Important EQ Techniques for Church Sound
I know this happened to me at one time so, don’t be afraid to answer. Have you ever been overwhelmed with EQ? Let me tell you, your not alone. Just when I think I have a good understanding on it, there is something new to learn. As sound techs one thing I can tell is that we never stop learning.
This is especially challenging for the volunteer sound tech. A few hours a week behind the mixer is simply not enough time to master EQ. But, I have some good news for you, there are a few simple EQ techniques that can really improve your sound without having to become the EQ master.
The #1 Rule
When you are looking to get more clarity out of a vocal, your first inclination might be to boost high frequencies…don’t do it. It is time to reprogram the way you think through EQ.
Let your first thought always be, “What frequency range can I cut to solve this problem.”
For example, to get more clarity from a vocal you need to remove the muddiness (cut low frequencies), not boost the high frequencies. The same principle is true if you need to get more warmth from a vocal or instrument: cut high frequencies instead of boosting low frequencies.
Of course, there are times when boosting is the answer to your EQ problem, but they are far and few between.
Don’t EQ Just Because It Is Available
Digital mixers have become extremely affordable, thanks to the Behringer X32. Now, church sound techs have the ability to EQ every input and output channel to their heart’s desire. But I caution you to use self-discipline.
If you EQ just to EQ, you are going to have a mess on your hands. Every use of EQ should be well thought out and backed by solid sound principles. There is no need to pretend that you know what you are doing. Instead, take the time to learn how to properly use EQ (like reading this post) and then practice and test what you learn, one principle at a time.
Use A Low Cut Filter On Vocals
Looking for more vocal clarity? The low cut filter is your answer. Adding a low cut filter (aka high pass filter) on vocals will clean up your mix more than you could ever imagine. This keeps your vocals out of the subwoofers and reserves this space for your bass guitar and kick drum.
On an analog mixer, the high pass filter button is usually located by the gain knob and looks like /100. On a digital mixer (like the Behringer X32), simply activate the low cut filter and set the frequency around 120Hz.
Depending on your sound system and room acoustics, you may need to remove even more low frequency noise from the vocals. On an analog mixer, cut using the low frequency knob. On a digital mixer, increase the frequency position of your low cut filter until you get a nice, clean sound that still has plenty of warmth.
Don’t Forget The Compressor
Vocals have a wide dynamic range. To get a lead vocal loud enough to cut through the mix, you will often have problems with it getting too loud during bigger parts of the song. So, you can either memorize when these louder parts are coming, or invest in your best friend: the compressor.
Basically, a compressor narrows the dynamic range so you don’t have to worry about it poking out too much, but you can still get those quieter moments to cut through. Here are some baseline settings for vocal compression to get you started:
- Set the attack and release to ‘auto’ (or, set attack to 30ms and release to 300ms)
- Set the ratio to 3:1
- Use the soft-knee setting if available
- Set your threshold while the vocal is singing so that so that the gain reduction meter rarely reads more than 6dB
Backup vocals can add a lot of depth and strength to a worship team. But they can also muddy the mix if you’re not careful. The challenge often comes when you try to make every single vocalist sound perfect and have their own place in the mix.
Surprisingly, that isn’t always the best way to approach mixing for backup singers.
Remove Presence From The Backup Vocals
Sometimes the best thing you can do for a great vocal team sound is take away some of the presence of the backup vocalists. I know that sounds a little strange, but there is the bigger concept to consider.
The worship leader or lead vocalist should almost always stand out as the primary voice in the mix (of course, this depends on your worship style and leadership preference).
By adding more clarity and separation in your backup vocal mix, you’re actually forcing them to compete with the lead vocal.
EQ Settings For Backup Vocals
A lot of the vocal presence is found in the high-mids range – around 800 Hz to 4 kHz.
If you want to blend the backup vocals and allow the lead vocals to shine through the mix, try a wide cut (low Q around 2) somewhere in this high-mid range.
Alternatively, you can try rolling off some of the highs with a high shelf filter to keep backing vocals out of the way of the lead vocal.
This trick might not work for every worship team or style, but blending the backup vocals can thicken up the overall vocal sound while being less distracting in the mix.
Experiment with this EQ tip by putting all your backing vocals in a subgroup and EQ that group, or EQ each individual vocal mic channel. You will probably find that each vocalist will require a little bit different EQ, but working with the high-mid ranges should get you in the right spot for success with this tip.
Bass Guitar EQ
What’s the first thing to do when you want more of that big bass sound? “Boost the bass!” with a low shelf EQ filter.
OK, let’s be honest. We’ve all done it!
Unfortunately, that’s not the best way to get the full and rich bass sound you want – and it can actually make the bass sound really muddy.
Instead of boosting the bass, try these three counterintuitive tips.
Cut Frequencies Below 40 Hz
The lowest note on the bass guitar (low E) only goes down to 41 Hz, so filtering frequencies below that note just helps remove any extra rumble and clear up the lows.
Boost Mids For More Clarity And Tone
Mid frequencies in the 400-900 Hz range will have a lot of tone and punch from the harmonic frequencies of the bass strings.
Applying a modest boost of select frequencies in this range can help clear up a muddy sounding bass, add more defined musical tone, and could provide some of that extra punch you’re looking for.
Adding Presence and Pop With A High-mids Boost
If your bass player uses a pick or likes to play with a slap-bass style, then making a small boost in the 1-4 kHz range will really make the string sound stand out.
While using EQ to cut frequencies is always the preferred method, don’t be afraid to boost a few frequencies here and there. It can really be effective in making things pop in your mix.
