What is EQ?
Okay so let's dive into what is EQ. So I have a question for you guys. Do you know exactly what EQ is? (laughs) Do you have a good understanding of it?
Another element to bring out the sound of what you record. Cut frequencies if it's too bass-y, too high. Just another element to control the sound.
Yes. (laughs) They're plugins, right? I mean yeah it's a different shaping thing from anything from getting rid of undesirable frequencies to adding in undesirable frequencies. Or taking out or just you know, shaping, cleaning up creatively and more normal I guess. That's kind of my thought anyways.
Okay. What is your understanding of EQ?
I mean it's a pretty wide thing, but it's usually some type of control over the frequency band that usually in the human hearing, from 20 to 20k. And usually using various devices, whether they're apologue or plugins that can manipulate those frequencies, and sometimes it introduces some phase, using some phase to shift and move those freque...
ncies, although there are some EQs that don't introduce that phase but then they introduce other problems.
That's exactly right. Now I like to explain it as this. EQ is basically notes and frequencies. So when you play an A note on your guitar, what's happening is there is a 440 hertz signal happening there. That's an actual note. Now a lot of people will look at like frequency spectrum analyzers and they see a bunch of lines moving around. But they do really understand what that is? And so what it is the fundamental of the note and then all the harmonics and octaves of that note ringing out throughout the frequency spectrum. And actually I want to show you, see if I can come up with some kind of an example here, to show you a little bit more about EQ. I'm using Cubase today, and I know there's gonna be a bunch of people probably on Pro Tools, because that seems to be the most popular thing. But a lot of this stuff can apply to any kind of recording program. So let's see here, I'm just gonna load up some kind of synth. Something really basic. And I'm gonna put an A note in here. (A note) And then we're gonna look at the frequency spectrum. (A note) Okay so when we look at this, we see a bunch of little spikes that point up. I'm not sure if you guys can see this. Can you guys see that? Okay so if we actually zoom in on this right here, that tells us it's around 440 hertz. I don't know if you can see that. You can actually see that there's something down here too. So the way this works, the way sound works, is you have notes and frequencies. You have octaves and you have harmonics. So what you're seeing here is the A note starts at 440, actually this one starts at 220. What I'm trying to explain is that it multiplies and divides. So if you have a note at 440, then the octave of that is at 880. And then on up times two every time. So you can actually see that happening here in the frequency spectrum. You can see all those little spikes, those are each octave of the A note. So if I move it. (A note) Now watch the spikes. (A note) So you can see the spikes change position. I don't know if you can see that. But if I play an A, they'll stay in the same place. (A note) See how they're in the same place? So why does any of this matter? Well this is exactly what I'm talking about when I say people use a bunch of tools, but they have no idea what they're doing and they don't understand how they relate to music. So if you had a guitar tone for example, and the guitar was tuned in drop A, every time the guitar plays an A chord, those are the frequencies that are going to come out of the guitar. Like the strings are vibrating and creating sine waves, and that's being picked up by the pickup which is an electric magnet and then transformed into those little spikes that you see, and those have harmonics and octaves. Let's say you had two notes at the same time. Let's do A and D. So if I have those two notes at the same time, and I load an EQ plugin on here, I can make the A quieter by using the frequencies of A and turning them down with EQ. So. (notes playing) So if I take 440, 880. Actually I know an easier way to do this. If you have this plugin Q10, it automatically starts in octave. I don't know what note it is, but it starts on 500 hertz. You can select all the frequencies and turn it down to like 440 and that's your A. If I do this, I'm gonna start taking the A out of the signal. So that leaves my D behind. So that's basically what EQ is. It's the notes that you're playing, and all of the harmonics and all of the octaves, and then you're basically just modifying the amount of information as possible to be heard. You're changing the output of the sound by decreasing or increasing the frequencies. How do we use EQ? Well there's different types. You have band EQ, shelf EQ, and high and low pass. I'm sure a lot of people have a basic understanding of this, but I think there are people out there that don't. So I'm gonna show you what each one is. So let's start with a high pass. We're gonna keep the same sound. So if I go to high pass here, turn this on. (note playing) So what that's doing is it's filtering out the amount of low end that's allowed to come through in the signal. And you can move the place where it starts to filter out. So you know if you have it all the way at the bottom, it's not filtering out anything. And you have it all the way at the top, it's basically filtering out everything. That's a low pass. Then your high pass is basically the opposite of that. Sorry low pass. Low pass is the opposite of high pass. So that's letting all the bass frequencies through, but filtering out the high frequencies. So how are these useful? Well if you are mixing a song with a bunch of elements, there are gonna be certain parts of, there's gonna be certain instruments and things that you don't want to have those frequencies. So you know part of getting like a clear low end for example is to basically high pass every single instrument in your mix, so that the only thing that even is allowed to be in that frequency area is your kick drum and your bass. And that will give you