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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.
Modern software based instruments, especially commercial loops and virtual instruments, tend to be very broadband by design. In other words ,they tend to fill out the entire frequency spectrum from low to high pretty much all by themselves. This is to be expected,a loop library company or instrument patch designer wants to sell their product and doesn't usually think towards, this sits so perfectly in a dense mix. But rather they focus their efforts on the average hobbyist, who is impressed by huge sounds right out of the box.
Besides... Just like a picture or graphic file, I would rather start with a High Res or full bandwidth version, and then scale down if necessary. The problem with this, is that when combined with a bunch of other super broadband material and left unchecked, these full bandwidth instruments can add up to a muddy mess across your frequency spectrum. With way too much low-end in an unnatural amount of fatiguing high frequency content.
Combine this with the fact that a dos mixer is completely linear and uncolored in its summing process. That is to say, unlike an analog environment. None of the frequency content gets soaked up by the circuits or tape formulation. So, high and low frequency retention is 100%. In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons digital mixing gets a bad rap. Because it doesn't help clean up your frequency mess for you. You have to be in control, so what can we do? As general strategy i would like to use high and low pass filters across select tracks in my mix, to effectively bracket their frequency response and vein in some of those overly broadband signals.
We claiming clarity and creating space for other elements to breath and coexist. Let's take a look at an example of working with high- and low-pass filters to frequency bracket competing drum loops. Listen to the following two drum loops in isolation. Notice that they are both very broadband, containing both very low- and high-frequency energy across the spectrum. Now let's say I like the high hap pattern of loop two, but I really want to keep the kick drum pattern of loop one. If I play the two back together, not only does it result in a over powering low frequency buildup The kick-drum pattern turns into a jumbled mess.
Aside from the pattern not aligning well, these loops aren't playing nice with each other because both are filling out the entire frequency spectrum at both ends. To solve this dilemma and regain some clarity and control of our frequency spectrum, we can use high a low pass filters to bracket the frequency content and place the elements exactly where we want them. Listen to the bass clear up as I apply a high pass filter to loop two. Notice that I'm using a slope of 18 dB per octave to really separate the lows from the highs at the filter frequency.
What we're left with when I remove the low frequencies from loop two is a cleaner presentation of the kick drum pattern on loop one. I can still hear the high frequency content of the kick in loop 2. This is unavoidable, however it takes on more of a wood block character than a kick drum and doesn't disturb the kick pattern or low end of loop 1 nearly as much as before. If I decided I liked the kick drum pattern of the second loop instead I can turn the tables and apply the same technique to loop one.
Take a listen. I can use the same principle to control high frequency content of audio material. Take a listen as I remove most of the high hat and clap of loop two by using a low-pass filter. Frequency bracketing, or band pass filtering, with high and low pass filters, works on any kind of audio signal, not just drum loops, and can really help you define an element's place in the mix. That said, be careful with how aggressively you approach your filtering. Removing some unwanted low-end grumble can quickly turn into a situation where you're removing the signal's fundamental frequency content and taking out all the meat.
When I first learned about high and low pass filters, I was amazed at how quickly I could clean up the low end of my mixes by filtering out everything below two or 300 hundred hertz, on non-base instruments. Well that technique will no doubt leave you with a cleaner low end, it will also leave you with a very hollow mix that doesn't port very well to small speakers, ultimately it's a fine line, so use your ears And strive to understand what frequencies make up specific instruments in your mix and use those ranges to help guide your cut out points.
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