Creative EQ Tips
by Katie Gilchrest
Generally, engineers use equalization (EQ) in one of two ways: corrective or creative. If there is a problem in the recording, perhaps a dull sounding room or sample, it is acceptable to use EQ to brighten up the sound. Sometimes poor mic placement or room modes interfere with the quality of the sound as well. But EQ can also be utilized in an inventive way. Using EQ creatively gives engineers a chance to turn off a part of their technical mind, focus on the sound, and use their ears to craft the best possible sonic outcome. Here are some creative EQ tips to get you started.
- Get to Know Your EQ
Whether you’re using hardware or software, it is important to know the tools you are working with. Each piece has a specific sound, and if you are unsure what your equipment is doing, it is like trying to shoot a target in the dark. Become practiced and experienced with the sonic capabilities of your EQ. You will begin to recognize similarities and differences in other programs, and develop your own taste and style. Conversely, if you are working in a studio and need to use plugins or hardware you are unfamiliar with, a developed style will give you a starting point and skills to craft what sort of sound you’re going for.
- Shut Off the Screen
Meters, waveforms, and spectrum analyzers are great tools to use visually. They give us accurate, real-time information to make the best decisions. However, concrete, mechanical data is not always the best informant, especially for the subjective nature of music. Many times, visual materials distract us from using the sense we should be using the most, our hearing. For most of recorded music history, engineers did not have screens or analyzers while they recorded, mixed and mastered. Their primary mechanism for making recordings was their ears, and not their eyes. In current times, it is just the opposite. Most people rely on visual analyzers as their first go-to method of music production, with poor results. A great creative EQ tip is turning off the screen and consciously make your eyes a secondary instrument. It could make a huge difference in your production.
- Use Your Hands
Using your hands, especially in conjunction with shutting of the screen, is another powerful way to reconnect with sounds. Not all of us have the luxury of using real analog hardware with knobs and buttons, but this is a great way to engage the senses directly to the brain. Once again, adjusting parameters visually can be distracting and gives more energy to our eyes instead of our ears. Human beings became skilled and crafty over much of human history by using our hands, and audio production is no exception. The tangibility of physical objects makes the sound become intrinsic in the “real” world and present moment, as well as providing a sense of gratification that visual’s cannot reach.
- Reference Your Favorite Tracks
Chances are the engineers in your favorite tracks used EQ creatively, too. Using only your ears to replicate cool sounds is a great way to practice tuning into specific frequencies. While these tracks probably don’t use the same instrumentation and tools that you are, they might embody mood and energy you are going for. Play these tracks back to back to you yours, tweaking different frequency bands as you go. If the track breathes with excitement and drama, try boosting the highs (>3000 Hz). If your track sounds too muddy or busy, try cutting in the lower mids around 250 Hz. But if possible, try not to get caught up in numbers and specifics like you did when shutting off the screen. The key is to go for feel and sound.
- Break the Rules
Many discoveries have been made through accidents and pushing the envelope. Being bold and taking chances could lead to some great sounds.
Some out-of-the-box creative EQ tips to try:
- Change the order of your FX lineup in your chain.
- Experiment with extreme parameters.
- Double an instrument and tweak the timbre of the double with EQ.
- Use presets on instruments/settings they weren’t intended for.
- Alter the EQ throughout the song, instead of a static setting.
EQ, a highly technical and measurable tool, remains a highly subjective entity in the world of music. Knowing how to read meters is valued and important, but ultimately the best music connects with the human emotional experience. EQ can be the fine line between disconnection and poignant understanding. The key concepts presented are to shut off your eyes, open your ears and think outside of the box.