the clearest low end. Now there's gonna be parts of your mix where you're like, well, I want the guitars to be a little bit heavier here. Well if that's the case, you can just automate your filters. There's no reason not to. I think people, they don't think about the fact that you can automate pretty much any control on a computer, so what you could be doing throughout your song is taking this high pass and moving it up and down based on how you want certain sections to sound. So if you want the breakdown to sound a little bit heavier, maybe your high pass gets decreased down for that section, and then when you're in the chorus, maybe your high pass goes up. Let's talk about shelf EQ. So shelf EQ is kind of a shortcut for adding either high boosts or subtractions or low boosts and subtractions. So there's only two ways of doing a shelf, it's high and low. Find the low one. So here's low shelf. And this is adding several bass frequencies over a period of frequency space. And then same thing with the high, you can add or subtract several different frequencies over a frequency range. Now this is really useful for complicated instruments. For example assemble. Assemble has tons and tons of harmonics and tones and overtones. So a high and a low shelf allows you to kind of balance how many of those overtones are audible in relativity to the rest of the sound. Same thing with guitars for example. When you start to saturate the guitar tone and you create all of these high end frequencies that start to multiply up, you can you know decrease the amount of those in relativity to the rest of your tone. Vocals, you can make the vocals shine more by increasing the high shelf. And it's a good way of interacting with the sound, because you're not making pointy adjustments. So if you're using the next one, which is called band EQ, these are very narrow pointy adjustments. Now you can decrease the narrow by using your Q width. So the Q width controls the narrowness of the adjustment, and you can have these nice wide adjustments. But the problem with band EQ is you create resonance at the top, at the peak of your adjustments. So there's actually a plugin called Air EQ which is really cool, because it was the first time somebody went in and gave you the ability to modify the resonance at the peak of your EQ adjustment. Unfortunately I don't have the plugin so I can't show you what I'm talking about, but it's essentially like having, like let's say I have this adjustment here where I'm adding a bunch of mid range, and you can see at the peak of this, there's a shape there. But I don't have really control of that shape. I can adjust the width, but that changes the whole shape of the adjustment. So this Air EQ plugin that I'm talking about allows you to go in and do this for example and change the interactivity of the peak adjustment with basically with ease. You don't have to use a bunch of different EQ points where I'm having to do that here because this plugin is a different design. But see allows you to control like the resonances at the top of the peak. Now there's different ways to make EQ adjustments work for you. What I mean by that is you can-- Basically there's a lot of people, you'll get online and there's a lot of people, should you do additive EQ or should you do subtractive EQ? What is the answer to that question? Well the answer is actually both. Just depends on what your goals are. I tend to use subtractive EQ to mold the sound more into the direction of where I wish it had been in the first place. So I have this guitar track, but it's like real nasal-y. You can take out that nasal frequency and end up with a guitar sound that's more pleasant to hear. And then you can use additive EQ to make it bass-ier, make it have more treble, you know, things that are more tasteful. So I'm talking about the difference between carving and tasteful adjustments. So carving I think is more just I think a surgical thing. It's about going into the sound and saying this sound has way too much nasal frequencies. I'm gonna remove those, I'm gonna carve those out. But this guitar sounds kind of lifeless and dull, so I'm gonna take a high shelf and I'm gonna increase the treble and that's a tasteful creative adjustment to the sound. And I think just having a firm grasp of what these terms are will help you think about mixing even better, and also translate your thoughts about mixing to other people. I like to use the carving technique and the filtering technique like I was talking about with the high and the low pass. Those two methods of working with EQ, I tend to associate that with clarity. So if I'm trying to clear up my mix, I'm trying to clear up my sounds, I'm gonna use high and low passes, I'm gonna use very narrow Q width adjustments. Carving, EQ carving, those kinds of things. I'm gonna do those things first to create clarity with the mix that I've been given. Or the song that I've been given. And then after that I'm gonna go into the tasteful and the boosting adjustments which is going to create focus and definition. So you can focus your sound, you can make your guitar have more mid range, you can focus that energy in the song. You can make the drums tastefully more present by adding high shelf treble, those kind of things. And I think if you can split EQ into two steps and think about it where the first step is to create clarity and then the second step is to create definition, define the sound, define the EQ shape of the sound, then you'll have a much easier time EQing. Because I think a lot of people just open the EQ plugin and just start doing all kinds of stuff down and up, and if you really put it into a step by step, you know first step, let's clear up this sound, let's get rid of the noises we don't like. Let's remove the ringing frequencies, let's filter out the bass that we don't want. Do all those things, and then step into it's too dull I want to add treble, it needs more mid range, it's scoop sounding, so let's add in some low mids. Those kind of adjustments will happen after the clarity part. So that's it for EQ basically. Do we have any questions?
