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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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