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Jul 06

EQing the Lower and Upper Mids

EQing the Lower and Upper Mids

Notes from Danny Danzi on the Cakewalk Forums

This is an extract from a thread on the Cakewalk forum by forum member Danny Danzi. I have transcribed his posting here to make it easier for me to find. If you find a few gems of knowledge here, please check out Danny’s site at http://www.dannydanzi.com/home.htm

From Phillip:

Danny started explaining his inverse techniques.  But I hope to regain
strategies from everyone (great or small).

Please explain your
strategies clearly: like:

“I reduce the guitar buss 3 decibels, at 2.2
kHz, q=1”, to allow snare and voc timbre.

“My band likes boomy toms,
so I raise these 6 decibels, at 580Hz, q=2.5”

“Etc.”
Danny:

This one is really a tough call, Philip. The reason being, the instrument
prints/captures are never the same. Some sounds may have mids accentuated that
literally make the sound what it is and you don’t want to curb that, so you have
to be careful.

One thing that I have always done when working with kick
and bass guitar is, I like to map out my sounds before I record. If the song in
my head should have more of a “Boom” type kick drum, then I know that the bass
guitar I use will have less low end in it. If I’d rather more of a snappy kick
with a bit more beater in it, I know I can have more low end in my bass guitar.
If keys/strings etc will be in the mix, I decide if they will be dominant or
filler type keys. If they will be dominant, I can get away with more mids in
them…if they will be fillers, I know the mids and low end will need to be
curbed if rockin’ guitars will be in the mix.

It’s tough to just say
“well, I cut this and this in order to allow this to be heard more” because
unless you are using the exact same instruments for every print, there’s no way
to determine what to cut or boost. It depends on the instruments you printed as
well as what you expect out of your mix. For example…

In one tune, you
may want your bass guitar to have a bit more 80 hz than it would normally have.
You may want to add a bit of bass guitar clack at 2k or 2.5k…it depends on the
sound. You may need to cut out 300hz…you just never know until the sound is in
place. But if this were the case, it tells you what you’ll need to do to your
kick drum because you can’t have that same boost or they will mask each other.
So we may have to add some low end at 50-60 hz for the kick to have some low end
meat and add a little 6-8k for some beater clack/presence….but again, unless
we can hear what the kick drum is doing, all these numbers are just numbers.

In order for back up vocals to shine through a mix, you want to thin
them out a bit from like 600hz to 800hz. This removes some of the thickness, but
it also removes the blanket that could stop these from being masked within the
lead vocals. But again, it depends on the mic used, how many back up vocals,
what the timbre of the voice is, how much natural low end comes from the voice,
is it a female vocal to where it may be lacking a bit of low end and it sounds a
bit thin? These are all the things to consider, but again, meaningless unless we
are listening to the sound that is being tweaked.

You like boomy, cannon
sounding toms, for the right impact, you make them have the most low end in the
mix and thin out the bass guitar and the kick drum. You’ll also have to decide
where you want the low end in the toms to be. This will dictate the decisions
you make on the bass and kick. But the other side of the coin here is, the toms
will not be sounding throughout the entire song, so you have to find a happy
medium to where they have impact when they hit, have the low end that you need,
but aren’t adding this “whoommmfff’ of low end that crushes the mix when they DO
appear. They can also easily be masked by a bass guitar or a kick drum to where
you have less impact…so you have to be careful.

For someone to come on
here and say “Well, you need to high pass this and this, and remove mids here
and curb highs here” would be pretty much a waste in my opinion. You just can’t
make that call without hearing the instruments in question. Sometimes, the
instrument sounds themselves accentuate things that most people take away by
default. By doing this and living by “eq templates” or however they may be set
in their ways, they are depriving the instrument of “its natural sound” which is
what we want at all times. Something shouldn’t have to be so curbed that you no
longer like what it sounds like. However, you do have to fit it in the mix and
sometimes this can be challenging.

Another example. If we have a kickin’
tune with a beater present kick drum and we have a nice low “ooom” sounding
bass, what do you do with the killer string pad you just added that has left
hand bass notes? You have 2 choices. You remove the left hand bass notes because
they are not really needed with a bass guitar that has the nice lows we need
already, or you high pass the heck out of the string patch until the low notes
are not walking on anything. Or, you curb the lows in the bass guitar, give it a
bit more “clack” and allow the string patch lows to be the emphasis of your low
end.

