Most of them involve things like using a high pass filter, notching filters to get rid of feedback, and cutting frequencies instead of boosting them. (How many times have you heard that!?)
However, there are a few specific tips that can really sweeten your sound – and they don't seem that important at first. In fact, some of them seem counterintuitive!
In this post you'll discover:
- The one EQ filter that makes drums sound better
- How to make the bass guitar sound great in the mix (hint: it’s not about the lows)
- EQ tips just for backup vocals
OK, let's get to it!
EQ'ing live drums might be one of the more difficult tasks for a church sound tech.
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.
TIP #2: How To Make the Bass Guitar Sound Great in the Mix
(surprisingly, it’s not always about the lows)
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, don’t lie. 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.
Bass tip #1: filter out some of the lows 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.
Bass tip #2: boost mids for more clarity and tone.
The 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.
Bass tip #3: add 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.
TIP #3: EQ Tips for Backup Vocals
Before we get into the technique of this tip, I’d like to provide a bit of a disclaimer.
Mixing vocals for worship can be one of the most challenging and demanding jobs for a church sound tech. It can seem like there are way too many people to please, and everyone has a different opinion on what they want to hear in the mix.
It is important to work with your worship leader and leadership team to establish a clear vision and concept for the overall sound of the mix – and this can change depending on the musical arrangement or style of worship. Just be sensitive to this as you begin to creatively construct your vocal mixes.
OK, now for the EQ tip!
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.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for a great vocal team sound is take away some of the presence from 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'ing Backup Vocals
A lot of the vocal presence is found in the high-mid 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 sub group 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.
Discover more about EQ and master the techniques that can take your sound quality to the next level.
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