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Learning subtractive equalization

From: Audio Mixing Bootcamp

Video: Learning subtractive equalization

While you might think that you'll automatically make an instrument or vocal sound better by randomly adding some EQ, that's not always the case. I'm going to show you an effective EQ technique called subtractive equalization that works by attenuating frequencies instead of boosting them. Many superstar mixers love this method because it's a lot more natural-sounding than if you boosted any of the frequencies. That's because every time you boost an EQ there is a form of distortion called phase shift that's added to the signal. Phase shift is a byproduct of the way an electronic equalizer works.

Learning subtractive equalization

While you might think that you'll automatically make an instrument or vocal sound better by randomly adding some EQ, that's not always the case. I'm going to show you an effective EQ technique called subtractive equalization that works by attenuating frequencies instead of boosting them. Many superstar mixers love this method because it's a lot more natural-sounding than if you boosted any of the frequencies. That's because every time you boost an EQ there is a form of distortion called phase shift that's added to the signal. Phase shift is a byproduct of the way an electronic equalizer works.

By using subtractive equalization, you completely avoid any phase shift, and the track blends a lot better with the other tracks in the mix as a result. Here's how to use subtractive equalization. Set the Booster Cut control to about 8 or 10 dB. I like to use 10 dB. Actually the more, the better. You can even go deeper if you want. Then you want to sweep through the frequencies until you find the least amount of boxiness and the most definition of the sound. So we'll listen to a vocal now. (music playing) Okay. So that sounds a little muddy in the mid range.

So let's sweep through there and see what happens. (music playing) Now you can see we hit a position right there where it's a lot less boxy. So now we back this off a bit, open up our Q, and watch when we take the EQ out.

(music playing) Did you hear how nasally it is? (music playing) In that case, it sounds like the vocalist was really close to the microphone or maybe even off axis a bit, and that's kind of what happens when we get that mid- range nasally sound.

Now the other way we can work this is if we in fact boost it instead of cut. So watch. We'll boost the frequencies, and then we'll sweep through again. And sometimes it's easier to actually hear the offending set of frequencies by doing it this way. Here we go! (music playing) Okay. You can hear these frequencies right here sound really funny.

(music playing) Here's the difference. When you go in and out, here's our EQ. (music playing) Without the EQ. (music playing) Now, you can hear how much less boxy, and how there's more definition when we do this.

In fact, you'll find if you do this across all of the tracks that you're mixing, it will sound a lot better than if you're boosting things. But that being said, there are times when you'd like to boost as well. Subtractive equalization works especially well in two frequency ranges: between 200 and 600 and maybe between 2K and 4K. There's a reason for this; 200-600 is the area where there's a lot of proximity effect when you're recording. So in other words, the closer you get a directional microphone to the source, either a vocal or whatever it might be, an instrument, the more you're going to have this low-frequency buildup from what's called proximity effect.

If you use the same microphone on a lot of different instruments, that buildup gets to be an awful lot in that one area. So 200-600 is an area that happens an awful lot, and subtractive equalization works really well there. The other place that it works is between 2k and 4K, and this is when you have a good vocal microphone like a condenser that already has a presence peak built-in, and a presence peak is usually around 2-4K. So it sounds terrific on vocal, but there are times when in fact it accentuates the sound of a vocalist that already has a little peak or she has a little peak in that range, and the microphone just accentuates it too much.

So you find that in this particular area, subtractive EQ works really well. After you've actually gone through subtractive EQ, there are a couple of other things that you might want to do to add definition. In this case, we want to add something called Point, and Point is a little bit of upper midrange that in fact helps the definition a little bit. Now, usually that's around 1K, but in this case, that's about where we're decreasing because of the subtractive equalization. So that's not going to work there, but in fact we can add a little bit of what's called sparkle.

That's by adding a little bit of a boost between 5K and 10K. Now watch what happens here with the vocal. (music playing) Okay. There's without it.

(music playing) Here's with it. Now you can hear what happens there is you start to hear the S's a little bit better, and there's a little bit more definition. And of course this is what we call sparkle and it adds a lot to, especially a vocal, but just about any instrument. You don't need much; sometimes a dB is just enough, or sometimes two. In this case, it's 2.9. I might want to back that off when I play it with the track.

But it usually works really well. You have to watch that you don't add it to too many tracks, because in fact then it just builds up, and you'll have clashes between one track and another in those frequency ranges. So this only works in certain cases. There is something else that we add sometimes for the brilliance, and that's what a lot of engineers call AIR. An AIR is up at the 10K, 12K range. Here's what that sounds like. It really works well in a vocal especially. It's very subtle, but it opens it up. Watch.

We'll bring it up to, in this case 11K, so we're sort of right in the middle, and we're going to put this Equalizer on Shelving. There's two ways that you can make this. You can make it a peaking equalizer, or a shelving equalizer. You can put it on Shelving. Shelving works on all the frequencies, in this case from 11K to beyond 20K. Now watch what happens. (music playing) Watch when we take it up. (music playing) [00:08:1306] It just gives it the little bit of-- well, again, what they call it AIR.

It gives you the idea that you're listening to the vocalist right in front of you. He is standing right there. So, many times what we'll do in a vocal is we'll add a little bit of EQ at 1K, very, very little bit. We'll add some at 5K. We'll add some at 10K. And again, when I'm talking about adding some, I'm only talking about a dB or two. It doesn't take much in these areas to really make a difference. That's how we do subtractive equalization; you either boost your cut by about 10 dB and sweep through the frequencies until you find the one that sticks out the most.

Then adjust the amount of cut to taste. After that, you can add some Point, some Sparkle, and some AIR to add some definition to the sound.

