August 23rd, 2016 by admin

Knowing how to use an equalizer is an integral skill for anyone working in audio, yet knowing how and when to use one isn’t always easy. Here are some practical tips for using your equalizer more effectively.

1. Use Peak Filtering to Find The Frequency:
Peak filtering is a method of identifying problem frequencies using the 3 main components of an EQ; the Gain, Bandwidth (also known as Q or Resonance), and Frequency knobs. Follow these steps to find problem frequencies:

  • Increase the Gain +10db on a given frequency band. (see image 1)
Peak Filter Example: Gain Increase

Peak Filter Example: Gain Increase (image 1)

  • Increase the Bandwidth so that you’re only effecting a small range of frequencies (in this case with the Q knob). (see image 2)
Peak Filter Example: Increase Bandwidth

Peak Filter Example: Increase Bandwidth (image 2)

  • Move the Frequency up and down the spectrum to identify the problem frequency. When you hear it, you will usually know by the harshness of the sound or unnecessary muddiness of that frequency. Let your ears guide you. (see image 3)
Peak Filter Example: Move Frequency Knob

Peak Filter Example: Move Frequency Knob (image 3)

2. Use Subtractive EQ – LESS IS MORE!:
Now that we’ve found the problem frequency using peak filtering, we can remove it using Subtractive EQ.

An example of Subtractive EQ is demonstrated below.

  • First, find the problem frequency using peak filtering demonstrated in #1 above.
  • Once identified, turn the gain knob down to lower the volume of that frequency or remove it altogether. (see image 4)
Subtractive EQ Example

Subtractive EQ Example (image 4)

Subtractive EQ can be combined with all other parametric shapes including bell (seen in figures 1, 2, 3), low shelf, high shelf, low cut, high pass, etc…

Here is an example of using a high shelf filter to turn the high frequencies up > 1500Hz using Subtractive EQ

  • Use a Low Cut filter (also known as High Pass) to identify the cutoff point in which you want to turn the frequencies up. In this case we want to turn up the frequencies above 1500 Hz. (Hint: You can also use a stereo spectrum analyzer in conjunction with your ears to help guide you.) (see image 5)
Subtractive EQ: Shelf Filtering

Subtractive EQ: Shelf Filtering (image 5)

  • Turn your Shape to Low Shelf, and turn the gain down accordingly. (see image 6)
Subtractive EQ: Shelf Filtering

Subtractive EQ: Shelf Filtering (image 6)

Notice that I used Subtractive EQ to turn down the frequencies below 1500Hz instead of turning up the frequencies above 1500Hz. In effect, this is the same as turning the frequencies up on all frequencies above 1500Hz. This saves me DB while getting the same desired effect.

Remember, Subtractive EQ should be your first instinct, while additive EQ should be used sparingly.

Note: Most amateur producers will use EQ to boost frequencies they want more of, known as Additive EQ. However, doing so will add unwanted DB to your mixes. Instead, you should focus your efforts on removing unwanted frequencies to make other instruments stand out.

3. Give and Take. IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE:
It is very common that you will have many instruments competing for the listener’s attention. For example, in electronic music you will have a kick and bassline that take up a lot of the same frequencies, causing them to sound muddy together when no processing is applied.

A solution to this problem is the give and take technique. If you boost EQ on one instrument, ask yourself what other instruments might be competing with those frequencies.

In this case, if you boost your kick (below 80Hz), try lowering the EQ on your bass below 80Hz to make room for the kick frequencies you boosted. You want every instrument to have their own space in the frequency spectrum allowing your instruments to breathe and move around each other. Not competing for the same space.

4. Use Your Ears:
Your ears are the most important tool you have, above all things. Let them guide you. Don’t make changes unless your ears tell you they’re needed.

Sometimes I will find myself closing my eyes when turning a dial to force myself to hear what I’m actually doing. When I’m happy with the sound I’m surprised to find the setting I end up on is one that I wouldn’t typically choose if I had been watching the knob being turned.

5. Remove Bottom End From Instruments That Don’t Need It:
When it comes to the bottom end of a track, you’re looking for clarity rather than just lots of ‘woofing’. Apply a high-pass filter to instruments that have no real low-end content. For example, filtering below 50Hz from guitars will remove cabinet rumble to the mix. Filtering below 80Hz from a vocal will remove any rumble from the mic stand (or a tapping foot).

6. Experiment:
Mastering the use of EQ isn’t something that just happens overnight – it takes lots of time and practice. Don’t be afraid to experiment by mixing multiple versions of your tracks in order to discover how different EQ treatments affect the end result. Eventually, you’ll instinctively know how to get the sound you want.

