EQing applied with logic and reason...
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"Huh ? EQing with logic and reason ?" No this is not about the two DAWs, this is about applying logic and reason to your process of EQing because I believe that intuition can sometimes get in the way of what we actually want to achieve with an EQ. Intuition might lead us to slap that EQ on the channel and boost a frequency range to make something more exciting. But I think that's the wrongest approach when it comes to EQing. You gotta clean up your audio material first...and don't tell me there's nothing to clean :)
So what do we want to achieve with an EQ ?
In mixing, what I want to do is cleaning up the sounds, generally creating space within an ensemble of sounds, making everything sit well in that mixture, making everything have its "place" in side frequency spectrum. That's why we use equalizers and it involves getting rid of resonances and over emphasis or emphasizing a particularly important part of a sound. This article is about the order that best be applied (shortly called first cut, then go on) when EQing and why it is reasonable to apply that order to your equalization steps.
1. First cut
Single sound or a complete mix, when you are EQing you could cut an overemphasis of a specific part of the frequency range or a rumbling low end or a too sharp high end and this should be our very first steps before we go on further boosting or processing that sound. Cleaning up a signal, erasing for example a screaming 130hz resonance or an annoyingly loud 13khz resonance or anything that's overpresent below/beyond/ in between that range. There is a rule of thumb to EQing, which says: make your cuts surgical, with a thin shape, and most of the time it is wise to follow that rule. For example: you can erase a ringing part of a sound with a thin cut but you're not going to create that ringing part if you create a wide boost. Thin cuts and wider boosts sound more "natural" or less identifiable.
Coming back to a clean sound, if you don't do that cleansing and next insert a compressor, the "dirt" - for lack of a better word - that's still in your audio material will very likely affect how your compressor behaves and how much it reduces the gain. You don't want a big spike in the frequency, that's not an essential part of the sound, let your compressor reduce the overall gain of your sound ! I will claim that you definitely don't want any further processing with that "dirt" attached to your signal.
Make use of high pass and low pass filters, also utilize different bell shapes, different slopes for precision where it is necessary.
I'm the last person to discourage anybody from questioning and testing principles but as a matter of principle, you will wash your dishes before you use them again, yeah ? You clean your car before you pick up your date, right ? There you go !
If you don't know what part to clean up, one way to find out about specific parts of the spectrum and how they sound is to sweep through the spectrum and seperate the audio of those particular parts. Many EQs have this "solo-listen-feature" and in this EQ the trick is to click on the headphones (red mark) and drag the cursor through the frequency range that you want to check out. Find out where problematic areas could be.
But only use this a rough guideline for your changes, always check back and compare before / after.
2. Then Boost or go on with your processing
When you're done cleaning up your sound is when you're ready to go on with either applying musical EQing (bringing out the best of an instrument if necessary) or further processing. For example: A vocal could be sibilant but generally lacking some presence or a vocal could sound boxy but missing some overall low mids. So you go ahead with step one and clean up the sibilance or boxyness with a surgical approach to cutting frequencies out and then go on to boost with a much wider bell shape curve or shelf even to make up for what you think is missing. That way you have attenuated something critical and in the end empowered something fundamental or beneficial without giving it more of that critical part.
Try to avoid a steep curve for a boost, it can add a "ringing" sound.
Let's conclude once more, the message here is to first cut & then boost. But let me repeat a few guidelines too:
- thin cuts and wider boosts (for a more "natural" sound result)
- check if you have to compensate for huge gain changes after equalization
- apply logic and reason when equalizing (and in general) and a lot of things will become self-explanatory
- don't equalize "into the blue", try to equalize with a plan and a vision and you'll find it comes almost naturally to cut and clean up at first
- don't let anybody ever tell you must or must not do, take suggestions and make your mind up about them, be particularly skeptical when when you see posts like this: "bro, alway cut, never boost" without arguments for why to do that
That "only cut, never boost" idea actually brings up a few more or less valid points but I don't want to dive too deep into those right now and I certainly don't want to start a discussion that I can't maintain and moderate. I'm a grown up and I'm a busy man ! But Very shortly:
- yes, EQing can cause a bit of a phase issue (much less so if you're using a linear phase setup which likely causes latency issues) but cuts and boosts will both create phase shifts
- yes, you might apply coloration through the phase issue or also through an emulation or a signature device's character/saturation, but especially the latter is something you intend to do when you choose use such a device
- yes you will use up space in a mix when you boost frequencies of sounds/ instruments but you are likely going to make up for your cuts and boosts anyways by adjusting the level inside the mix through adjusting the EQ output or with your channel fader
Again, reason, logic and a little bit of critical thinking will help you with everything in the long run.
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