But again, and I stress this, it depends on the instrument print as
well as what frequencies you decide to push before we can even make a decision
on what to cut or boost. We can all give you starting points as to what we
remove, but this isn’t the same for every project and it sholdn’t ever be the
same unless you are working on an album where the same instruments appear. Even
there, sometimes what you use on 5 songs may not work on 3 additional songs on
the same album. This is also due to what keys the songs are in. If we have a
bass guitar playing one of those low B strings, you’ll need to set up a
different eq for that or you may need to automate for each time that low B shows
itself in the mix. 8 out of 10 times, that low B is going to leap out and say “I
AM A BASS PLAYING A LOW B NOTE, HEAR ME ROAR BABY!” 🙂

So keep in mind
that there are lots of things that need to be considered when doing this stuff.
If you compiled the info from 10 guys on here that gave you the techniques they
use for this, I would bet that only a small fraction of their info would apply
to you based on their instrument sounds vs. the ones you are coming up with.

The more you do this stuff and learn how to deal with eq as well as what
to expect out of it, the better you get at making the right decisions. Another
thing to keep in mind is, there are certain frequencies that are not needed in
some instruments. Removing them completely actually cleans up the instrument. Do
this on all your tracks and the mix suddenly sounds like a million bucks
because it doesn’t have the garbage in it any longer.

Let’s look at a
few instruments.

Kick drums: These are difficult to handle at times
because you can literally tweak frequencies successfully from 40hz up to about
6-7 k But after 7k (which some might think is too high to work, however you can
get a bit of air in your beater in that area) you don’t need anything there…so
you could remove it all from 7k on up.

Snares: Not much low end needs
to be in a snare, but it depends on how thick you need it to be. Most times, you
can remove 150 Hz on down because it’s not needed in a snare.

Cymbals:
Remove lows and selective low mids completely. Some times we want a little beef
in a cymbal that may be thin, so you can add a slight bit of low mid to enhance
this. Remove 16k on up if you can depending on how much sssss or “air” you want.

Toms: Depending on how many and what sizes, you don’t need any high end
after about 7-8 k in these. Remove *some* mids and low mids if you want them a
bit more punchy for a less classic rock sound…more low mids and mids for more
of warmer classic rock sound. Watch for sub lows. I like to remove anything
under 90hz on these other than a floor tom that may need a bit of low end.

Guitars: Nothing under 80hz is needed in any guitar tone. Some people
high pass from 100 hz on down…I’ve went as high as 200 hz on down. Again, it
depends on the sound, the player, the guitar, the amp and how it was captured
before I can determine this. 600-800 for warm mids, 2k-5k for highs…anything
else higher, will give you “sizzle”. Watch 300 for mud, and 400-500 for
boxiness.

Bass guitar: Most bass guitar low end is heard from 75 hz to
about 120 hz. I don’t like sub lows in my bass guitar, so I’ll remove all that
stuff. Watch for the 300 hz range…this is what muds up a bass. You shouldn’t
need any high end frequencies after like 4k or so…most times, you won’t hear
high end going into a bass after 3k, but at 4k, you can get a bit of air in
there. 5k on up, get rid of it totally. But again, this depends on the bass.
Maybe you want a percussive type bass…if so, you may wan it a bit clacky or
airy in the highs.

Piano: Treat it like a guitar on the low end.
Depending on the sound, high pass until it sounds like the low end mask has been
removed and it sounds like “tickled ivories” instead of piano with a low mid or
low end bass mask. Mids and high end here depend on the sound of the piano. Most
times though, curbing the mids at about 860hz will do wonders for a piano…but
this depends on how much low mids it may have. Again, 300 can kill ya.

Strings: Watch low notes if there is a bass guitar in the mix. High pass
until you don’t hear the low end notes fighting with the bass guitar. Again,
pinpointing where to cut depends on what we’re faced with. We might be able to
let a little 110 hz slide through here. It depends on the sound we’re using. Cut
mids if this will be filler instrument, if it’s the dominant one, eq to taste,
but watch the lows and low mids. Strings can easily engulf an entire mix and
mask everything if you’re not careful. Anything after 6k will be giving you air
type high end. However, sometimes it’s nice to back down 4k a bit and bring in
some of the upper air freq’s for texture. Again, yep, you guessed it, it depends
on the sound.

So in all honestly, none of the above means a thing really
because it will depend on what your vision will be for these instruments. The
great thing about this field is the ability to experiment and go against the
grain. As long as nothing is masking and everything is audible, you’re right
where you need to be. We can’t just do something because we read that we are
supposed to do it. We need to try it with the instruments we are using along
with the vision we have for this particular mix. Some instruments just sound
cool when we leave what would normally be “offending frequencies” in the mix. We
then fix the others to accommodate. That’s another method to use. Sometimes we
hear this killer sound, but it may not work in the mix. You either make it work
by tweaking it, or you tweak all the others to compliment it and find a happy
medium. Just remember there are no rules really, just starting points and
guidelines. Sorry I can’t be more helpful here, but this is just a huge topic
that has too many possibilities to give you correct answers on.

