EQ Reveries


I was listening to a part of a piece solo while EQing it. I had the sound’s waveform displayed in the EQ so I could see where its primary frequencies were happening and not happening, and my goal was to accentuate these frequencies and reduce (shelve) the less important ones at the margins. The part was a pad-type sound whose main tones were happening in the middle of the spectrum, so it was quick work to shelve the spectrums’ lower and higher ends, the idea being that (1) the listener won’t notice not hearing them because they were so quiet to begin with, and (2) shelving these frequencies frees up space for other sounds—like a bass in the low range, or a cymbal in the highs. That’s the time-honored mixing idea, anyway: to make space for every sound to have its individual frequency “slot” in the mix. 

But there are exceptions. Say you have a field recording of a thunderstorm that you want to incorporate into your music. If you looked at that recording on a spectrogram you would notice a broad range of frequencies—from the sub-bass of the thunder to the treble drone of the rain and wind. You might not want to cut out the lows or the highs of the recording because doing so you would alter the audio’s sense of depth and realism. A compromise is to reduce the mid-range frequencies a bit. Your EQ’d recording would still sound like a thunderstorm, but now it has made space for say, that pad sound of mostly mid-range frequencies that can sit undisturbed the middle.

All this is a digression from what I wanted to say, which is that while I was listening to a part of a piece solo while EQing it I wondered why the part couldn’t be an actual solo: 

Why is there so much tutti ensemble, all-parts-playing-at-once in this music,
and so little one-part-at-a-time playing?

As I moved along to other parts in the piece to EQ them, I had a similar thought as I solo’ed them to listen: 

Wow, this sounds nice on its own.
Why is it always half-hidden among the other sounds?

It occurred to me that because each of the parts is designed to play well with the others, each part is, potentially at least, interesting enough to stand on its own and to be heard alone. Yet I hadn’t let any of the parts do that. I was so preoccupied with solving the music’s grand, puzzle-like qualities by fitting each sound with the others that I sometimes overlooked the sound of the individual voices and, most importantly, forgot that 

no one was taking a solo. 

In sum, soloing parts to EQ them reminds us that there may be places in the track where the tutti ensemble texture could be pared back. Sometimes the best way to make space in the mix for every sound is to let the music’s individual lines sing. 

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