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This video is part of

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Audio Mixing Bootcamp

103 video lessons · 19438 viewers

Bobby Owsinski
Author

 
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  1. 1m 16s
    1. Welcome
      1m 16s
  2. 8m 20s
    1. Determining the listening position
      2m 27s
    2. Fixing acoustic problems
      2m 5s
    3. Setting up your monitors
      3m 48s
  3. 20m 17s
    1. Setting up your session
      5m 52s
    2. Setting up your subgroups
      7m 50s
    3. Setting up your effects
      6m 35s
  4. 8m 45s
    1. Developing the groove
      3m 46s
    2. Emphasizing the most important elements
      3m 44s
    3. Knowing what to avoid
      1m 15s
  5. 1h 4m
    1. Learning the principles of building a mix
      1m 1s
    2. Assigning the drums to a subgroup
      3m 55s
    3. Building the mix from the kick
      10m 8s
    4. Building the mix from the snare
      8m 46s
    5. Building the mix from the toms
      5m 25s
    6. Building the mix from the overhead mics
      3m 53s
    7. Checking the drum phase
      4m 44s
    8. Balancing direct and miked bass channels
      3m 36s
    9. Building the mix from the bass
      3m 26s
    10. Building the mix from the vocals
      4m 19s
    11. Balancing the rhythm section
      2m 44s
    12. Balancing the rest of the instruments with the rhythm section
      5m 22s
    13. Making a mix without building it
      4m 20s
    14. Balancing the harmony vocals
      2m 35s
  6. 23m 2s
    1. Looking at the three main panning areas
      9m 23s
    2. Panning the drums
      6m 9s
    3. Avoiding pseudo-stereo
      7m 30s
  7. 1h 17m
    1. Understanding compressor parameters
      3m 42s
    2. Setting up the compressor
      14m 44s
    3. Compressing the drums
      7m 53s
    4. Compressing the room mics
      4m 9s
    5. Compressing the bass
      5m 24s
    6. Using the New York compression trick
      4m 23s
    7. Compressing the clean electric guitars
      4m 40s
    8. Compressing the distorted electric guitars
      4m 48s
    9. Compressing the acoustic guitars
      8m 7s
    10. Compressing the piano
      6m 35s
    11. Compressing the electric keyboards
      4m 32s
    12. Compressing the vocals
      4m 34s
    13. Compressing the horns
      3m 55s
  8. 25m 36s
    1. Learning noise gate basics
      9m 23s
    2. Using the noise gate on guitars
      3m 57s
    3. Using the noise gate on drums
      7m 38s
    4. Learning de-esser basics
      2m 15s
    5. Using the de-esser on vocals
      2m 23s
  9. 36m 4s
    1. Understanding equalizer parameters
      10m 16s
    2. Learning subtractive equalization
      8m 57s
    3. Learning frequency juggling
      8m 28s
    4. Using the magic high-pass filter
      7m 39s
    5. Learning the principles of equalization
      44s
  10. 49m 46s
    1. Equalizing the kick
      6m 7s
    2. Equalizing the snare
      2m 57s
    3. Equalizing the rack toms
      5m 4s
    4. Equalizing the floor tom
      4m 32s
    5. Equalizing the hi-hat
      4m 56s
    6. Equalizing the cymbal or the overhead mics
      6m 49s
    7. Equalizing the room mics
      5m 13s
    8. Equalizing the bass
      3m 59s
    9. Editing the bass rhythm
      4m 21s
    10. Equalizing the rhythm section
      5m 48s
  11. 47m 58s
    1. Equalizing the electric guitar
      8m 15s
    2. Equalizing the acoustic guitar
      4m 55s
    3. Equalizing the hand percussion
      3m 28s
    4. Equalizing the lead vocals
      6m 5s
    5. Equalizing the background vocals
      4m 14s
    6. Equalizing the piano
      4m 46s
    7. Equalizing the organ
      6m 49s
    8. Equalizing the strings
      6m 4s
    9. Equalizing the horns
      3m 22s
  12. 30m 47s
    1. Learning the principles of reverb
      1m 59s
    2. Understanding reverb parameters
      6m 49s
    3. Timing the reverb to the track
      6m 6s
    4. Equalizing the reverb
      2m 51s
    5. Using the two-reverb quick setup
      5m 35s
    6. Using the three-reverb setup
      7m 27s
  13. 59m 8s
    1. Adding reverb to the drums
      7m 56s
    2. Adding reverb to the vocals
      11m 59s
    3. Adding reverb to the guitars
      5m 17s
    4. Adding reverb to the piano
      4m 19s
    5. Adding reverb to the organ
      3m 43s
    6. Adding reverb to the strings
      5m 36s
    7. Adding reverb to the horns
      2m 57s
    8. Adding reverb to the percussion
      4m 46s
    9. Using reverb to layer the mix
      12m 35s
  14. 46m 8s
    1. Learning delay principles
      1m 40s
    2. Understanding delay parameters
      6m 54s
    3. Timing the delay to the track
      1m 28s
    4. Using delay timing variations
      2m 51s
    5. Equalizing the delay
      4m 23s
    6. Understanding the Haas effect
      2m 51s
    7. Using the three-delay setup
      7m 23s
    8. Adding delay to the vocals
      8m 43s
    9. Using delay to layer the mix
      9m 55s
  15. 21m 35s
    1. Understanding the types of modulation
      2m 43s
    2. Understanding modulation parameters
      4m 13s
    3. Modulating the guitars
      4m 7s
    4. Modulating the keyboards
      3m 17s
    5. Modulating the vocals
      4m 17s
    6. Modulating the strings
      2m 58s
  16. 12m 22s
    1. Mixing with subgroups
      5m 5s
    2. Using mix buss compression
      4m 21s
    3. Understanding the evils of hypercompression
      2m 56s
  17. 39s
    1. Goodbye
      39s

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