Yeah, we've got a lot of questions.
Okay sweet, I love questions.
Great. The first one is when you say linear for EQ, do you mean set it and forget it on a track, or are you automating your EQ on each track as the song moves to create space for the instruments at different points?
So the tool by itself without any automation is a linear tool. So you can see that I have this EQ set a certain way right now. If I put any sound through it, no matter what it is, no matter what volume the sound is at, no matter how crazy the sound moves up and down, doesn't matter, the EQ stays the same no matter what. And it's kind of like a mask. It's like putting a collar on something. Like if you take a car and you make it red and you drive it through a bunch of different lights, it looks like the car is changing color, but it's not. The car is still red. That's how you're thinking of EQ. It's a filter that you're placing over the sound. Now if you start to automate it, then yeah, you start to create movement. But it still becomes a linear tool. You're just creating different linear frames of adjustment. So let's say you automate a filter to start coming in. You're just creating little tiny moments of linearity as it moves through. It's not a non-linear tool. So now if you compare it to something like a chorus, chorus is completely non-linear, because it just continues and continues to LFO the pitch or the phase or whatever it is. You might be using like a flange or something, starts to change like the phase and the shift of the sound. That's a non-linear thing. Even just having it open and just sitting there with no automation, it continues to modify the sounds that come through it. So I'm just trying to demonstrate the fact that there are two different types of tools. You have linear tools like EQ and distortion, and then you have non-linear tools like chorus and compression.
Great. We have another question here, this one was pretty popular. It says, "Hi Joey. "Do you have any general rules for "using high pass filters on bass guitar, "kick, guitars and snare?"
There are kind of rules, but you have to understand that it's within a certain realm of expectations. So there are certain types of music that are really aggressive that sort of have this expectation of like, okay well the cymbals aren't going to have a lot of low end. But then you might listen to a Jet song, and the ride cymbal just has bass on it, you know? So it's completely different expectations. Now in my realm I work on a lot of metal core. There are these expectations that, you know, the bass is gonna have more low end than the guitar. You know the kick drum is gonna be probably the most bass-y thing in the song. And so there are gonna be filters that you'll want to interact with to create that type of expectation. So I think you know filtering out the low frequencies on the guitar to create space for your bass. Because often in metal core the bass plays the same thing as the guitar. So in order to create a frequency space for both instruments you have to sort of carve it out. You know carve out a space on the guitar so the bass can come through, and then same thing with the bass. You're gonna remove some of the mid range so that the guitars can speak in the mid range area. We can cover some of those things too, once I get into a song. I'll open a song and I'll kind of show like, okay, here's how you can make this song more clear by utilizing some basic rules. And I think the overall basic rule of kind of almost any mix, not every mix, but almost any mix, would be to use a high pass filter on almost every instrument except for the ones that you want to have bass. So that's just step number one in terms of when you open a song and you're like okay, let's start EQing stuff. You're gonna start creating clarity by using a high pass filter on all the instruments that you don't want to have bass. You want to make that decision. What instruments are gonna create the bass sound in this mix? So for me that's gonna be bass guitar and kick drum. Pretty much the only two things that I want down there. And I'm talking anything between 20 hertz and like 125. There's not gonna be anything else other than kick drum and bass down there. Now you might have a song that has a bass guitar and a bass synth. So you know keep in mind what are your goals and what are you trying to accomplish? You might also have a production where you want the guitars to kind of have some low end in that area too. I know there's a lot of people experimenting with drop E tuning, which is like an octave below a normal guitar. You can't take a guitar track like that and not have low frequencies, 'cause it just has low notes. So in that respect then you do have the challenge of well how do I make a bass guitar and a guitar operate in the same frequency? And really to be honest with you is you can't. It's just a compromise. You have to decide what's gonna get focused there. Because at the end of the day, there is only one frequency space for each frequency as you go along, and there can only be one instrument kind of making sound there. So if you have the bass guitar and the guitar making the same tones in the same frequency space, your ears are not gonna be able to tell the difference, because it's all just tones and frequencies. Hopefully I tried to answer that. (laughs)
No that was great.
