Grandpa Taylor was a handy guy to have around. He was as strong as an ox, loyal to the bone and knew the value of good tools. Although he never got into mixing audio, he possessed at least one related skill …
In our first post in this series we established that EQ is a volume control for a specific frequency. Last time I recommended an approach based on cutting frequencies before boosting. But how do you choose which frequency to adjust? How do you identify what you’re hearing in order to make a change?
Training your ears for mixing is a lifelong process. Our series on critical listening is a great overview of what to listen for on most common instruments. If you’re not sure where to start with a particular instrument, go back and read it! If you identify what you’re hearing but can’t quite find it on the console, you can learn to dial in the exact frequency with a process called fishing.
Fishing is like a “try-before-you-buy” for parametric EQ settings. Whether you’re looking to squash a particular sound (cut) or highlight it (boost), you can follow the same simple process:
Step 1 – choose your pond. In most cases, you’ll be fishing in the high-mid or low-mid bands. Remember, you can only fish where you can sweep (sounds a bit like ice fishing doesn’t it?) so high and low shelf filters are not an option on most analog desks.
Step 2 – bait with boost. I know – if you read my last post this will sound like heresy. Don’t worry, it’s only a temporary measure. When fishing for frequencies, the proper bait is a sizeable boost of 9 dB or more (feedback permitting).
Step 3 – sweep it around. Adjust the frequency control until the sound you’re looking for pops out. The big boost makes it easier to hear when you’ve found it. (An analogous fishing term for this would be doodlesocking. I think I’ve said enough)
Step 4 – reel it in. With the target sound dialed in, adjust the gain until the frequency is cut or boosted to your satisfaction.
Remember that fishing sounds pretty strange coming through the speakers. This isn’t a concern during soundcheck, but if you make adjustments during a performance you should go about it in a more subtle way. The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to identify frequencies and make tweaks without having to go fishing every time.