Demystifying EQ in Your Live Audio Mix

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One of our audio team goals for the new year is to gain a greater understanding of equalization (EQ) and how implementing that effectively can enrich our congregation's 'audible experience' during our services. So, how can that obscure section of knobs marked with Hz/kHz symbols on our consoles bring a more natural, clear and balanced sound? Let's take a closer look at few great instructions on how to properly set-up and utilize EQ in your live mixes.


Article Instruction

Our first instruction comes from John Mills (a 20-year audio veteran and Education and Development manager) who wrote in an article for entitled, 'Secrets of EQ in the Mix'.

When building a mix, we need to think of the song as a line. Each instrument makes up part of that line. If we have too many instruments or frequencies trying to take up the same space our line gets bumpy and the mix gets muddy. Listen to each instrument and think of a space for it on the line. Keep other instruments away from it (EQ wise) and you will have an easier time hearing that instrument. You wouldn’t want to have a really bassy, heavy electric guitar because it would be taking up a lot of the space the bass guitar really needs. Try to keep each instrument in its place.Think of each instrument as to what the fundamental piece of it is. For instance the fundamental of a kick drum will be low frequencies. That’s not to say you don’t need highs to make it cut, but there really isn’t much midrange going on with it. Try to carve out some of the midrange of the kick to make room for the low midrange of the bass guitar.

Another example is electric guitar. Many engineers mistakenly try to make the electric guitar huge to get a “larger than life” sound, but if you really listen to a guitar on a CD and focus on what frequencies are really taking up space in the mix, you’ll be surprised at how small the range actually is. I always tell new engineers never to be “done” with the mix. Listen for changes, and more importantly, listen to make sure that everything is in the mix and working together. Be attentive to the mix and what’s going on inside it. It doesn’t mean you have to constantly turn knobs. Focus less on the actual sound of the individual instrument and more on how it interacts with other instruments in that same range. There are no “magic” numbers that work every time because all instruments are a little different. The equation gets more complicated when we use different mics or the instrumentalist changes patches on their keyboard, but trust me… none of that is really important. What is important is that you focus on getting a natural sound that blends nicely with the competitors for the same space.


General Frequency Tips

20 Hz to 80 Hz:  This is your sense of power in an instrument or mix. It’s the stuff you feel more then hear. The kick drum and bass guitar are down here in this range.

80 Hz to 250 Hz:  The area where everything comes together. This is where a lot of things can go wrong and too much in here will make a mix sound sloppy.

250 Hz to 2 kHz:  Most of your fundamental harmonics are in this range. These are some of the most critical frequencies to building a solid mix. Learn what instruments are most dominant in these frequencies and clean up around them.

2 kHz to 5 kHz:  Here you will find the clarity to almost everything. But be careful, too much of a good thing can start to sound harsh. This is an area where subtly is the key.

5 kHz to 8 kHz:  Mostly sibilance and “s” sounds. Much of the vocal consonants are defined in this range.

8 kHz to 20 kHz:  Brilliance is the word here, the top end of cymbals.


Trust Your Ears

The most important question is “Does it sound natural?” Does it sound like the CDs you’ve been listening to? More specifically, does it sound like you were sitting in front of the real instrument? I keep this in mind throughout the performance. I constantly glance down all the channels and think about each input. Kick, does the kick sound right? Bass, does the bass sound right? Guitar, does the guitar sound right? Piano, does the piano sound right? Vocals, do the vocals sound right? Then I think about it all again and ask if the guitar and vocal are walking over each other. Can I hear the piano? Is it because the guitar has too much midrange near the piano part’s midrange? Try taking a little low mids our of the guitar instead of turning up the piano. I think you get the picture. It’s almost impossible to make the initial adjustments to instruments or vocals in the mix with the whole band playing. Instead I try to have a snapshot of what I think the instrument should sound like.

Read the full article by John Mills on


Video Demonstration

Next, for those of you who would like to see and hear what working with the EQ section looks life in 'the-real-world', lets take a look at a video presentation by Joel Hilsden. In this presentation, Joel demonstrates how audio technicians can properly work with basic EQ principles in a live stage setting.




EQ Tips Summary

  • Think of the song/mix as a line and try to give each vocalist and instrument it's proper space on that line.
  • Mix proactively - never be done with the mix. Work to make sure the mix is natural-sounding and working together as a whole.
  • Learn to identify 'muddy' or troubled frequency ranges in the vocal and instrumental elements of your mix.
  • Work 'deconstructively' first. Before boosting any EQ frequencies, identify and cut troubled frequencies within a channel.
  • Focus on the whole. Make final adjustments within each channel to create a natural, unified and well-balanced mix




Additional Resources

Frequency Spectrum Chart  

View and print the Frequency Spectrum, Instrument Ranges and EQ Tips chart we use here at the Vineyard. This chart can be kept next to your mixing console to aid you in working with 'troubled' frequency ranges until your ear is 'trained' to identify unwanted frequencies.






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