MISTAKES CHURCH SOUND ENGINEERS MAKE WITH MIXING CONSOLES – #7 Abusing EQ on the channel strip
This article is part of a series called The Top 10 Mistakes Church Sound People Make With Mixing Consoles. We’re on number 7. Go here for part 1.
#7 Abusing the EQ on the channel strip
I use this example in every sound seminar I teach. When miking an instrument, I will set the mic up in a wrong, or less-than-perfect way and then have the musician play. Then I ask the class what needs to happen. Without fail, someone will always say, “change the EQ to such and such frequency.” But before I touch the EQ, I will take the mic and adjust it to be set up properly. At that point, you can see the light bulbs going off in their heads.
Before you reach for the EQ knob, check where the mic is placed.
You may or not remember that “waaaay back in the day” (in the ’50s) EQ didn’t exist on consoles. In the recording studio, when you needed to change the tonality of an instrument, you adjusted the microphone.
Your mix will be cleaner the less EQ you use.
When I start a rehearsal (or a new mixing gig), I always listen to every drum, amp, and instrument that makes noise. I want to know what that instrument sounds like before it gets to my console. This means I will have to make a trip to the stage. I will listen to every vocalist to hear them acoustically before I listen to them through the mic/console. Most singers will look at me like I have lost my mind the first time they see me do it. I tell them I want to hear their voice without a mic, which usually puts them at ease. My job as a sound engineer is to try to “amplify” the instrument without coloring the sound. Your mix will be cleaner the less EQ you use.
Let’s look at what “EQ” is. Today EQ stands for “Equalization.“ Going back to the analog days, an EQ was a “filter”. So, in other words, the EQ filtered out a particular frequency. It originated as a fixed filter with a “bell shape.”
On early equalizers, they were “cut-only” with no boost. (I honestly wish we would go back to that concept!) The reason for this was that filters were only used in “room tuning” to correct “acoustic modes” (that can cause feedback) in the room. Remember, the mixing console didn’t have EQ knobs.
On vocals I use a high pass filter to clean up breath noise and plosives (Ps and Bs)
This will also clean up any bass frequencies leaking into a vocal mic from the house PA or nearby amps. As a matter of fact, I use a high pass filter on all inputs that do not have frequencies below 100hz. The channels where I don’t use a high pass filter would be my bass guitar, kick drum, low tom, and piano, IF they are a solo instrument (no band). Typically, I will use it on a piano/keyboard in a band setting because the bass guitar owns that “property” in the frequency spectrum. Your mix can get muddy if the keyboard/piano player likes to play on the left side of the instrument.
So that means everything gets a high-pass filter except the bass guitar, kick drum, and the low tom. If I am miking a cello, upright bass or any instrument not mentioned that is low-frequency heavy, I won’t use a high pass filter. If the keyboard player uses a bass-heavy pad, I will not use the high pass filter.
I Rarely Boost
The biggest mistake of using EQ is boosting something that is not there. I have heard people say, “put more bass in that female’s voice.” It should go without saying that there is no bass in her voice, but I must say it because I have heard that sentence far too often. So, if you boost the bass on an input that has no low-frequency information, it will sound unnatural.
I mixed a play, and the director sent me a “crack” sound to simulate a tree branch cracking. They wanted more bass in the sample. That would be like trying to add bass EQ to cymbals. There’s no bass, to begin with, so I had to re-create the cracking sound adding in some “boom.” Now we are talking about sound design, and I’ll have to save that for another day.
Don’t EQ a single instrument without checking it “in the mix”
Another big mistake with abusing EQ is sound-checking on a single instrument and only EQing during this check. For example, I will EQ the kick by itself but then re-visit the input when the whole band is playing. I don’t dial in the attack of the kick until all the instruments are in the mix. Sometimes I will boost the upper end of the kick drum mic when I need more “snap” or crack on the kick. I prefer to use a mic explicitly designed for a kick with a slight bump in the frequencies that produce that “snap,” or “boom,” so I don’t have to add it artificially.
If you have to use a lot of EQ on instruments to avoid feedback, then first examine your microphone placement, speaker placement, and system tuning. Remember, a natural un-EQ’d channel strip will almost always sound better!
When I consult with churches, the first thing I do is turn off all EQ on the channels and all compression and start from scratch. We will discuss compression more in-depth later in this series.
Often the system immediately starts to sound better. Usually, I will get a dumbfounded look from the pastor or worship leader, followed by, “What did you do?” I say, “I Just turned off the ugly!”
We will discuss EQ more in the upcoming months. In the meantime, happy mixing and creating an environment for worship!
Read More Tips
- #10 – Signal Flow At The Front End of the Mixer
- #9 – Not Knowing The Signal Flow In The Mixer
- #8 – Improper Gain Staging
- #6 – Adjust House EQ to Correct Lapel Microphone Feedback
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Michael is a 35+ year industry veteran with a passion for training in the technical arts. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Ministry and Worship Arts. He has a background that includes touring, system design, and consulting, and he has been on church staff as an Audio Engineer, Technical Director, Media pastor, and Worship Pastor. He has been a technical consultant for Air Force Entertainment, written curriculum for Christ for the Nations, and served as Adjunct Professor in the Worship and Tech Arts degree Program. He has been involved in sales and training for numerous manufacturers. He founded LiveWorshipAcademy.com, the first online certification program for church volunteers in the technical arts, and is the Director of Content. He is able to speak into the lives of both artistic and technical individuals, teaching technology as well as the worship theology behind it.