Equalization is a necessity for just about any audio application – from consumer to professional and everything in between. While not as common in a physical format anymore, many home stereos and theater systems have some level of user equalization built into them. Television sets, car stereos, smartphones… Each one gives users the capability of EQing their device in a way that’s designed to give them the best possible sound for their particular use case.
For those of us in the professional music space though, we know EQ goes so much further than that. Not only can a preset help get a sound shaped a certain way, but we can individually control the center of each frequency band in the EQ, how much we want to boost or cut, and how much of the surrounding frequency range should be affected by that control.
And while there are tons of different use cases out there from cleaning up low end to adding air to a performance, today we’re going to look right in the center of it all – the mid-range frequencies and the magic that can be unlocked when focusing your EQ efforts there.
Feels Pretty Busy in Here…
The first thing many engineers will notice when they go to EQ their mid-range is that it’s a very crowded space. Nearly every instrument has some level of mid-range content and many will have most of their frequencies in this space.
Even instruments that we’d traditionally classify as bass instruments (bass and kick drum) have characteristics in the mid-range that cannot be ignored. Things like the attack of the bass string being plucked or the beater hitting the head of the kick drum. While these are generally narrow bands within the scope of the mid-range, they deserve your attention and will compete with other instruments in the space.
The point I’m getting at is that things start feeling pretty busy in the mid-range, especially in sessions with high track counts. The more layers you add in, the more harmonies, the more stingers… They all need to compete, and your EQ is the best tool for helping them live side by side. Focus on giving each instrument their own space in the frequency spectrum – boosting the parts that sound best and cutting the frequencies they don’t need to make room for something else.
Give Your Leads the Spotlight
As much as we’d love to give each instrument equal attention in our mix, the reality is we’re going to have a small set of tracks that are featured at any given time. Most often, this is going to be your vocal track and maybe a synth or guitar lead. Give these instruments priority while you work – boosting whatever frequencies they might need more of and cutting any frequencies that sound harsh.
Once you’ve got your leads situated, start mixing the mid-range of your other instruments around them. Make cuts where you might hear masking of your lead instrument to create separation. A little can go a long way with EQ and it’s always compounding, meaning cutting a couple dB from two or three rhythm guitar tracks can be all that’s needed to free that range up for the guitar solo.
Notch EQ in the Mid-Range
One of the most powerful techniques we have when working in the mid-range is the concept of notch EQ. The technique gets its name from the “notch” that gets carved into the EQ curve when it’s applied and it’s an extremely easy process to learn and put into your workflow immediately.
With notch EQ, you’ll first want to boost a narrow EQ band and sweep for problematic frequencies – anything that sounds harsh, bad, or just out of place. Usually these are things like unwanted resonance, things you’d describe as boxy, honky, or sharp. As you sweep through the mid-range, your ears should latch onto these problem frequencies as the boost makes them louder and easier to hear.
Once you find a problem frequency, pull the gain of that band way down, “notching” it out of the track altogether. Some engineers get aggressive with this technique, while others find it best to only notch a frequency 5-10 dB. Use whatever sounds best to your ears.
Depending on the track, you may find that you don’t hear any problem frequencies that require notch EQ – that’s completely fine.
On other tracks, you may find you need to carve several notches into them to clean up the mid-range. This is completely normal too. Every session and performance can be a bit different and factors like microphone selection and placement can have a major impact on how an instrument sounds during recording.
Guitar EQ Masterclass
Speaking from experience, guitars are one of the most common culprits for muddying up the mid-range in sessions. Between the overdriven tones and layered rhythms, most rock and metal engineers will spend a decent amount of their time setting up a new mix session by cleaning them up one-by-one.
If you’ve experienced this firsthand, you know how much of a timesaver well-tracked, properly edited guitars can be. See how hundreds of guitarists, producers, and engineers are getting guitar tone right at the source for a streamlined mix and saving hours of editing in the process by checking out Toneforge Bootcamp (and the Tonestep System) today!