7. The use of EQ “In the Mix” – Cutting frequencies to clean up a sound

I’ve found it rather difficult to explore this topic in a sense of purely listening, as I only have access to the finished product of professional recordings. Obviously this means that I can’t hear the “mess” that was cleaned out of a signal through use of EQ, only the cleaner, processed finished product.
However, what I can do is establish a few key traits of Indie rock as a genre, by listening to the broad range of instruments, and their general bandwidths. I think this would be a good starting point, with further research being necessary into the way that various engineers work.

For this I’ll be using the same project file as in my last post, comprising the following songs:

  • Arcade Fire – Reflektor
  • Kings of Leon – Four Kicks
  • Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  • Kings of Leon – The Bucket
  • Elliot Smith – Waltz #2
  • The Fray – How to Save a Life
  • The Strokes – Machu Pichu
  • The Strokes – Someday

My immediate first impression when listening for EQ cuts was that the majority of these songs tend to be rather aggressive (or at least rather more aggressive than myself) when high-passing (or low shelving) guitars. My usual instinct during a mix is to balance the guitars sound, especially in the case of electric guitars, as these can often be a key point of focus in this genre.

This tendency on my part to retain this low-mid warmth and roundness (for want of better descriptive terms) of guitars made my findings quite surprising. I’m unsure whether it is in-fact the case that the low mid frequencies were almost completely removed from the guitars in these songs or whether it’s just that it’s masked by Bass guitar, piano and other instrumentation. But in the finished product, the guitars come across as much more “sharp and scratchy” than I had otherwise anticipated or remembered from previous listening.

The only exception seems to be when a guitar is playing a solo/melody/lead line rather than strummed chords. In this case, the 200-800Hz region seems more prominent, as a way of giving these melody lines more weight and substance.

In broad terms, running these mixes through a brick wall low pass, and moving it down until all features of the guitar are inaudible, it seems that the lowest it seems to reach is around 200Hz at a push, with the guitar being almost inaudible by around 300Hz in most cases. This to me signals the use of a low pass filter with a relatively sharp slope, having its cut-off frequency set to around 300Hz, or maybe a shallower slope with a cut-off frequency nearer 400-500Hz. This is much more aggressive than I have been in the past, and I think that this has contributed to my difficulty in controlling low frequencies during a mix, as the extra (un-necessary) weight in the electric guitars in masking the bass guitar at this frequency, causing me to process it in an in-efficient manner.

As far as drums go, they vary wildly from song to song. The snare drum in particular seems to be down to the preference of the engineer/producer. One thing to note about kick drums though, it tends to be that more frequent kicks tend to have less LF (60 – 100Hz) weight to them, and songs with less frequent kick drum hits tend to make more use of these low frequencies, opting instead for the kick drum to stand out in the attacking “snap” range (3 – 6Khz at a rough estimate). There are of course some exceptions to this, but it seems to ring true for most of the material.

Other patterns in the use of EQ are not so obvious to me at this stage, and I think that more research is needed into the production of this material, and other works that fall under the same genre.


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