More Treble Than It’s Worth?

Do you know how to move just the hi-hats from an ACID drum loop slightly to the right?

Did you know that the bass drum is supposed to be higher than the bass for D&B recordings? Do you know how to make that happen?

Turntablists know a thing or two about EQ since most DJ mixers have nothing else to manipulate the sound. They blend records by chopping off the bass to one record while spinning two records together and avoid booming noisy train wrecks in the bottom frequencies.

But EQ is, by far, the most underrated “effect” used by remixers and home recordists. Of all the knob-twiddling with delay, chorus, Enigma and all the other sound bending derivative VSTs, nothing will pay off more for the overall sound of your recording than putting in time with a good, many-banded parametric EQ.

Let me be even more explicit: If you trying to make music of an established genre, the first thing you should reach for is EQ and go through it sound by sound. Is the bass drum boomy? Or solid? Is there a clicking sound in the bass part? Or is it more thumpy?

Here are two schools of thought for using EQ for a mix:

To each instrument its own range

In this method you do your best to make sure that each instrument gets a frequency that is by and large unfettered by other sounds in the mix. You can do this in very dramatic forms, for example, completely lopping off the highs for the bass drum:

Rolling off the ends for the piano or synthesizer pads:

etc., etc.

Notice I’m not suggesting boosting the EQ for any instrument in any range. Boosting the EQ, even 1k, can have radically altering affect on the sound of the instrument. The subtractive method I’m talking about simply eliminates any residual sounds a particular instrument might give off in secondary and tertiary ranges thereby “muddy-ing” up the overall mix.

You can do this before any other effect for maximum (again, very dramatic) effect. Most host software (ACID, Audition, FL Studio, Live, etc.) have the notion of a “bus.” Then you pipe these frequency-isolated tracks onto the same bus and add a subtle amount of reverb. The reverb effect will re-blend the instruments at cross-over points but you end up with the feeling like these instruments were all playing in the same room. You know, kind of like a band playing. Remember that?

If you are working with a drum loop or another pre-recorded wav that has more than one instrument then consider duplicating the tracks (etc. ACID has a “Duplicate” command, FL Studio has a “Clone”) and then isolating ranges like prescribed above.

Audition (formerly Cool Edit Pro) has a very handy effect called “Frequency Band Splitter” that do what it’s called: split one track into multiple ones based on frequencies ranges.

Instruments fight for range

In this model you consciously put multiple instruments directly into the same ranges in order to let them “compete” for the range. This allows instruments to blend in ways unique to your recording but it requires a lot of patience and care when doing the final mix. (I recommend putting a real-time compressor onto the final mix bus so you can hear what the final mix will sound like as you are mixing.)

For the final mix try not using volume controls (!) instead you drop the EQ in the key frequency range of instruments you want to de-emphasis.

Here we drop the heart of the guitar’s range by 2k:

For a more professional sound you can change up as the song progresses. For example, de-emphasize the guitar in the first verse, then de-emphasis the piano in the second. Ever so slight changes like this will add a very important but subtle variety to your mixes.