it and use EQ to improve it. Sometimes I will even work with the sonic shortcomings as an aesthetic. Got a clipped signal? Add some more distortion and make it a statement.

Got too much low-end mud that no amount of EQ is going to clean up? Throw in a telephone effect and call it a conscious decision. Some of the world's best music has been recorded in less-than-ideal spaces with less-than-ideal gear. But all things being equal, do your best to capture a clean balanced signal at the source and you will be more than halfway to a killer-sounding mix. Don't rely on the old adage "we will fix it in the mix." If you're beating yourself up over a mix that just isn't working, maybe go back and evaluate the bigger picture to make sure the arrangement and recording quality stack up.

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Foundations of Audio: EQ and Filters

36 video lessons · 13085 viewers

Brian Lee White
Author

 
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  1. 3m 28s
    1. Welcome
      1m 36s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
      35s
    3. Using the exercise files
      58s
    4. Using the "Get In the Mix" Pro Tools and Logic Pro session files
      19s
  2. 15m 46s
    1. What are frequency and amplitude?
      2m 27s
    2. Measuring frequency
      1m 48s
    3. Measuring amplitude
      1m 58s
    4. The perception of frequency and amplitude
      4m 18s
    5. Frequency and pitch
      5m 15s
  3. 36m 10s
    1. What is an equalizer?
      4m 14s
    2. Hardware and software EQ
      1m 58s
    3. Understanding frequency and gain EQ controls
      3m 41s
    4. Using the bandwidth, or Q, EQ control
      5m 35s
    5. Parametric equalizers
      2m 36s
    6. Shelving filters
      5m 11s
    7. High- and low-pass filters
      5m 42s
    8. Putting it all together with multiband EQ
      3m 43s
    9. Using graphic EQ
      3m 30s
  4. 46m 13s
    1. Creating focus
      3m 47s
    2. Get in the Mix: Using EQ to fix problems and place elements in the mix
      8m 30s
    3. Get in the Mix: Creating complementary EQ curves
      9m 7s
    4. Get in the Mix: Creative EQ with the telephone effect
      5m 30s
    5. Get in the Mix: Frequency bracketing with filters
      5m 44s
    6. Get in the Mix: Automating EQ
      6m 18s
    7. Learning to listen
      3m 10s
    8. Balancing expectations from the recording process
      4m 7s
  5. 41m 14s
    1. Get in the Mix: EQing FX returns
      4m 29s
    2. Using common vintage-modeled EQs
      5m 2s
    3. Using frequency analyzers
      3m 44s
    4. Using harmonic generators to excite frequency content
      5m 44s
    5. EQ or compression first?
      3m 3s
    6. EQ and room acoustics: Is your room lying to you?
      6m 15s
    7. Boost or cut? The relative nature of EQ and headroom
      4m 0s
    8. Building healthy EQ strategies
      8m 57s
  6. 19s
    1. What's next and EQ summary
      19s
  7. 5m 51s
    1. A session with Brian Lee White
      5m 51s

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