Q: It can enhance and it can destroy, what is it?
Every sound console has some form of EQ control. Depending on the level, spec, and type of console you have, the amount of control can vary from a very simple 2/3-band eq (fixed low, mid, high) to a multiband parametric eq. It can be really easy to twist an eq knob and hear the audio change but using EQ is far more than that.
How ever talented the musicians, expensive the PA system, a bad eq can ruin the best of performances. The basic job of a sound engineer mixing a band is to, amplify the instruments on stage. The main thing we should be aiming for is a replication of the sound that the instruments on stage are making. As a starting point to this we really need to look at microphone selection and placement. Although I am not wanting to touch on this subject now, the selection of the right microphones and their placement can really help in effectively capturing an instruments sound and characteristics. Unfortunately within most churches we are not going to be able to have a huge microphone collection or the budget to buy mics for every occasion. What we are more likely to have a range of standard mics such as Shure SM58 and SM57 etc. I have my own mic setup, which I have built up over a number of years and yet it still for me is lacking certain mics.
Cutting and boosting
When I wrote the article on IEM’s a while back I touched on the topic of cutting and boosting. A common thing many musicians do is ask for instruments to be boosted in their IEM mix rather than get something cut/reduced. The same technique can be applied to using eq. It can be really easy to listen to something and pick out something that is missing or lacking and then to turn that up. Truthfully this is something many engineers will do, as it is the easy thing. What actually is better is to reduce and cut rather than always add. The skill is to work out what is getting in the way. A great skill for engineers to learn is to be able to identify frequencies. There are various apps available that can help in learning them but in reality it’s something that will come much easier with practise.
Listen to the source
When I eq anything I like to listen to how it sounds naturally. I might wander up to the drum kit and listen as the drummer plays to get a sense of what it sounds like as is. If you take two similar acoustic guitars for example, they will both sound different, very much like a singers, each one will sound different to the next. One eq setting that worked for one won’t necessarily work for another. It’s working out what characteristics you want or even don’t want to capture or enhance. This very much comes back to the cutting and boosting, it maybe easier to boost a characteristic you want to conceal the one you don’t, yet the one you don’t want will still be there. Many consoles will tend to have an eq in button. This is quite useful in being able to do an A/B test of what a source sounds like pre and post eq.
EQ adds gain
Most engineers understand that increasing the gain control boosts the signal. What many don’t understand is that boosting eq also takes the gain level up along with adjusting the sound. This can lead to feedback.
Listen to how it sounds in the mix
When you eq an instrument separately it may sound amazing, putting that instrument into a full band mix may actually make it not sound so good. It’s important to listen to how each instrument fits into the overall sound and make up of what you are mixing. Depending on the quality of musicians you have they can help. If mixing a guitar and piano you may find that when alone the piano needs a top end boost yet with an acoustic guitar its sounds too bright. A really good way to look at this is using the term space. Space can be created by both musicians but also by eq.
1) Everyone will have a preference to how something should or should not sound, it’s a bit like Masterchef, what one of the judges likes another might totally hate. As long as the overall mix sounds good and no ones moaning stick with it.
2) Although I have mentioned a lot about cutting rather than boosting, consoles can boost, it they weren’t meant to then eq sections would work much different.
3) Enjoy mixing!