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Topic: Instrument Frequency Response, Measurement, EQ and Space In The Mix.

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  1. #1

    Instrument Frequency Response, Measurement, EQ and Space In The Mix.

    Using EQ in a mix for each individual instrument to make room for that instrument's frequency range within the frequency spectrum. A technique used to help achieve clarity and transparency in the mix.

    I can understand that audio egineers with, say 20 years or more experience, will instinctively know where to roll up bottom end or limit top end for an instrument. Although, I'm certain that whatever their experience, they will still often need to go to their source of reference to check on something.

    For those of us newer to this technique, like myself, I need to use the references and tools on, virtually, an instrument by instrument basis and the best tools (plugins), preferably already provided in sonar Producer, and references (frequency charts etc.). I need help and guidance through this. I am proactively planning a live, one-to-one studio tution specifically on the mixing process (EQ, Compression etc.) and hope for this as early as next week.

    However, and to be going on with, I have here charts of the frequency ranges of most instruments and, within Sonar, I have the Sonitus 6 Band Graphic Equalizer. What I am unsure of, at present, is how to find the bottom and top frequencies of a track and how far to go when trimming.

    Taking a solo clarinet track as an example. Logically, to me, the procedure would be as follow:

    1. Open a frequency analyser that is capable or recording the highs and lows.
    2. Play that track through so I then have a record of the frequency lows and highs for that clarinet recording.
    3. Check against my charts that the clarinet needs those frequencies as part of its 'personal' space.
    4. Any frequencies outside can be rolled up or trimmed in the equalizer.
    5. If all those frequencies are part of the space of the instrument then leave well alone and go onto the next.

    I understand that a good musical ear and careful listening is part of the process and as a long standing musician I am comfortable with this. However, the role of audio engineer is comparitively new and, to date, entirely self acquired.

    So, back to EQ and frequency response manipulation. Is my list above on the right lines and which is the best frequency analyser to use that does show and record the range clearly.

    I would be really grateful for any advice or comments.

    Many thanks.
    Michael
    Patience is a virtue, sensitivity is a gift

  2. #2
    Senior Member tedvanya's Avatar
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    Re: Instrument Frequency Response, Measurement, EQ and Space In The Mix.

    I hope we will get some good advise on your good question, I was thinking about the same for a long time.

    Ted

  3. #3

    Re: Instrument Frequency Response, Measurement, EQ and Space In The Mix.

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael_uk View Post
    Using EQ in a mix for each individual instrument to make room for that instrument's frequency range within the frequency spectrum...
    It sounds like you're wanting to delve deeper into EQing than I have, Michael. But I'll pass on what I was shown and learned with the help of mixing experts on the Sonar Forum. You'll see it's a bit different from what you've described, but you'll recognize this approach is still dealing with the issue of giving instruments their space in a mix.

    This is the detailed approach to EQing used on the "Dorian Gray" tracks which was an adaptation of techniques used for a long time by engineers.

    Since mixing those tracks, I have greatly modified this approach, tending to use EQ only on a few tracks which seem to need some help, rather than automatically using an EQ adjustment on each track.

    The procedure:

    --Using a frequency analyzer in Sound Forge, I found the most dominant frequency for each track. That analyzer was helpful because it froze the read out into a chart so the frequencies were plainly seen.

    --I wrote down what those dominant frequencies were for each track.

    --In Sonar, in the Sonitus EQs for each track, I used a "notch filter" to take the dominant frequency for a given track 3 DB down in all other tracks, and boosting it by 3 DBs in the target track. That was a matter of typing in the exact frequencies I had written down, and then using the "Q" function to narrow the range of the EQ filter so that it was fairly specific in what it was effecting. The default value for the Q is too broad for this - you just lessen the width so you can see visually in the EQ unit that the frequency has been zeroed in on.

    --To be clear - I would start with the dominant frequency I had written down for track one. I would set a band in the EQ plugin to that frequency, narrow its range and boost it by 3 Dbs in that track, and then lower it by 3 Dbs in all the other tracks.

    --I then worked my way through all of the tracks, notching EQs up or down, according to what I'd written down.

    --The final touch was to listen to the entire mix the way it sounded with all those frequencies notched up and down, and make an adjustment to the entire track with the EQ unit on the Master Bus. That was a matter of using gentle adjustments with very wide Qs so nothing was being notched - and adjustments were made purely on a subjective basis according to how I thought the mix was sounding. Generally that would call for a slight decrease of the entire left side of the Master EQ, and a slight bit of boosting on the right, high side. This is one part of the procedure I've continued to do, finding a Master decrease of bass and slight increase of treble to always give a cleaner over-all sound.

