Setting up EQ is anything but rocket science
or some mysterious process that only a select few can do. It's easier than most people think and is a mixture of common sense
and gut feeling.
Just stop all the twiddling for one moment, solo the channel and listen to the sound coming through
the speakers. Are there areas of the sound that are too much? Then cut those frequencies back a little. Are there others that
are lacking? Boost them. Too woofy? Cut the low mids. Too boomy? Cut the bass. Too piercing? Cut the hi-mids. Lacking in warmth?
Boost the low-mids. Need to cut more? Boost the hi-mids. It's not rocket science. When you think it's right, it probably is.
You will sometimes see a would-be engineer carefully adjusting one of the EQ settings on a desk with the kind of pained
look of concentration of a TV-soap neurosurgeon performing the most delicate of operations. Either he's got a sore thumb,
or he is trying to make the whole process look more scientific or mysterious than it is. BS-factor 5! One thing they both
have in common though - they are both acting!
Cutting or boosting a frequency is about as complicated as tuning an
FM radio. Go too far one way and the station distorts, too far the other way and it distorts again. So between the two is
where you should be. Similarly, you want to cut a frequency, but you don't know which one and by how much, go to the rough
area such as low-mids and cut a broad range by at least -18dB. Now sweep up and down until it sounds at its best. Now you
can reduce the amount you cut until it sounds even better.
As you later bring the sounds together, try some more extreme
EQing to prevent sounds clashing or masking one another. For example, lead vocals are usually given a fuller and more open
sound than the backing vocals. Lead guitar needs more upper-mids, rhythm guitar usually needs more lower-mids.
There is a breed of engineer that usually learnt their trade in the eighties, that seems to think
that every drum has to be gated and compressed to the point where the whole kit sounds as if the drummer was not hitting drums,
but a collection of cardboard boxes. Quite why they do this I do not know - if they like processed sounds that much,
why not just use a drum machine, electronic drums, or MIDI tracks? You have a drummer in the studio so that you have
the sound of a real person playing real drums. If you want the sound of a machine, get a machine!
Getting a good drum sound requires a good drummer. But, assuming that this is the case, good
mics are important.
Many years ago, I visited the studio of legendary engineer Conny Plank. We got to discussing
drums and how to record them and he told me that he had just recorded an entire drum kit with one mic.
I was amazed. Surely an engineer like Conny Plank would be putting up as many mics as he has
had hot breakfasts! This was the seventies and a good engineer was thought someone who put up as many mics as possible. But
obviously, along with most Germans, Conny Plank did not believe in having a hot breakfast.
`The hardest part in rock and pop is to get a good drum sound. ` he said. `And the reason is
because we want the impact of close Mic'ing together with the feel of a full kit. So we close mic every bit of the kit for
the impact and we add overheads and ambient mics for the feel of a real drum sound. The problem there is that every drum is
picked up by every other mic and not just by the one mic directly over it. If we were to leave them up all the time, we would
get phase problems and the sound would be one big mush. So we have to gate them and compress them. Now they sound like cardboard
boxes, but we`ve got lots of impact. Then we add the ambient mics, but they are maybe two or three meters away. That means
that there is about a ten millisecond delay between the direct sound and the ambient sound. So we are mushy again and use
the phase button on the overheads, but all that does is reverse the polarity of the signal. It does not make up for the ten
He then showed me how he had set up one RE18 dynamic mic wrapped in foam and jammed in between
the snare and the bass drum. He recorded this across six tracks and then used filters, gates, compressors and a graphic e.q.
to pick out parts of the drum sound and process them differently and place them in the mix.
`It`s not how I would normally do it,` he said. `but it is a great way to prove that we do not need to use
up half a machine for the drums alone. It also proves how important phase is in recording anything.`
Drums: Trick 17
Inexperienced engineers will often argue for hours over which mic to use where and nearly always
they argue pointlessly over how to mic up a drum kit. As I have pointed out in the text, it is perfectly possible to get a
killer drum sound for every part of the kit with a cheap mic. But there is another way of getting a perfect sound out of any
drum kit, no matter how mangey and grotty the sound of the drum itself might be. I call it Trick 17 and it goes like this:
You have recorded a set of drums and the drummer sucked big time. He lost the beat when coming
out of the breaks and his drum-hits were weak and flabby. It would seem to be a lost cause to try to make a silk purse out
of such a sow's ear, but all is not lost and there are two things you can do:
1. Get the drums back on the beat by cutting and pasting all the drum tracks to line up with the click track.
If you are using a MIDI map and have 'click-to-MIDI' activated, you can just cut the wave file up into bits and slot it into
the beat. This may sound like lots of work - but believe me, it is! But a tight recording where the kick and snare drums are
dead on the beat is the difference between a CD and a demo.
2. Replace the kick drum and possibly the snare as well with a sample. It is usually best not to tell the
band (and the drummer least of all!) that you are going to do this. You can do the live drummer thing and use the signal from
the drum mics to trigger an electronic drum head (or 'brain') or you can just slot them in from a sample collection.
This method works best if you mix in some of the original drum to maintain some of the original feel.