January 14, 2015

As audio engineers, we all know how frustrating it can be to listen to a recorded instrument and know something isn't quite right with the EQ.  This gets progressively more annoying if we cannot quickly identify exactly what's going wrong and fix it!  To make matters more complicated, we have it ingrained in our souls that we should only apply EQ in the "context of the mix," with everything else playing at full volume.  While this is generally true, sonic information from the rest of the mix can make it tricky for us to hone in on what's happening with a particular instrument's EQ.  Therefore, there truly is a time and a place to apply EQ in a "vacuum," so to speak, with an instrument or single track solo'd.  Still, we must be careful not to overcompensate (which is likely when applying EQ in a vacuum) or adjust EQ parameters that would best be left untouched.

Notice the Catch 22 here?  Hey, at least you can take some comfort in the fact that even seasoned audio engineers struggle with this problem quite often

The solution is to pull our detail-driven heads out of the sand and look at EQ from a completely different perspective.  In fact, instead of looking at all the fancy controls on your rack-mounted equalizer or DAW equalization plugin, you should try to hear the EQ from a different perspective than you're used to hearing it.

I'm talking about a complete paradigm shift; one in which the character of EQ is defined in terms of descriptive nouns and adjectives that allow us to get more in touch with our intuition, and in doing so, make better decisions as a result.  Instead of putting things in vague terms such as "I think there's some resonance at 3.5kHz," you might say something sounds "piercing" or needs to be "softened."

To help you think in more creative terms like this, rather than numerical ones, I've put together the following list of adjectives and nouns by instrument:

1. Electric Guitar - Clean & Dirty

2. Acoustic Guitar & Bass

3. Vocals & Overheads

4. Kick & Snare

5. Hi-Hat & Toms