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In this installment of the Foundations of Audio series, author Brian Lee White shows producers and audio engineers how to properly apply equalization (EQ) and improve the sound of their mixes. The course covers the use of parametric and graphic EQs—and filters such as the high/low pass filters and shelf filters—in a variety of musical settings. These principles can be applied to any digital audio workstation platform, including Logic and Pro Tools, as well as analog workflows.
Most songs contain a variety of different sections, as in verse, chorus, bridge, et cetera. It's fairly common for an engineer to have to automate a level of a track in a mix up or down to accomodate the new section's arrangement density. For example, I might have to turn up my vocal in the chorus as additional elements are added to the arrangement. I can use the same technique with e q for the same exact reason. Since e q is just a frequency specific level control, and most daws allow me to easily automate plug ins.
I can automate bands of e q to boost or cut during certain sections of my mix. To better accomodate the sections elements. For example, during most of the songs I might want my guitar to complement the lead vocal by removing some of the frequencies that compete with the vocals intelligability. However during the guitar solo, the guitar becomes the lead instrument and has no vocal to compete with. So adding back or even boosting some of the same previously removed frequencies during that section, can help it really pop out and come into focus.
Let's take a look at an example of automating EQ. Take a listen to this track. Pay attention to the fact that the acoustic guitar plays on its own during the intro, but then accompanies the rest of the instruments when the beat drops. I already have an EQ that I'm happy with for the intro. I've got a bit of top end rolled off to give it a dirtier vibe. I've added a bit of 2K for a little more honk. And also a low shelf boost to emphasize the bass frequencies a bit, since there's not actual bass in this section. But I don't think this curve is working for me as well as it could when the.
Full band drops in. To achieve better separation between the instruments when all the instruments are playing together, I can start by undoing my low shelf booths to leave space for the bass. I will leave my cut at around 250 hertz to keep the guitar from feeling muddy, but I will also cut around 850 hertz to make room for the piano stabs that play on beat one of each measure. I'll top it off by moving my top end booths to around five k. To emphasize more of the Picks drum, and less of the honk, and also remove my low pass filter to let it breathe a little bit more.
Now lets put the two pieces together, and listen to the full context of the EQ automation. Watch out for a bit of added EQ automation when the reverse guitar chord crescendos into the beat. By altering the EQ curve on the guitar from intro to full band, I'm achieving two things. First, I'm accommodating the change in arrangement so that the acoustic guitar fits into the context of its new surroundings once the music comes in. And second, because I played down the high frequency content in the intro by using a low-pass filter to roll off the top end, and ramped up the top end boost on the crescendo, I am further extending the idea of the song opening up into this big power punch moment right after the reverse guitar chord crescendo.
So not only am I using EQ to better fit elements into context, I'm also using it to propel the song forward. And create an even greater contrast between the lower and higher energy moments of the tune. This thought process can work all over your mix. Try adding a top end bite to a snare during the chorus. Sometimes just a DB or two at the right frequency can do the trick Or maybe try darkening up the kick drum with a low pass filter during the intro or verse.
Then open it up when the song gets moving. EQ automation is extremely common in the post production world too. We're automating EQ curves to fit the context of a camera angle or scene change is fairly normal. The same basic concept of using EQ to create focus and contrast apply. However, the elements in a post production mix tend to change more often as the scene changes. Requiring much more automation than a typical music mix. Regardless of whether you're mixing music, dialog or effects, EQ automation is a valuable tool you can use to help individual tracks fit better into a mix and make your overall mixes more dynamic.
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