Saturday, January 23, 2010

Blend, Separation and Clarity: EQ

Next in the series on balancing, separating or blending mix elements is EQ (equalization). The first thing to keep in mind is that what we're really talking about here is the overall tone of any musical element; this is the combined result of all aspects of the sound's heritage. For an acoustically recorded instrument, this includes the instrument itself, the musician's playing technique, any amplification or effects applied by the musician, the choice and placement of the mics, etc. Even in the case of the synthesis/samples, all of the original characteristics of the patch become part of the overall tonal presentation.

EQ is a complicated characteristic of recorded sound. One reason for this is that EQ affects not only the perception of each individual sound element, and the relationship between the elements, but it also is part of an overall tonal profile of the blended mix. As a result, you can't simply make EQ judgments for a particular element based on its sound alone. There are many times when an instrument, when considered in isolation, may have a tonal profile that seems imbalanced; for example, an electric guitar that sounds too bright and thin. Yet, if that guitar is playing very tightly and consistently on top of a very warm and solid bass, the overall combination may be just what the audio doctor ordered! Conversely, if an engineer tries to pack the entire frequency spectrum into each element, with a full-bodied tone that covers the whole range, the result is likely to be a mix where each element in isolation sounds wonderful, but when combined are fighting each other for space and attention. The result is a confusing busy mess. This is unfortunately a common mistake for beginning sound engineers.

So with respect to the desire to blend sounds together, the ability to lay sounds on top of each other is directly affected by the tonal combination those elements create. If your arrangement dictates that you want certain elements to lay on top of each other (playing at the same time, and especially with the same rhythms) try to make sure that the tonal characteristics of the layered sounds complement each other, rather than reinforce the same frequency ranges. Try to let warmth come from one element, clarity from another; sparkle from one element, solidity from another. Stay aware of the overall tonal spectrum that each layered combination presents, and don't clutter up the tone with too much of any particular EQ range. Your mixes will breathe easier, with more transparency and punch.

So the lesson here is this: yes, of course it is important to understand how to shape the tone of the i


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