    My adaptation to that detailed procedure has been to usually only adjust the EQ of a track if I can hear there's something that needs adjusting, based on the difference I hear when soloing a track as compared to hearing how it interacts with the other tracks in the full mix.

    Another adaptation I've made is to routinely do a general bass roll off on most instruments with dominant low frequencies. With low brass and low strings both in a mix, that can be quite a large group competing for the same frequency range. I choose which I want to emphasize by rolling the bass off some instruments, and leaving it alone for the others. Maybe one bass instrument's track will sound a bit thin when soloed, but that doesn't matter - it's how it sounds in the mix that's important.

    In other words, I greatly simplified the approach I was taught during the "Dorian" project.

    NOTES - Charts of what the frequencies are for the individual instruments weren't used, because those charts are theoretical, showing what the pure frequencies are of a given real world instrument. Dealing with samples as we are, those frequencies are bound to be very different, and the actual frequencies will vary depending on the project.

    What's important is what the actual frequencies are in a recorded track
    - The theoretical frequency range doesn't matter, but what's actually in the track Does matter.

    As for the digital mixing tools - The track EQs by Sonitus in Sonar are fine, I always use them. I have a collection of other EQs that I occasionally use, and the newer ones have a more sophisticated system where all frequencies are adjusted to some degree when you adjust one frequency. But I haven't found any advantage to using these other EQs rather than Sonitus, so I think you're fine to just stick with those.

    There are many frequency analyzers, and I haven't found any to be especially more helpful than the others. Cakewalk has the AN-879 Analyst which works fine. Insert it into the FX Bin of a track and click the Max button so it's activated - it turns blue. When you play the track, you'll see the frequencies dancing, like in all analyzers, but the Max button is displaying a red zig zagging line which is showing you the top peak continuously over the entire frequency range. When you stop the track, the red display stays on the screen so you can look to see what the levels were for each frequency.

    When I did the detailed routine on the "Dorian" tracks, I used the analyzer in Forge because it displayed the specific ranges in a chart, where in the Cakewalk analyst, and a lot of anlayzers, it's more difficult to determine the specific ranges you're looking at - they don't have that read-out with the exact data available.

    Over the years I've seen many varying EQ approaches outlined by different experts. Like every aspect of mixing sound, it really gets down to the process being an art. Attempts to be only analytical and scientific can have some attractive theories involved, but end up being artificial in practice with no real advantage. Every composition and its recording will present unique challenges - ANd when it comes to EQ, I don't think a tremendous amount of theory needs to be learned. Even just a little bit of experimentation shows us that using contrasting EQ settings in the tracks of a mix effect the sound, and that the most general procedure always needed is CUTTING frequencies - thinning up the pile up of frequencies, and using analyzers to pin point the bands being exagerated and possibly causing a mix to not be as clear as it could be.

    Well - there's the capsule version of my own EQ experience. Hopefully some of that will be helpful.

    Randy

  4. #4

    Re: Instrument Frequency Response, Measurement, EQ and Space In The Mix.

    I understand that a good musical ear and careful listening is part of the process and as a long standing musician I am comfortable with this. However, the role of audio engineer is comparitively new and, to date, entirely self acquired.
    Unfortunately, I don't think there is a formula and matching EQ setting that will answer the question. I do know that there are charts on some of the Mixing forums, books and magazines that I have read but the final answer always seems to come down to the ear and what you hear. A sound engineer's greatest quality and asset is his ear. He relies on it to a great extent. In one of my studio class experiences, the engineer said the best tool in his arsenal is his ears.

    The best way I know to deal with carving out a niche for an instrument is to put a section of the piece in a loop and play with the EQ. Remember that "less is more" when comes to EQing. Remove the areas that are not part of the instruments sound e.g. Bb Clarinet you could set anything lower than 180 Hz to infinity (zero) since that area is not in the range of a clarinet. I would then play with the EQ in the higher ranges (push them really high and lower them really low) to find what areas make the biggest differences by either improving the sound or making it worse. Once you find some EQ ranges that give you what you are looking for than use the EQ in moderation. Then just test it in the mix. Your ears will tell you (in the mix) whether you have accomplished your goal or not.