One other thing real fast. Did you ever listen to a pro mix and not really like
it? When this happens, chances are quite a few others will not like it either. I
think you are a lot like me in what I can tell from your posts. You try to like
something about every mix and try not to discard it as bad, am I right? That’s a
good way to be. The reason being, this allows artistic flair to be accepted in
your world. I’m like that as well. I try my best to take something good from a
mix or a style of music that I may not be down with. The reason being, that is
the artist/producer’s take on artistic creativity and if a majority of people do
not like the mix or instruments chosen, he’s probably gone against the grain and
broken some rules. But to HIM, his instruments and the mix sounded good.

My point in saying that to you is, you may create a mix that you love
that the majority may not like. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad mix. Even if people
you hold credible respond that it’s a bad mix or they may not like a particular
instrument, it’s still not a bad choice if you like what you hear. This going
against the grain stuff as well as breaking the rules, is important my friend.
It really is. It gives you a chance to say “well, guess what, I made this tune
for ME based on MY vision, world!”

However, all of the above is
perfectly acceptable…as long as you don’t have any blatant issues, masking, or
artifacts. To me, if a mix is audible and is pleasant to listen to without
annoying high end, too much mid range congestion for the sake of “warmth” and
sub low end booming all over (unless it’s rap, hip hop or *some* R&B) it’s a
good mix. I don’t like some of the instruments in some Beatles songs, but I love
the Beatles and their tunes. Just some of those sounds didn’t sit well with me.
We can say this about any mix in creation really, but there comes a time to
where we need to be less subjective and just say “is this good or isn’t it”
without someone mixing the tune in their own image. That totally ruins the vibe
in my opinion, don’t you think? I love when people can help you with problem
areas and state the specifics when things are blatantly obvious to them, but to
just give an opinion for the sake of “Well, I would have done this instead” just
to me, doesn’t really hold as much clout as it used to. I think how we listen to
something is extremely important…and accepting something for what it is
instead of what someone may want it to be, is of the utmost importance in my
opinion.

So do your thing and enjoy it. Don’t be afraid to experiment
and don’t be afraid to show the artist in you. At the end of the day, most
people (unless your a signed artist releasing to the world) will listen to your
tunes 5 times more or less and they may never revisit the tune again. You on the
other hand as the creator, will have to live with it forever…so you make sure
you please yourself first and foremost. 🙂

In my recordings as well as those that record pro material, when you capture the
sound the way it should be captured, you really don’t have to mess with eq like
you may be doing over there. A good capture is literally 80% of the battle in
this field, it truly is. When you have great captures on all instruments, and
you know what to listen for as you are capturing, you find there is less you
need to do when you mix-down because it’s been pre-done already in the tracking
part.

Now that said, the other part of Bat’s post mentions something
really important which will lead me to your 300 hours comment. He mentions “can
you HEAR what you are tracking accurately, while you’re tracking?” This is super
important Philip…and is equally important when you mix. I’m wondering if you
may need to have your room or monitors tuned…or maybe invest in that ARC
plugin I’ve been bragging about for a few years now? A mix should take you 6-8
hours to get solid tops depending on how many instruments. From there you take a
break and listen the next day for possible changes. Now these changes, should
not be anything major. You may need to adjust a few levels, maybe something was
a bit bright etc…but for the most part, you should nail this in one shot and
if you aren’t, that tells me 2 possible issues.

1. Your room and
monitors probably need tuning because they are giving you a false representation
of what you should be hearing. If you are one that makes a CD and takes it out
to your car with a note pad, you are in need of room tuning and monitor
tuning/calibration. Nothing should ever go out to the car to be tweaked because
when you come back in and listen in your studio, the question remains “if you
heard it in the car, why didn’t you hear it here?” And “why would I trust a $500
car stereo and not the awesome recording monitors I have in my studio?” So if
that’s you, we need to fix your room and your monitors. Trust me man, I dealt
with this for over 15 years before I did something about it and the day I did,
the black clouds over my head disappeared for life.

2. Maybe you are
still a bit inexperienced as to what calls to make and how to fix them. I
sincerely do not believe this because I’ve heard your mixes and think if there
is an issue in your realm, it’s with lack of monitor/room tuning and not your
skill level at all.

Now, you guys both mention stylistic preferences
in both of your posts. Believe it or not, this IS important and here’s why.
Listening to Bat’s awesome music, I heard what appears to be hard rock with a
classic rock element with some progressive roots and some sonic electric guitar.
Great stuff Bats, you’re an awesome musician, engineer and writer! That said,
from the stuff I heard from you verses Philips stuff, you have way more room in
your material than he does. Philip has so many instruments going on in his mixes
verses yours, there really isn’t much we can compare between them. He’ll always
have a more challenging time than you will with the current stuff I hear from
you. Please understand, that is not a bash on you at all. I’m simply saying that
Philip has way more to deal with as far as instruments and different parts that
would be troublsome in a mix environment.