7. Don’t Be Seduced By Thinking Louder Is Better:
If you add 10dB at 150Hz, 10dB at 1kHz and 10dB at 3kHz, all you’re really doing is boosting the volume of the track by 10dB. Just because the volume is louder, you might mistakenly perceive the track as ‘better’ – don’t be seduced.

Conclusion: Following these tips will help your mixes sound tighter and ultimately lead to better recordings.

Did I leave anything out? Feel free to let me know in the comments! Also, if you enjoyed this article please share using the social network buttons above.

 

All examples images are using Fabfilter Pro-Q V1. You can get it here: Fabfilter Pro-Q ($179 USD)

June 8th, 2016 by admin

ian-sutton-studio-mixing

Mixing is not only an art, it is also a paramount step of the production process that when done correctly, can yield great sounding recordings. It turns a collection of tracks into a finished piece of music, and can make your song sound good on anything from a cheap hi-fi radio to an audiophile’s dream setup.

In theory, mixing should be easy. You turn a few knobs here and there, until everything sounds good. However, that is not the case.

Anyone who has done enough mixing will know what it’s like to twist enough knobs only to find yourself in the middle of a jumbled mess with no direction and now all the sudden you don’t know where your mix is going. And you’re lost.

Here is a list of 7 Mixing Tips that will help you streamline your mixes and keep you on track to better and more efficient mixing.

  1. Keep your sub-bass and kicks in mono.

Think of it this way; you’re kick and bass are the driving forces behind your tracks, and as such, should be centered as much as possible, with everything else happening around it in the stereo spectrum.

Keeping your sub-bass in mono will keep your low-end centered, and will save precious db space for you to mix other instruments as well. It will also give you a good reference point for where to mix your other instruments. As a general rule of thumb I like to use Ozone Imager to keep everything < 200Hz in mono.

  1. Using a spectrum to analyze your signal.

I know I preach that mixing is an art. But behind that art is a science. And the science is this wonderful tool called a spectrum analyzer. A good spectrum analyzer will let you visually see your audio signal in real-time.

I will keep one open on my master channel at all times so I can see what is happening visually when all my tracks are playing at the same time. If I notice any major dips or spikes I will adjust my mix accordingly.

  1. Using mono mixing as reference.

This is an important one. Too often I get mixes that are really wide in the stereo field. I.E. the song sounds thin because a lot of the instruments are playing outside the normal stereo field. I see this happen a lot with producers who use mainly headphones for mixing.

They start panning instruments left and right and before they know it their track is so far wide that nothing is happening in the middle, leading to thin recordings. To combat this, make use of a stereo-to-mono plugin and check it every now and then.

This will force you to make space for all of your instruments. If you can make your track sound good in mono, it will sound great in stereo. Sometimes you don’t know how wide an instrument is until you reference it in mono.

  1. Make use of subtractive EQ.

Although additive EQ certainly has it’s place, subtractive EQ is an equalization technique where you subtract frequencies to make others stand out in the mix instead of adding to them. For example, to make my highs stand out in a mix, I will usually use a low-shelf curve to turn my lows down rather than try to boost the highs to get them to sit right.

Done correctly, this saves DB headroom and keeps your mix levels in check. I use more subtractive EQ than I do additive. That’s for sure.

  1. Do NOT use a limiter on master channel.

That’s right. Don’t do it. Using a limiter on the master channel when mixing is basically a replacement for what skills you lack in mixing, and can adversely effect your track in a negative way.

Instead, try using a limiter with a small threshold on individual instruments, rather than slapping it on top of everything via the master channel. Your mastering engineer will thank you.

  1. Do NOT move the master channel fader-volume.

When I started producing music 9 years ago I would start with my master fader at 0db, and as I added more elements to the track I would gradually move the master volume fader down to keep it from going over 0db.

My mixes would end up being really quiet to start, and be really loud by the end and I couldn’t figure out why. I know that sounds ridiculous but turns out I’m not the only one. I see it all the time, and I wish someone had told me sooner!

Keep your master volume at 0db, and do all of your mixing using the channels before it hits the master channel. If your levels are going above 0db, then change it in the mix, and DO NOT use the master volume-fader to compensate.

This will yield a more level and accurate waveform primed for mastering when you’re done. And will force you to learn to mix better.

  1. Tweeters facing out.

tweeters_out

This is a big one. Too often I see pictures of studios with the monitor speakers sitting horizontally and the tweeters are on the inside. This is a huge mixing mistake! Earlier I mentioned that your sub-levels and kick should be centered and in mono.