    My humble 2 cents worth...
    [Music is the Rhythm, Harmony and Breath of Life]
    "Music is music, and a note's a note" - Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong

    Rich

  5. #5

    Re: Instrument Frequency Response, Measurement, EQ and Space In The Mix.

    Quote Originally Posted by RichR View Post
    1)...I don't think there is a formula and matching EQ setting that will answer the question...

    2)The best way I know to deal with carving out a niche for an instrument is to put a section of the piece in a loop and play with the EQ. ...

    3)Remove the areas that are not part of the instruments sound e.g. Bb Clarinet you could set anything lower than 180 Hz to infinity (zero) since that area is not in the range of a clarinet...

    4)...test it in the mix. Your ears will tell you (in the mix) whether you have accomplished your goal or not.

    My humble 2 cents worth...
    Excellent, and worth far more than 2 cents, Rich!

    Going through the quote from you I pulled out above:

    1)--That is really the bottom line point. There is no magical formula that will apply to all mixes. There are only guidelines and ideas. Pro engineers Do get very effective routines down, making the job of EQing a mix much simpler and faster task than we're able to do, but it's impossible that any of those guys are doing exactly the same thing for all mixes.

    2)--Carving out a notch - That's the basic theory, and the essence of what I was outlining earlier. Using an analyzer to find the dominant frequencies of a TRACK, not the theoretical frequencies of an instrument according to a chart, - that's the accurate way of finding out what those essential frequencies are. And then the method I described is The Classic routine for then making room for that instrument by lowering a given instrument's frequencies in all of the other tracks. That much is solid theory, and is at least a good starting point.

    3)--The idea of removing frequencies supposedly not an essential part of an instrument's sound is a much iffier proposition, and needs to be explored with much more caution. There are many parts of the sound spectrum which may not be the very basic, essential part of an instrument's sound, but the overtones and overlapping parts of an instrument's sound can be critical to the sound, and actually erasing them can make identification of the instrument difficult, the sound can alter so much. You can decide that none of the high frequencies are important to a string bass sound, but once you drastically reduce all of that, you may find that all you have left is a thumping, tubby sound that no longer sounds like an actual bass, but just a bad, low-fi recording of one.

    4)--As indicated in my earlier post, use all routines with subtlety - Do what you can to make room for an instrument which is getting lost and/or interfering with the frequencies of other instruments, but over and over and over again rely on your ears to listen to what the totality of your mix's sound is like.

    Randy

  6. #6

    Re: Instrument Frequency Response, Measurement, EQ and Space In The Mix.

    Hello Randy,

    Thank you so much for your detailed, helpful and constructive reply.

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser- View Post
    ..... This is the detailed approach to EQing used on the "Dorian Gray" tracks which was an adaptation of techniques used for a long time by engineers.

    Randy
    Absolutely, this is a standard and normal procedure amongst those who know what they're talking about in the audio world.

    Thanks again for your excellent post and all the information you've put into it.
    Michael
    Patience is a virtue, sensitivity is a gift

  7. #7

    Re: Instrument Frequency Response, Measurement, EQ and Space In The Mix.

    Hello Rich,

    It's great that you too have offered constructive, friendly suggestions.

    Quote Originally Posted by RichR View Post
    Unfortunately, I don't think there is a formula and matching EQ setting that will answer the question. I do know that there are charts on some of the Mixing forums, books and magazines that I have read but the final answer always seems to come down to the ear and what you hear. A sound engineer's greatest quality and asset is his ear. He relies on it to a great extent. In one of my studio class experiences, the engineer said the best tool in his arsenal is his ears.

    My humble 2 cents worth...
    I completely agree. The references can help just as starting points to get under way and to help gain confidence. I'm looking forward to my one-to-one tuition with a pro and I'm sure I'll be well on my way after that. These ol' ears are those of a lifetime of a performer, teacher and composer and, as you say, my most bestest tools ever.
    Michael
    Patience is a virtue, sensitivity is a gift

  8. #8

    Re: Instrument Frequency Response, Measurement, EQ and Space In The Mix.

    Quote Originally Posted by tedvanya View Post
    I hope we will get some good advise on your good question, I was thinking about the same for a long time.

    Ted
    Hello Ted, it's great to have you share my curiosity and desire to craft my beloved GPO and other Garritan libraries to perorm my music in the best and most natural way I am capable of.

    I hope you too have found the friendly, helpful and constructive replies beneficial to your music.
    Michael
    Patience is a virtue, sensitivity is a gift

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