EQ Filter for Better Drum Sound
The drum set is really composed of several different instruments, but when you combine them together and mix them as a group, you start to notice some interesting things.
As you try to EQ your kick, snare, and toms (or overheads) you will likely notice a fair amount of muddiness or a cardboard box type of sound. Depending on your room and the drums, this is most likely coming from the 400-700 Hz range.
Fortunately it’s pretty easy to clear up the overall drum sound and hear a little extra tone by simply applying a few basic filters.
There are two methods you can try when experimenting with this tip.
Method #1: EQ The Drum Mix Group
Most digital consoles and some analog consoles will allow you to create a sub-mix group with all the drum mic channels. (Note: this group bus needs to have an EQ option available for this tip to work.)
Once you have the drums mixed down to the sub group the way you like them, apply a parametric EQ filter with a Q of 3 and cut about -4 dB, then sweep around in the 400-700 Hz range until you hear the drums clear up in the mix or sound a little less boxy.
Apply additional filters as needed, but be careful when using too much EQ, since you are affecting the sound of the entire drum set with this method, not individual drums.
Method #2: EQ Each Drum Mic Channel
Most analog live sound consoles will have a 3-band EQ with a sweepable mid-EQ knob (this is technically called a semi-parametric EQ). Digital consoles will likely have a full parametric EQ for each channel. Find this control for the first drum mic channel.
- Set the gain control for the mid filter between -3 and -6 dB and then sweep the frequency selection knob in the 400-700 Hz range.
- You should notice the individual drum channel clear up a little bit in the mix or you’ll hear some clearer tones from the drums.
- Repeat this procedure for each drum mic channel. You may find that different drums sound better with a cut around 350 Hz, others around 630 Hz, or others at 700 Hz.
The important thing here is not the exact frequency you end up at. That will vary depending on your drums, the room, and the overall mix.
The main concept is to experiment with taking out a portion of the mids in order to take out some boxiness and muddiness from the drums and make room for other instruments in the mix like guitars or piano.
EQ Tips For Keys, Pianos and Synthesizers
When it comes to EQ’ing keys, there is a big difference between what you will do for electronic keys/synthesizers and acoustic pianos. So, let’s go through both.
Keys & Synthesizers
Electronic keys don’t often need a lot of EQ, but you can fine-tune the sound by adjusting a few fundamental frequency ranges.
Tip: Clean up the mudiness.
Keys and synths can get a bit muddy in the 400-600Hz range. Use a peaking filter with a Q value around 4 in this area to clean up the sound, especially when it is layered with other instruments.
Tip: Help the keys ‘cut through’ the mix.
If you need the sound to cut through the mix, try boosting slightly in the 1-2 kHz range. Or, you may even need to cut this area to make room for other instruments.
The 3-4kHz range is where the the primary presence and clarity can be found. Boost this area a little if necessary. Or, you can cut this area to make the tone a bit darker.
Regarding pianos, there are many different types and sizes that will have a range of tonal properties, so these tips will depend on size, playing style and miking techniques.
Tip: Cut the boominess.
Pianos can tend to be really boomy in the 100-200Hz range. The best way to fix this problem is with a low shelf filter at about 200Hz and cut 3-6dB.
This can also help reduce feedback or other low end resonance from drums or nearby instruments on stage.
Tip: Brighten the tone of the piano.
You can brighten the tone and help the piano cut through the mix by using a peaking filter in the 3kHz range with a Q value around 4 and applying a slight boost.
Keep in mind, too much emphasis in this range can exaggerate distracting elements like damper and string noise.
Experiment With The Q Value
When you are dialing in EQ, don’t forget to experiment with the Q value. A lower Q value will give you a smoother frequency response and blended tone, whereas a higher Q value will give you greater control over the frequencies that you do and don’t want to cut.
Using Frequency Sweeping To Find Troublesome Frequencies
The best way to train your ear to pick up on what frequency range is causing a problem is to use a technique called frequency sweeping. Here is how you do it.
How to Frequency Sweep on a Digital Mixer
- Activate a peaking filter (PEQ), set the Gain to +12dB and the Q value to around 4.
- Use the Frequency knob to slowly sweep through the full frequency spectrum, listening for when the sound is most annoying.
- Now that you have found the annoying frequency range, set your Gain to about -3dB and keep decreasing until you achieve the desired sound.
- Now, adjust the Q value to dial it in just right. If you can fix the problem with a more narrow frequency band (higher Q value), that is the way to go. But, don’t be afraid to use a wider frequency band (lower Q value) if needed.
How to Frequency Sweep on an Analog Mixer
- There are two mid-frequency knobs. Turn the level knob up to about 3 o’clock.
- Use the other mid-frequency knob to sweep through the frequency spectrum, listening for when the sound is most annoying.
- Now that you have found the annoying frequency range, use the mid frequency level knob to cut out the annoying frequency by starting at about 10 o’clock and decreasing until you get the desired sound.
Let’s Keep EQ Simple
Just because you have four filters available for each channel does not mean you should use all of them. Every EQ setting should be well thought out and used to solve a problem.
I recently visited a church that was using EQ all over the place. Most of the EQ filters were boosting frequencies…which was an immediate clue that the sound tech wasn’t quite sure what they were doing, and the sound reflected it.
Bottom line, if you don’t understand what is going on with the EQ on your mixer, level it out and start over. Use the minimum amount of EQ filters possible to fix the problems at hand.
One last thing I want to leave you with is please, don’t EQ just to EQ. At the same time, don’t be afraid to experiment with EQ during rehearsals (this is how you’ll learn), but make sure you are putting in the time to study EQ beforehand.
Thanks For Reading,