EQ Equals Equal Equalization

During my live sound intensives I've learned some new tricks in regards to one of the audio engineering fundamentals, Equalization. I use EQ in two main ways, the first is correctively, for example if there is a strenuous frequency in a sound effect or instrument I will usually duck a few dB out of it to make the rest of it sound better. The second is creatively, I may remove all of the high and mid frequencies from a sound to make it appear to be coming from within a structure or boost random frequencies in a roar to make it seem otherworldly. As far as live sound is concerned, most of the EQ I've been doing has been corrective, although in new ways that I hadn't considered before. This week I decided to do some digging and see what more I could learn about live sound EQ and how I could use this to help improve my productions, both post and live.

There are two main things I like to keep in mind when thinking about equalization, the fletcher-munson curve and individual instrument frequencies. By clicking on the image below, you will be taken to Independent Recordings Frequency chart resource which I have found to be invaluable to the mixing process.

By combining an instrument frequency chart with a fletcher-munson curve it becomes easy to understand exactly what you're doing while cutting or boosting on the frequency spectrum. For example, by looking at this graph I know that if my bass is sounding honky, I can cut a few dBs out of the 500-1k and it should become much warmer. Now with this in mind it becomes much to put into practice some of the fundamentals of equalization I discovered during my research. In no particular order, these are as follows:

1. Vocals are number #1

As the shining star in the musical night sky most of the time the lead vocals take precedence over all other musical elements. The lead vocal line and it's delivery of the lyrics are a big part of many songs, especially pop songs, so it makes sense that any audience will need that element to be front and center. The best part about human vocals is that every one of them is different, this is also the reason they are usually the hardest element to shape. Because each voice is unique there will always be slightly different frequencies that will need to be boosted or attenuated. A good rule of thumb to remember to always use your ears and try to fully understand the vocal you're mixing. While it's a good idea to occasionally solo a track for mixing purposes it's important to remember that...

2. Everything is relative

The second big thing to remember is that while each element needs individual attention, the big picture is what you're really striving to improve with equalization. There's no point in boosting the top end of your snare for that sparkly crack if it's just going to interfere with the sound space you've been carving out for your lead guitar. While eqing it is always important to remember that the entire ensemble needs to sound good together. I always try to listen to every element at the same time and if I do solo a track for clarity I make sure to immediately listen to it in context so I don't lose sight of the big picture.

3. Cut before boost

To wrap my head around this concept, which I've seen come up time and time again in discussions about mixing, I had to think about it as compounding the problem. The way I see it now is that, if I'm listening to a mix and I think something needs adjusting, that usually means it's because I hear something as a problem. By boosting any frequencies I'm just adding possible distortion and if I didn't have a problem in a certain frequency band I definitely could after boosting. If I think the bass needs more presence, the easy answer would be to boost its fundamentals, but in doing this I could just be masking some elements of the drum kit such as the kick or the floor tom. In this circumstance it would be much better to try and remove some of the bass's fundamental frequencies from other instruments which would allow the bass to be perceived within those frequency bands.

4. Tune the P.A and the monitors to the room

Finally, an important part of eq, especially in live sound is the tuning of the monitors and the P.A. system. Sometimes, monitor speakers will feedback certain frequencies, usually depending on a number of things from the speakers themselves, to the microphones or even the room shape itself. The best way to remove these problems is to scoop them for problematic frequencies and cut a few dBs out of those problem frequencies. This is an important part of the sound checking process that insures that the audience and the performers aren't being fed any strenuous noise which could impact on the overall enjoyment of a show.

These are just some of the important aspects of equalization that I've been tossing around this week, as always I will continue to explore these ideas and learn as much as I can in order to improve my skills as an audio engineer. Our live show is coming up and I look forward to letting you all know how that goes!

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