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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.
EQ can be used to repair signal's frequency response and create a more idealized representation of the recording. Likewise, EQ can be used to fit the resulting fixed signal into the rest of the mix. Complementing the other elements. Because of this I often like to break my EQ approach into two parts. I start by considering the signal by itself, and listen for anything that sounds out of place, like too much frequency build-up or resonance from improper mic placement or background noises recorded with the signal.
At this stage, I may use EQ to attempt to correct these issues before I try to place my signal into the rest of the mix. I call this stage Corrective EQ. This is the one place where I think it's okay to listen critically in isolation, with the track soloed. During this stage, I'm usually cutting or removing frequencies from the signal, rather than boosting. After getting rid of things I know I don't want in the signal, I proceed to the most important stage of the EQing process.
EQing in context. During this stage, I use EQ to place the element into the mix based on my master plan of creating a focal point, complimenting other elements. And finding a good, overall frequency balance for the entire mix. Let's take a look at an example of the process on a keyboard track. Listen to this Rhodes part in isolation. This particular Rhodes sounds very rich and full, if not a touch dark, with nice low frequency extension.
Listen again in the context of the mix. Pay attention to the Rhodes as it relates to the rest of the instruments in the arrangement. Especially the vocal and the bass. If the only sun shining for me now, was over mountain or around the hill Hopefully you noticed that the Rhodes in context sounds a little washed out and muddy. Like it isn't sure where it belongs frequency-wise. The lows and low mids fight for space with the kick and bass guitar.
And the darker quality of the harmonic. Don't complement the melody and sparkle as well as I would like. Based on how it's sitting now, there's no doubt that this Rhodes track will need a bit of EQ. Because I know the build up in the lows and the low mids are going to be especially troublesome, as they tend to be with most instruments that live in this middle ground. I'll start with the track in isolation and try to break up some of the low frequency crud, with a bit of subtractive EQ in the High Pass filter. Listen as I adjust the parametric band to break up some of the low mid resonance.
Notice how I specifically boost with a narrow Q setting and sweep to find the offending frequency range. And then proceed with my cut. After, I will enable a high pass filter to cut some of the low frequency extension off the bottom end of the instrument to make space for the bass and kick drum. This boost, sweep and cut trick works extremely well trying to find the nasty resonant patches in the signal's frequency content. But try to first identify in your head what the problem might be as opposed to looking for trouble where it doesn't exist.
In other words. If you just go looking for frequencies to cut from without really having a reason to do so. You will certainly find spots in the frequency spectrum that ring out more than others when you sweep through the bands. This isn't always a bad thing. It's every instrument has a unique frequency footprint that creates its distinct tambour. So be sure you're removing frequency content with a clear goal in mind, rather than just hoping you get lucky. Now, at this point, I've only treated the signal in isolation. And if I stopped here, I would be missing the most important part of the EQ process.
Now that I've worked on some potential problem areas, I need to further refine the EQ in context with other elements in the mix. It can be very frustrating at first, trying to use EQ in context. Because your tendency might be to solo that instrument to hear what's going on, but you'll get used to it in time. So fight the urge and do your best. Rather than soloing, sometimes it can help to turn up the instruments volume while EQing in context. Listen and watch as I adjust the EQ and context. Notice that I use the same boost and sweep trick to find additional resonate patches that might get in the way of the vocal. If the only sun shining for me now.
Was over mountain or round the hill. If all I ever needed is life. Time of unfamiliar. Was freedom from a wishing well. If we could write a storm for a thousand years, hands picking cotton till we all remembered how to heal. No matter what the song says, no matter what our soul says this time around. We're going to know exactly why we came here.
After notching out more of the lower mid range resonance that can meddle with the vocal intelligibility. I also tighten up the highpass filter to really remove most of the bass notes' fundamental energy to keep things nice and open for the bass guitar that likes to sit in a pocket between the deeper kick. And the other elements. Because the Rhodes is really the only instrument carrying the chord progression here, I've also brought out some of the sparkling in the top end using a high shelf.
And another parametric band to boost the detail of the instrument's upper harmonics, and help to better define those chord changes once it's placed in the mix. Listen once more as I bring the EQ in and out in four bar segments. It's a subtle change. As many EQ tasks will be, but if you listen carefully, it helps clean up the mid range and define the chords a bit more. If the only sun shining for me now, was over mountain or around the hill, for all I ever needed this lifetime of unfamiliar, was freedom from a wishing well. If we could write a storm for a thousand years, hands picking cotton till we all remembered how to heal.
No matter what the song says, no matter what our soul says this time around. We're going to know exactly why we came here. Did you notice throughout this whole process that I have not mentioned specific frequencies to always cut our boost on Rhodes. Should you use the same EQ curve I came up with on a Rhodes in your mix? Absolutely not. Every instrument in context will be different. If this instrument was playing only next to the lead vocal. Without being any bass or drums, I would have ended up with an entirely different EQ curve.
Because the context would be different. If you can take away only one idea about EQ from this course, it's this. Context matters. Use EQ to strengthen your desired context.
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