And if you do classical music, I'm sure you're gonna fill your low end with maybe piano or some strings or something.
Exactly, or like cello. And keeping things within their respective ranges I think is an important thing to understand. I worked on a song once where the band had this guitar part and a piano part, and they were in the same octave. And they kept saying, I can't hear the piano, turn the piano up. Well that's not the problem, it's not a volume problem. The problem is the piano has the exact same notes as the guitar and in reality a piano and a guitar are sort of the same instrument. With a piano it's a hammer that strikes a string, and then the string is really like a guitar string, and it vibrates. And a guitar is doing the same thing, it's just the tone is being picked up through electromagnetic pickup and not a microphone. But inside of a mix you pretty much end up with the same thing. You're gonna have, like I showed you those notes. (note playing) Spikes are gonna end up in the same place, 'cause the guitar and the piano are playing the same thing. And so it's really hard for the ear to discern the difference. You would need to basically drastically modify the overtones and the harmonics in order to, excuse me, make the piano and the guitar stand out. And I can show you some methods of doing that, because it's actually what's coming up next, is the saturation. Saturation will allow you to take a piano and a guitar and have them be playing the same note but have them be in two different spaces to where your ear can hear the difference. Is there any questions before we move on though?
There's a couple more, want to take them?
All right so Jables wants to know, do you use parallel EQ at all?
Parallel EQ is awesome because you can make very drastic movements, and then you can control how much of that is blended with the original sound. I don't have any specific parallel EQ tools that I'm using, but I can show you-- Actually I want to show you how to do parallel EQ if you don't have a parallel EQ program or plugin. So let me just see if I can import some kind of sound real quick. And while I'm doing that, does anyone in here use parallel EQ? Or have you ever even heard of it?
I've never really dabbled into it.
I might have.
But you're not sure? (laughs)
I have my set EQs, but I haven't really thought about it.
Yeah I get into a little bit of-- This might be kind of on the fence of quasi parallel EQ. Sometimes I use a DSer and I'll use the key listen to find a specific frequency that I want to like either kind of blend in and enhance. And say that you want to do it in a way that maybe by using an EQ would either it's too piercing, or too abrasive. So by using the DSer you can focus that, and then it kind of locks that frequency in.
So like a way of balancing your EQ adjustment rather than just being stuck with the result?
Right. And so what you're doing is you're not actually using the DSer as a DSer. You're actually just using the key listen, but you're actually using that almost like a band pass to find that specific frequency. Maybe like to you know pretty up and brighten up some lights or overheads or something.
That's smart, that's smart, and it's a good point. That might be a little similar to what I'm gonna do here. So I just pulled up like a clean guitar here. Well, it's not very clean. It was labeled clean. (guitar notes) So let's say you're gonna make some kind of adjustment to this. For example you just want to add like some mid range EQ. (guitar notes) That's a nice little spooky sound we have here today. (laughs) (guitar notes) Okay so parallel EQ would be like taking this sound and duplicating it, and then one of them has the EQ adjustment, and then the other one doesn't. And then controlling the faders would decide how much of the EQ is being presented into the signal. So this is my EQ one right here, and this is my one without EQ. So if I turn with the EQ and turn it all down and just hit play, I'm gonna raise the fader up gradually. (guitar notes) So by changing the balance of those faders, I'm changing the amount of EQ adjustment is being applied. It'd be kind of similar to having all of these controls selected, and doing something like this. But unfortunately the tool that I'm using doesn't allow me to apply like a scale. So you're not adjusting the scale of the EQ adjustment, so you can't really control it 100% like a parallel EQ. So if you ever want to try parallel EQ, just take your signal and duplicate it, and then put EQ on one of them and then leave the EQ off on the other one, and then just make your adjustment. You have a question?
So would it be like just a mix knob, a blend?
Yeah, exactly. So what a mix knob is doing essentially in a plugin is it's taking the volume of two different signals, the original and then the processed, and it's changing the volume of both as you turn the knob. So as you turn it down it's making the faders go like this, and as you turn it up, it's making the faders go like that. You can accomplish the same thing in the computer by using two different tracks, it's just that when you move one fader, the other one doesn't move. So you have to manually move them together. It's a cheap way of doing it.
And if someone was more comfortable using like a return track and doing that like a traditional send and return environment, would that get you the same results?
