Composing Part IV – EQ & ReverbMar 06, 2022
ORCHESTRAL MOCKUP EQUALIZATION TO GAIN CLARITY
The goal with EQ when producing orchestral mockups is to gain clarity.
The foundation of this is done with your choices during the arranging process.
Adding EQ will help to take this one step further.
When adding tracks, you inadvertently can create muddiness and cause certain frequencies to build. We will cut those in order to deal with low-mids and a muddy-sounding mix This is sometimes known as “Subtractive EQ”.
*TOP TIP*: Do not apply drastic EQ to orchestral instruments, as they will start losing their characteristic sound qualities.
EQ is a very broad subject. I will describe the techniques I use most, and also the ones that have the biggest impact. But do not take these numbers and ranges for granted. Use your ear to decide what works for your specific project.
In general, you can cut around 200-350 Hz from most of your instruments (but use your ear to check for the truly muddy frequencies). Do not make a wide cut (high Q) or you will be cutting part of the low end as well.
You can cut a little bit around 3000 Hz, which is an area where frequencies tend to build up too much. You can go wider with the range of frequencies being cut around this area, but do not cut too much, as you may lose some of the definition and harshness.
The above suggestions need to be subtle cuts. For example, I usually use -3dB as a limit, but sometimes cut a little more.
Generally speaking, you are much better off trying to get a good balance with levels before making drastic EQ changes.
You can cut a LOT of low frequencies from your non-bass instruments. Use a frequency analyzer, which is built into most EQs (I use Fabfilter) to see how much you can cut. You will be surprised. Sometimes my High Pass Filter on violins goes right up to 400-600Hz. Still, use your ear. Don’t just trust visuals.Sometimes my High Pass Filter on violins goes right up to 400-600Hz. Still, use your ear. Don’t just trust visuals.
In general, I cut everything below 20 Hz for most low instruments, leaving only a small number of instruments without high pass filtering. These are certain sub booms or those instruments that provide the lowest frequencies for the mix. You can boost your bass instruments a bit around 40-80 Hz.
Think of EQ as a way of adjusting levels, but in a more subtle way, affecting just one range of the instrument frequency spectrum.
*TOP TIP*: In general, you will get better results by CUTTING EQ more and GAINING EQ less. The most experienced engineers will tell you that cutting is better than gaining, as it allows you to truly shape the sound.
If you want one instrument to stand out, find the most characteristic area of that instrument and then cut some dBs of that area for everyone else. Do not cut too much though, or you will start to lose the character that defines the sound color of those instruments. You can boost the instrument that has to stand out a little bit, but with care, because you might end up changing the unique personality of that sound.
I apply very subtle EQ cuts to avoid muddiness. I briefly show how I have my EQs set up in my template in this video.
This is also a very broad subject, but if you understand the following rules you will have the answer to many problems:
- High pitched instruments - Can tolerate lots of reverb
- Low pitched instruments - Can tolerate little or no reverb
- Long Sounding Notes - Can tolerate more and longer reverb
- Short Sounding Notes - Can tolerate less and shorter reverb
High instruments, playing long notes, legato or slow melodies, will tolerate more reverb. However, if they are playing a fast ostinato, they may tolerate a bit of reverb, but it has to be very short.
A reverb with a tail of 2 or more seconds is considered a long reverb. A short reverb has a tail that is shorter than 1 second.
*TOP TIP*: Make sure there is no reverb on your bass instruments (or at most a VERY small amount).
- One for 'panoramic' reverb (long sustained strings, sustained brass, choir -- tracks that need wide/wet sound)
- One for 'impact' reverb (spiccato, brass stabs, woodwind etc.). This reverb is shorter than the 'panoramic' reverb, simulating a big room, but with a quicker decay.
- One reverb for bass instruments. I almost never use this.
- One reverb for low percussion.
- One reverb for another percussion.
- One reverb for synth.
- One reverb for special FX.