EQJim asks,

I’m planning on ordering your Understanding EQ package. I was just wondering something about EQ in recording. Could you please explain why we have to EQ instruments in a recording? If we see a live performance without sound reinforcement there is no frequency manipulation. Why is it so different from recording and what we hear out of speakers? Is it an issue of sonic space?

This is a REALLY good question.

Why is it that I can listen to musicians playing in front of me and it sounds fine, then when I record them I have to do all this manipulation to get them to fit well together?

The problem is fairly simple, and yet it causes all sorts of trouble. So what’s the problem?

Recording isn’t natural.

When you’re sitting in front of a bunch of musicians playing in a room, you’re not thinking about how to deal with the muddyness you’re hearing. 🙂 You simply listen.

The combination of good musicianship (knowing how to get a good tone from one’s instrument) and your ears makes for a pleasant experience.

You don’t need to EQ your ears.

Sadly, once you stick a mic in front of all the instruments, things start to change.

For one thing, when you record a single instrument, you’re usually placing the microphone fairly close (within a few feet) of the instrument. If you put it too far away, you pick up too much room sound. Multiply that by how many instruments/tracks you need to record, and that’s a lot of extra noise you don’t want.

Also, with the mics so close, they hear the instrument differently than you would hear them from across the room. It’s a cleaner sound, but it’s not as “natural.” We don’t listen to guitar amps from 1 inch away normally. 🙂

That adds to the unnatural nature of recording. Things like proximity effect come into play. That guitar amp may not sound very bass-heavy, but when you slap a mic 1 inch from the speaker it picks up a lot of extra low end.

That’s just one example of the “unnatural” things that happen when you multi-track record musicians.

There’s nothing wrong with it. But you need to be aware that all those somewhat “unnatural” recordings don’t tend to blend together well.

Enter EQ.

Everybody’s sitting on top of each other. EQ lets you separate them, give them each their own “spot” in the mix…making everything sound “natural” again.

When you think of EQ this way, it helps you make decisions in context of the entire mix, rather than trying to make each instrument sound awesome by itself.

What matters is how they all “play together” in the mix. Take something away from one track to make room for another.

To learn how to use EQ (and a fun technique for training your ears), check out:


P.S. Don’t assume that mic placement doesn’t matter. The best EQ I’ve ever used is called a microphone. Move the mic around. THAT’S how you get the sound you need in the mix. Sure, you’ll still need to use EQ, but you’ll have a lot easier time if you first EQ with the microphone.