That's something that I actually never became very comfortable with, and so I always learned how to do things, what's the word for it? Like I do things with just insert chains. Like for example if I want reverb on my vocal, I literally just put a reverb plugin like on the vocal track. I just never really got comfortable with sends. Now that I completely understand sends, it still hasn't become a part of my work flow. But you could certainly use a send, let's see how you would do it here. So you create a send track, and on Cubase that is called an FX channel track. And then you would have an EQ. And then I would take this guitar part and I would go into sends, and I would send it to that EQ. (guitar notes) And so now I've got my signal coming out of the track, the original track. And coming out of the send. (guitar notes) You'll notice that when I turn the send down, the sound gets quieter. That's because the sound is going through two channels at the same time. So you have the double amount of the volume. But you can do that same trick where we have you know adding the treble, for example. And then using the fader to bring it in. (guitar notes) And then you can turn on, if you change the pre-fader on the send, then it will no matter what volume this becomes, it'll continue to go through the send at unity. (guitar notes) So those can give you like variable amounts of control in the amount of EQ that you're applying to the signal. And that's just a creative way of EQing something. I think this is all stuff that you would do in your tasteful phase, not the filtering phase where you're creating clarity. But where you're creating the definition and the focus of the sound? That's where you would start to use these kind of techniques.
When you're doing like your clear up phase I guess you would say, on your low or high pass, would you typically use maybe like one EQ plugin for those two parts and then use something different to do like your shaping, like if you want more lows or whatever?
Yeah so the most important thing to understand is you know use the tools that are good at the job. So if I was EQing guitars, I would be using probably like linear EQ. Because it's linear phase, and what that means is the phase doesn't shift. So whatever adjustments that you make in this plugin keeps the phase intact of the original signal. So what's really cool about that is if you have a really complex sound where the sound is being duplicated several times and you have malts and all these crazy routings, you're gonna keep your base you know right in center, all of your adjustments are gonna stay you know static and linear, which is good because when you start to create phase shift, you can modify the sound in ways that you did not intent. So if you have a kick drum let's say and it's going through some plugins, and then by the time it comes out the end, it's been shifted a certain amount of time. Now that's a phase shift, and then if you have other elements being combined with that, like let's say you have a kick drum and a base guitar and they're like in the same frequency zone, they can start to cancel each other out, and actually remove bass from the sound. So with a linear phase EQ, you basically avoid that problem by having the ability to make adjustments that don't shift the phase. However you do become limited in the kind of adjustments that you can do. So if I was to pull this down like this, as I move it across the frequencies you can actually see the shaping begins to change because in order to keep it phase coherent, it doesn't allow you to do certain adjustments, because if you were making those adjustments, you would be changing the phase. So it kind of locks you into a certain creative space where there's certain things you can't accomplish with the linear phase EQ. But that's okay because it's not a tool that's designed to allow you to do that. You're not supposed to use a linear phase EQ to like remove ringing frequencies, for example. So I know that might be a little bit technical, but I just want everyone to understand like walking away from this you should understand basically what EQ is, it's notes and frequencies. Octaves and overtones. And so I don't know if I really described overtones, but that's basically like the effect of having like other notes that aren't being played. So you might play like an A note, but the sound that is coming out actually has Es and Gs and stuff, but they're just floating there to add sound to the source. The definition of the source of the sound is created by those overtones. A good example of that is a cymbal. When you hit a cymbal it's not really playing like a chord or a note, it just has a bunch of notes and stuff that are just spread out all over the spectrum. Now if you had a cymbal that did play an A note, it wouldn't sound like a cymbal. It would change the definition of the sound. So it's just important to understand that you can make certain things more clear and more understandable by adjusting those overtones with EQ. So yeah, that's my rant on EQ.
Great. We did have one more question on EQ. This one, can't tell who it's from, says, "Joey I heard that additive EQ "increases the noise and overtones "and you should really use the subtractive EQ more. "Is that true?"
That is true, but here's the thing. When you are working within this environment, when you're mixing music, you do have the ability to have different schools of thought and I think there are some people who probably approach mixing from a scientific or mathematical point of view. And I do a little bit of that, like I was explaining the octaves, for example. There are some mathematics into that thinking 400, 800, 1600, 3,200. Thinking about those and knowing those are areas within the EQ range that you're gonna want to look at. However I sort of stop when you get into these rules where people say, well yeah but if you do like an 18 DB EQ adjustment, then you're completely changing the sound and ruining the phase and all this. To me that doesn't matter too much. What matters to me is what does it sound like? If I make that adjustment to the sound and it sounds better to me, then that's what I'm gonna do. And I think you know if adding EQ was a bad thing, then why do they put in the plugin? Why are you allowed to do it, you know? (laughs) So yeah there is some scientific logic behind all this stuff, but at the end of the day you know just do what sounds good. And there are no rules, so this is all subjective stuff.