Audio Recording Issues – Actual notes that are out of balance Part 3Sometimes, it is hard to put your finger on what you don't like in a mix. What do you do when you have a good mix, and the notes and balance all seem to be working well, but there is something about a particular instrument that still bugs you. The tone is nice, the amp is good, the reverb matches the song, the vocals are good, but something on a particular instrument just doesn't have the right feel. There is a chance that the problem isn't with any primary target notes, but rather may have something you are unhappy with in the instrument's overtones.
If the EQ balance is good and you like the instrument's tone, it is possible that it is resonating with the room or its own sustain cavity, or other characteristics, in such a way that the overtones are not a good match to the primary performance. This can mean that harmonics are being generated in the musical performance that are not flattering to the fundamental notes. Once again, you can use an EQ with a narrow band to boost and sweep through Frequencies to listen to the upper harmonics and listen for things that do not sit well with you. You can start a sweep in the upper mids and listen carefully for Frequencies that are linked to the instrument in question. You may have anything from guitar to vocal to keys before getting into the cymbals and higher Frequencies. These tones can bounce around and interfere with the energy and even rhythm of a song. Usually, with all things chosen carefully, you will be able to focus on the offending Frequencies without having to remove something that you like from other elements in the mix.
I briefly touched upon this in the last post as well, but I have a technique that often resolves certain issues if I find that removing a narrow specific issue causes something else to go off balance. By removing a very small amount of a narrow frequency, I can load a medium "Q" EQ and boost as little as 1/2 the same dB's as were cut. You can try this using the same center Frequency or slightly lower or higher, but you will hear what I am sharing if you give it a try. For example, let's say that you have an extremely powerful rhythm guitar track that sounds amazing and lively through the entire song. However, whenever it reaches a certain note, let's say in the upper mids, it overlaps with some of the character of the room's ambient sound. This room is well-tuned, and it does not have an issue with standing waves or suffer from being completely out of balance. The fact is, that location, direction, and power and other characteristics can push certain Frequencies against an ambient reflection and the perfect mic preamp and perfect mic position will capture a spike where there were no physical anomalies. People in the industry and in music science have denied this for years, but I have studied this in detail and found that there is more to do with angled walls and standing waves than what we resolve on paper.
The truth is that surface response and reflection have so much more to do with what the end result will be, than certain architectural and simplified reflective factors. So, you find yourself in a spot, because you have an amazing performance, in the perfect room, with the amp in the exact place you want with the ideal recording chain. Everything came out great, but the energy gets so strong in that upper mid register that it now has to be dealt with. You were blown away by the power when recorded and mixed, but now that the song has made it off to the Mastering Engineer, you realize for the first time that note is an issue. By slightly reducing a narrow band that catches the problem, and boosting a slightly wider "Q" at the same spot, you end up reducing an extremely small amount of data and detail in the mix, and soften the blow for surround frequencies not to lose their relationship to the complex harmonics that tell your brain that something sounds good and real and natural. What is even more interesting, is that you will be surprised just how much difference comes from the individual personality of each individual EQ. I cannot tell you how many times I have been thankful for Nebula Pro technology and my time given to translating my favorite EQ's.
You can listen to a single track and make some EQ changes and love the sound, but in a critical situation, seemingly identical band widths and shapes can sound absolutely, completely different from each other. I welcome the description of technical devices in creative terms. Some engineers despise this, and I think it is why they will always see only a very narrow and inaccurate part of the musical picture. The absolute truth is that sound has certain amazing qualities that will always exist slightly beyond our reach. Our quest in capturing the beauty of these things and analyzing the science that brings us closer to understanding sound does not offer an answer for every musical quality in the equipment we use.
I highly recommend trying certain needed surgical problem-solving processes with a few different EQ's and listen to how varied the results can be. You will love the learning process, or at the very least you will appreciate how small measures of individuality in EQ design bring you results that affect your music in ways you never would have thought of. At some point you can become an expert at predicting these variances ahead of time, and this palette of EQ's will become the artist's favorite tubes of paint!. Give these things a try before committing a track to your next mix. You will be surprised how well this can work!