The same should be consistent with your audio setup. The bass and low-end should be centered in your listening environment with the mids and highs moving around the bass.

Having your tweeters on the inside is counter-productive and will confuse your mixes. Having them on the outside will keep your mixes more consistent.

And there you have it. While writing this I got some ideas for a few new articles, which I will be coming out with in the next few weeks. But this should get you started and on your way to better mixes.

What would be some tips you would suggest? What are some of the biggest tips anyone has given you that helped you improve your mixes? Comment below!

November 24th, 2014 by admin

As a mastering engineer of several years, I’ve seen a lot of music come through my studio. As a result, I’ve noticed many critical mistakes producers often make in their productions. So I put together a list the 6 most common mistakes I see producers make, and how you can avoid them.

By avoiding these pitfalls you will look more professional, cut email exchanges with engineers in half, train your ears, and you will know what to look out for in future productions.

1. Producing with the Limiter On
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see. Producers who do this are usually compensating for what they lack in production experience. I know, I know, the track just doesn’t sound big enough, so you add the limiter on the end because it sounds better.

But what you’re actually doing is ruining any chance of successful post-production work because the dynamics get squashed.

It is very hard to reverse the damage caused by a limiter once it has been added. It is usually best to avoid a limiter altogether instead of slapping it on the end of your master output. A limiter should be added as the last processing tool during mastering.

If using a limiter is necessary, just use a compressor with a small ratio (2:1) and small threshold. Again, IF NECESSARY.

2. Exporting Above 0db (Not Mixing Below 0db)
This one I see quite often. When you export your track, it is imperative that the signal does not exceed 0db. When I review a track and see that it does not have any headroom, it is because of 1 of 3 reasons.

a) It was produced with the limiter on (see above)
b) It was exported too loudly.
c) Both. Yikes!

Make sure when you’re producing your track, that the levels on the master channel have clear headroom.

What is headroom you ask? Headroom is the difference of space between the highest peak volume of your track and 0db. Usually, the more headroom, the better for post-production purposes.

3. Producing With The Master Fader Turned Down
I have been here before. You start your track with a kick and you want it to slam, so you turn the volume of the kick up, and turn the master channel down so you have room to add additional elements.

As you start adding more elements you notice that you keep running out of headroom, so you keep turning the master channel down. This technique will lead to tracks that are quiet at the beginning, but way too loud during the second half of the track.

Instead, try leave the master volume at 0db. Fight the urge to move that S.O.B. at any time. Do all your mixing before it hits the master channel and focus on the levels of your instruments.

If I start with a kick, I turn that channel down about -10db, and if I need to adjust the volume I will avoid the master fader volume and instead use the volume knob on my audio interface. I will say it once more. Leave the master fader volume at 0db.

If your levels go above 0db, then you have to mix your project down better so that it does not hit 0db.

4. Exporting in 16bit Without Dithering
You produced everything great! The track looks great! The waveform looks great! Sounds great! Everything is great! Then…. I see a big fat 16bit format.

This is a problem because if your stems are 24bit, and you exported to 16bit without dithering, you’ve just lost 8 bits of information. Gone. Period. Poof up in smoke!

And you will usually hear that in the master version once it is ready (or not ready) for distribution.

Do yourself a favor and check that you export in 24bit or higher if you plan to have any post-work done (mastering). Dithering should be the last step of the mastering process and should only be done once. (See dithering).

5. Cutting Off The End of your track during export.
Indeed, you’ve done everything right. However, the reverb/delay at the end of your track gets cutoff. When I ask a client to double check, they’ve indeed cutoff the end of the track by accident.

This happens because your DAW will export until the end of the last audio clip by default, and will not export any additional audio unless you tell it to do so.

Double check the IN/OUT points when exporting. You’re DAW will tell you exactly what point your track will start AND stop exporting. So export additional time just in case.

6. Not Exporting The Beginning Properly
This one comes up a lot, although not as common. The very beginning of your track starts with a kick, but the first kick sounds quiet compared to the rest of the kicks throughout the track.

It’s usually because the full length of the kick is not being exported due to the IN point being too soon. If that is the case, the rest of the kicks are the same way. For example, at a big drop or after a downtime.

Often times a kick sample is not precisely at the beginning of the track, and actually starts a fraction before. So examine that first kick like it’s under a microscope.

You might have to move your entire track up a fraction and export accordingly.

I hope this has helped you have a better idea of some common mistakes that producers make. If you avoid these you will be on the fast track to becoming a better producer.

 

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May 17th, 2012 by admin

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