Do you use a LOT of EQ when you mix? Do your EQ curves look something like the picture to the right?

If they do, it’s okay. But what if there was a free EQ that worked much better than any plug-in ever could? Would you use it? Of course you would.

What is this free EQ? I’ll tell you.

It’s what I like to call natural EQ.

Natural EQ simply refers to using the laws of physics to manipulate your sounds as they are captured. The idea here is that you want to get the sound right BEFORE it gets recorded. How do you do this?

The Source

I’ll hammer on this till the day I die. The source is infinitely important. If the source sounds bad, of course the recording/mix will sound bad.

But are you perhaps using the WRONG source? Hmm…

If you’re recording a rock tune, and you need a bright, jangly electric guitar tone, what you need is something like a Tele through a Vox amp. But what if all you have is a Les Paul and a Fender amp?

You can get somewhat close, but it will NEVER sound like a Tele…never. Rather than record the Les Paul and EQ it to death later…find someone with a Tele and get it right the first time.

Or let’s say you’re recording a background vocal part, and it really needs to be sung by a woman, but you’re the only person there…and you’re a guy. So you sing it and try to EQ it to sound like a woman.

No matter what your buddies tell you, you’ll never sound like a woman. 🙂

Go find a girl to sing the part.

Microphone Technique

There are two parts to microphone technique that will help you naturally shape the tone of the recording:

1. Mic Choice – Don’t use a dynamic if you want something really breathy and detailed. Don’t use a condenser if you don’t want it to sound bright.

It’s so obvious, but it’s easy to forget.

2. Mic placement. Does the vocal sound too thin? Move the mic closer to the singer. Too harsh? Move the mic away from the singer, or perhaps angle it a bit to the left and try recording a bit off-axis.

Once you find the right mic for the job, you’ve still got to find the right placement. It’s just as important.

The Performance

Finally, once you’ve got the right source, the right mic, the right placement, you need to make sure the musician is playing the right performance.

If the guitar part is too indistinct, have him play higher up on the neck…or maybe with a capo.

If the bass tone doesn’t have enough definition, have him play less open strings and more fretted notes.

This all boils down to arrangement. A good arrangement will have the right instruments playing the right parts…then it’s just your job to record it without screwing up. 🙂

So there you have it, a free “EQ technique” that doesn’t require a single plug-in or piece of hardware.

How do you shape the sounds of your recordings?

  • Ah yes, the perfect arguments to convince my wife i really *do* need that LP, ES, Strat, Tele, Western- AND spanish guitars plus a bunch of mic’s laying around the house – thanks 🙂

  • Gry Rnlds

    Great post…great advice!

  • Love the title.  It could be misleading to a plugin junkie or a gearslut, but it is truly the best eq.  cheers!

  • Fantastic post, Joe.

  • Good words. Sometimes it surprises me how much different mic position can really transform the way a microphone responds. 

    In today’s in-the-box mixing world with so many people running home studios that are sometimes quite professional, there’s a tendency to work quickly: stick the mic in front of it, record it, and fix any sonic issues later while mixing. This is a contrast to an older style of recording which involved multiple rooms, an engineer mic’ing things up, listening in the control room (usually referred to as “getting sounds”), all before a single note of a real take was ever played. There’s something to be said for that, even when you’re in a hurry and even if you don’t have a multi-room setup with a dedicated engineer.

  • I totally thought you were giving away a plugin. Haha, good article however. I’m fairly new to this but I am learning to manipulate my environment to add natural Reverb and EQ to my tracks. Mind you, I record local Rap artists, but it’s still tricky trying to get a spoken word-esque mix within the vocals. Speaking of which, I use TRackS 3 for my mixing and Ozone 4 for mastering. Anyone else have experience with it?

    • Anonymous

      TRacks 3 is great, I use it for my DIY mastering. I’ve heard great things about Ozone but never used it.

  • Noah

    wow, you sneaky Joe! great post