August 22, 2017
How to Save Sonic Space by Putting Less in the Mix
In Part 1 and Part 2 we discussed Subtractive Mixing and Subtractive EQ. As you learn more about using these techniques, you'll notice certain commonly occurring conflicts between instruments. Sometimes you'll encounter instruments that span more than one range. Your snare drum has both a thick low mid aspect and a bright upper-mid crack that end up competing in different families. Similarly the kick drum has a deep thud in the bass register and a crucial tap in the mids that defines your impact. In these cases the critical upper midrange band is usually narrow so you can use a deep cut with a parametric EQ set for a high Q-factor to surgically unmask the tap. Your low band will also benefit from subtractive EQ on the competing part. You can even use sidechain compression to cut those frequencies only when the kick or snare is hitting, and if you're really sneaky about it your competing part might sound exactly the same in the mix. In the studio, consider recording the left hand piano part separately from the right hand so both can be tailored precisely to fit. Vocals, guitars and keyboards always wrestle with the midrange frequencies between 1k-4k, and if your bass player prefers a grinding upper midrange they will end up competing with guitars between 750hz-1k as well.
Egos have no place in a great mix, so either those instruments will have to step out of one-another's way on key sections or be equalized to split the frequency spectrum amicably. Remember the fable of the Sun and the Wind? Battling to overcome the other players in the band is unlikely to achieve success, but imagine how easily the problem can be solved by teamwork!
"Then can't the players in the band just EQ their amps that way in the first place?"
Now you're getting the idea! You can work together with the other players in the band to craft instrument sounds that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle of interlocking frequencies. It takes discipline to adjust your amp to sound great out front even if it sounds weird on stage. Try using full-range sidefill monitors (or portable PA like Carvin Audio's S600B) to help you hear your instrument in the context of the other parts, and watch the compliments start coming back from the board and your audience. And don't limit yourself to Subtractive EQ; each musician can be responsible for their own volume in the overall mix and adjust the level on the fly as needed. This employs the ancient and perhaps mythical art of dynamics.
S600B Battery Powered Portable PA System
Subtractive Sound: A Technique that Can Work Anywhere
One of the best sounding bands I ever heard was a commercial R&B band playing in a tiny kidney-shaped lounge with only vocals in the PA and all their instruments coming off the "backline," which amounted to three tiny combo amplifiers. Their instruments were EQ'd to work perfectly together and they dynamically backed out of the soloist's way on instinct. I even saw the guitar player use his tone control to do the same thing to make room for a very low but intense clavinet solo that brought the house down! And why shouldn't your rehearsals sound fantastic, if you work as a team with the entire band to achieve a common goal.
Subtractive Mixing and Subtractive EQ work because they make sense; they are a way to make more room in the mix when something is getting stepped on, and isn't that a logical solution? What examples of Subtractive EQ have you encountered? Let us know in the comments below.
July 14, 2021
It’s a common misconception that a singing voice is some sort of set-in-stone trait, like hair color or height. “You have a great voice” is the compliment you’ll hear, rather than “you have great vocal skill”. It’s true that certain genetic traits make voices unique, but using a voice is a skill just like any other instrument.
July 08, 2021
If you’ve spent any significant amount of time on stage, you’ve become accustomed to tripping over cables. Most stages are strewn with various cables, and backstage can be an epic rat’s nest.
Vocalists who stand at the mic and croon may not mind – after all, they’re not moving around. Singers who like to use the whole stage, though, tend to tangle up. Some singers even love to get into the audience and venture all around the room – not really possible with a wired mic.
So, is it time for you to go wireless?
June 16, 2021
It’s always exciting when a song is ready for final mixdown, and most of us want to rush in and get going. But it turns out a little judicious preparation and organization can make mixing faster, easier, more enjoyable, and most of all more effective. After all a cluttered, crazy, mix can be a nightmare.
So, here are a few tips for getting your mix organized right from the start, so you can get your best, most efficient results.
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"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all of the earth; make a loud noise and rejoice and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp and the voice of the psalm." - Psalm 98:4-5