IF YOU USE EQ, USE IT SPARINGLY, AND MAKE SURE YOU CAN HEAR THE RESULTS OVER REAL MONITORS.

EQ, or equalization, is a powerful tool both for fixing audio and for obtaining special effects. But it's a spice, and like all spices, a little goes a long way.

I think the greatest error a home recordist makes with EQ is using it to make their vocals sound like anything, ANYTHING, other than their own vocals. EQ is not supposed to make you sound like a different singer. EQ is supposed to help your instrument sit better in the mix, leaving room for the other instruments. (Sometimes it's also used to fix a problem. If so, it can be solved with a cut, not a boost.)

Here's an example of absolute EQ insanity:

This all started with a hunch that maybe the middle needed to be cut a bit. But now it sounds like it needs more high end. Hmmm. Now it seems hard to hear in the mix... maybe I'll put a spike in the middle so that it cuts through....

STOP! Put down the crack pipe - we need to talk.....

If you're recording on your computer, chances are you bought a nice but inexpensive mic to record with, maybe a condensor mic. Trust me - that mic sounds good. You actually need to pay a lot of money for a microphone that doesn't sound good nowadays (The Copperfone and the Shure Green Bullet come to mind). But all mics sound good nowadays. The differences are in the nuances, which means that unless they're really listening closely, the average person can't hear the difference between a Samson and a Neumann.

So let the sound of that nice mic come through*. Listen to the way your vocal sounds without any effects at all right after you record it (okay, maybe a bit of reverb, but personally, I listen flat). Listen to it like you're trying on a new suit. Inspect. Think. Evaluate. And be objective - it sounds better than you think. (John Lennon absolutely hated his own voice and would have given the world to sound like someone else. He told an engineer that in 1980 - the engineer's jaw dropped.)

(*If you're plugging the mic into an outboard preamp first because you've heard people say it "sounds" great, why not go direct into the mixer until you've actually gotten used to the mic? Then, when you've gained experience with the mic, you can plug in your outboard preamp and find out what it really does instead of just taking someone else's word for it.)

Here's the type of EQ I use on a voice to make it fit in a mix if the song has a lot of instruments:

Band 1 is a slight low-end cut. When you sing close into a mic, it boosts the bass and makes you sound close up. If you're singing with a rock band, you shouldn't sound close up, so I usually cut it a bit.

Band 2 is a slight high-end boost. It gives the vocal a tiny bit more air and sizzle, which can make the lyrics more comprehensible in a busy song.

And if it's a solo recording? I probably won't EQ it at all.

And don't boost the high end on ANYTHING unless the tweeters are pointing right at your ears.... which leads us into:

THE NEED FOR EFFECTIVE MONITORING

I don't work for a music equipment retailer, nor do I work for any manufacturer. But I need to say this: if you're recording at home, you need a set of real studio monitors.

(I stole this picture off the web. Sorry.)

They need to be placed with the tweeters at ear level, and the two speakers and your head need to form an equilateral triangle when looking down on the whole room. That's the only way you can make decisions about levels and EQ. If this is not the case, you should just leave the EQ alone and mix everything flat - you'll be causing less damage.

But you really do need studio monitors.

Regular speakers, even very expensive audiophile speakers, are designed to make everything sound great over a wide horizontal line-of-sight.

On the other hand, studio monitors are made to make everything sound naked and awful and to project the sound into the third corner of that equilateral triangle, i.e. your ears. If I'm off by a foot in my studio (which happens when I lean in to type), everything is smeared and vague-sounding. As soon as I back up and hit that sweet spot again, I can hear the soundstage click right back into place.

This is what you need to make any decisions about your music. Not artistically, of course, but from a technical point of view. You need to be able to hear when something's wrong, like the seams between little bits of audio that make digital "clicks" when you're assembling a final take of a vocal, or when you can hear a dog barking in the background during an otherwise silent part of a track recorded with a microphone. Trust me, if people are going to hear your music, someone is going to have a good enough playback system in a quiet enough environment that they'll hear those noises.

Any studio monitors will do, but be aware that you'll need to hear what's going on in the low end of your mix. I wouldn't feel comfortable mixing on anything smaller than an 8 inch woofer, though that shouldn't discourage you from trying a 5 inch model, which is still better than regular speakers. If your montiors only go down to 120 Hz, you may have a kick drum or a bass synth that is absolutely overpowering the mix, but you can't hear it. It'll be taking up a lot of the energy in the sound wave for no reason - your song will sound quieter than others. And the low end will be way too loud when someone hears it on a good system.

Side note: If you're going to go out and get monitors, get powered monitors. Your mixer connects directly to them with no amp, and they give you good bang for the buck.

Mea Culpa: I learned all of this the hard way. I over-EQ'd for years to make up for the stereo speakers I was listening on. The first time I heard my music over studio monitors - and they were cheap monitors - I was embarrassed. Since then, things have improved immensely.

THE TAKEAWAY: IF YOU USE EQ, USE IT SPARINGLY, AND MAKE SURE YOU CAN HEAR THE RESULTS OVER REAL MONITORS.

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