The style to me DOES matter.
Philip has keys and hip hop grooves, horns, female voices and male voices, fake
drums, real drums, real guitars, synth guitars….that’s a huge production that
will take some time to eq to make everything stay out of each others way even if
it’s tracked perfectly. Each one of his instruments need a pan field and the
more instruments you have in a mix, the more problematic it *can* become at
times. It would almost be like you and me trying to include our rock stuff in
with Randy B’s incredible classical work with all those orchestra pieces he
uses. The more we have, the more cluttlered we can be so this is where styles
really do matter.

For rock stuff, we got a drum kit, a bass, maybe 2
rhythm guitars in stereo, a lead guitar, a few cleans, lead vocals some back ups
and maybe a Hammond or strings or even piano. That type of mix is really quite
easy to put together. Now take a look at Philip’s material. LOL! See my point?
He’s got so much more going on from all directions, that there makes it
challenging. Again, I’m not trying to discredit you (or heck, even myself
because I too am a rocker) but I would have to peacefully disagree that styles
can make a difference. They truly can based on the instruments used as well as
how many of them are used.

Interaction between tracks vs, single track
issues: This is a catch 22, but it all stems back to what Bats had mentioned
about tracking accurately so you don’t have to spend loads of time eqing. That
said, the toughest part of mixing is to make all the instrument tracks
compliment each other. If you are soloing instruments up and eqing them, that
tells me 2 possible things.

1. You didn’t track properly and you’re
trying to fix problem areas.

OR

2. You are so into eqing
individual instruments for good sound that you are missing the boat. Each time
we eq something by itself, we are eqing it as an entity. This is not always a
safe move. As soon as you make something sound good on its own, you will
probably fail miserably when you put this instrument in the mix. Each instrument
adds something to the field that the other does not. When we eq something all
alone, we allow too much space within that instrument to be present via eq. We
need to always eq within a mix because each instrument helps to make up the
over-all sound. For example, most newer engineers feel bass guitar needs to be
low endy. This is not the case realistically speaking. If you listen to a pro
album without using an eq in a music player (all onboard eq’s for players like
winamp, win media etc here in DanziLand are permanently disabled for
life…don’t use them) and find a spot where the bass is alone, you will notice
it doesn’t have anywhere near the low end people think it should have. The bass
you think you hear comes from all the other instruments adding to it when the
full mix plays.

When you hear a guitar in a mix, you guitar
players…it doesn’t have the low end in it that you think it does when you try
to cop the sound. Listen to it closely in a spot where the killer guitar tone is
all alone. The bass you think you hear is the bass from the bass guitar as well
as over-all bass overtones from the sum of bass, guitar, and heck, even kick
drum at times. So each sound literally reinforces the others. If we solo things
up and eq them, we end up with mud and a bunch of other crap that will make your
mixing endeavor a time consuming nightmare. So to sum this up really, here are
my thoughts.

If you are taking a week, a month or several weeks or
months to mix:

1. Get a good set of monitors, tune them, tune your
room and honest when I tell you, that ARC plugin works…and this will change
your world.

2. Once you do number 1 above, you will now be able to
hear the right things. Things that you couldn’t hear before because your
room/monitors were bringing out too much, or masking the stuff that shouldn’t
have been masked. This will totally change your world now that what you hear
TRULY is what you hear.

3. Now that you can hear things properly, the
next stage of the game is knowing how to deal with what you hear. Sometimes you
need to make drastic changes, other times subtle to no changes at all. This is
because now that you can hear, you are also tracking things more accurately.

4. Tracking accurately is important. You should be able to track
something that is so good, you will barely need to eq it when you go to mix it.
Anything that you think may be a problem to where you think for a second “ah,
I’ll fix it in the mix” should be something that should be re-tracked
immediately…or at least archived and THEN retracked. The decisions you make
while tracking will be decisions that make your mixing experience 100% better,
faster, more accurate and with less issues to worry about.

When all of
the above is taken care of, a mix should take you 90% less time to do than it is
taking you now. If all the right stuff is there, you really shouldn’t have much
to do. My mixes these days (depending on the size and how much is involved) take
me 4-8 hours realistically speaking. The ones that take 8 hours are
*usually* not projects that were recorded by me. I do lots of client remixes
over here and some of them, well…lets just say the instruments should have
never been tracked to begin with. But, you learn from stuff like that too. But
4-8 hours should get you a great mix that needs minimal (if any) tweaking the
next day when you play it back. That’s when you know you have a well oiled
machine and everything is where it should be in your realm. Hope some of this
helps. 🙂

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