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Tag: eq

The anatomy of a score mix #3

By popular demand, let’s take a look at the plugins in the session. As you can imagine there’s plenty of different brands and types represented in this mix. I admit that sometimes I suffer from plugin fetish in a way that I fall in love with some and maybe use them many times, but try to actively control myself in this regard.

During the mix I have the luxury to use both AAX DSP and AAX Native plugins as I don’t need to overdub right into the supersession. If we need some additional recording then I prepare another rec session instead of dealing with this huge monster. It would not only be extremely hard to do everything in the supersession during recording but would put immense burden on the recording machine too.

Let’s see the plugins divided into different categories.

EQ

Probably the first one will raise some eyebrows, but I still use it and actually like it. It is very reliable even when you automate the hell out of it.

EQIII

Yes, the old built-in EQ in Pro Tools, available to anyone. It’s versatile, trusty and requires virtually no DSP or CPU power so if you can have zillions of instances.

Avid Channel Strip

This is also a very good choice, a huge plus is it maps on the control surface almost perfectly. Honestly I could mix a whole score only with this. Don’t get me wrong I still love some other EQs, but I’m happy to use this anytime.

BX console

It’s a beautiful Neve emulation and a very good one in fact. Even if I only use the equaliser part of it, I often have it at certain places just for the sound. This EQ always make me smile, it’s smooth and for the lack of a better term, it’s always musical sounding no matter what you do with it. I don’t use it for surgical stuff but for general ‘console’ EQ. Also maps great on the Avid S6.

Maag EQ 4

I really rarely say this, but this thing is magical. Although by today’s standard this is not a flexible tool as it doesn’t offer variable frequencies. But frankly, it is still one of my all time favourite tone shaping instrument. Even half a dB can make huge difference and the Air band is amazing.

Waves API 550

The 550 B and A also falls into the emulations category, and I confess I’m in love with them. For me, these pieces just works. It doesn’t matter what the application is, you can be sure about that if you insert an API on it, it’s going to sound awesome. It has fixed frequency bands, but the bands are overlapping so it is possible to achieve anything you want.

EMI TG 12345

Yes, I know, another vintage emulation… But believe me, they offer vastly different vibes and sound. These oldies are somewhat limited when it comes to features, especially when you compare them to the newcomers, but they still has some very special magic you can’t really achieve with the modern tools.

SSL EQ

I know this is a big fetish in some circles, and for a very good reason. This is for me a very liberating tool. Just insert it, twist the knob and enjoy the result. Not saying that I’m thinking too much when using any other EQ, but this one always makes me smile.

McDSP AE600 Active EQ

This is a very special one. As this masterpiece can be a spectacular EQ and a Dynamic EQ at the same time. I use it for cleaning up things and for general tone shaping. It also sits on all the stems. As much as I love vintage emulations, this EQ offers all the flexibility you’ll ever need. It has 6 fully overlapping fixed and active bands and you can choose from many different curves depending on your needs.

Well, believe it or not, that’s it, I’ve used these EQs during the score mix. I know many think that using these vintage emulations are useless because you can achieve the very same thing with a flexible and modern tool as are able to have many different curves. I won’t say that sometimes it’s impossible to almost or completely match the curve of a vintage EQ. But! And this BUT is bigger than you’d think. The main point here is to achieve what you want rapidly without overthinking and without loosing perspective. If you start to be an engineer with a white lab coat analysing and reproducing different special curves, you surely won’t have a great mix. This is the reason why we still love and use these emulations.

In my opinion during a mix the bottom line is to use any tool that helps you achieve the result you’re after. Different EQs leads to different results and mixing is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Use whatever you like, use it wisely and trust your ears.

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What real-life can teach you

If it’s not obvious from the title, yes, I’m talking about my recent livesound experiences. But wait, it’s not a rant. Far from it. Although I must admit that the last few days couldn’t be more disastrous technically. Still, I think there’s a few things a sound engineer can do in order to make things (the gig) happen. Take this as a survival guide, but not a technical one.

Solution provider

I know it is a cliche, but really this time if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem. Yes, it might be one of the worst gig with almost impossible circumstances. But never forget one thing: you’re not hired to reinforce the bad, but to do the best you can. It’s that simple. The moment you focus on how it is not possible, you lost.

It’s not my job… well, this is probably one of the most destructive sentences ever in a bad situation. Yes, technically probably you’re right, it shouldn’t be your job, but the band hired you because they trust you. Go that extra mile to prove they’re right.

Ready for the unexpected

Right now I can’t count how many different digital and old analogue console serve as the built-in local board. Simply put, it’s impossible to know it all. Really. I’d been the executive FOH engineer for the biggest festivals in Hungary for years so I have a pretty good knowledge about the biggest ones, but still I always had my iPad with me filled with users manuals. One thing I really learnt from this is it’s not important to know every menu item. The thing you need to know is what you want to do. If you’re utterly lost in a console, simplify. Think it over calmly. The only thing you need to know is how the signal goes in, and goes out. That’s it. If you know this simple thing, you’ll find everything. In the path you’ll find the EQ and Dynamics section, etc.

Just don’t panic.

Negotiations

Of course there’ll be things that won’t work, or couldn’t be achieved. Be honest. Never ever promise something that you can’t do. It might seem convenient first, but musicians will ask for it, so in the end it’s not a good idea. Be brutally honest, but don’t be a jerk. There’s a big difference between real honesty and saying no to everything and being rude. It is your job to communicate properly. In my experience most of the time people understand and appreciate honesty, even if that means they have to give up something for that particular show.

Be the cleaner

Honestly I don’t know any other place where you can learn a lot about how to EQ effectively and precisely. Removing the junk with EQ is actually an art. A very practical one, once mastered, can make your show sound much better. This is actually also a very good exercise, and the benefit is there when you get back to the studio. After a bit of practice, you’re going to be faster, more precise and more sensitive to EQ changes. This is good no matter what area you’re working in the audio-land.

Decision maker

Whether you like it or not, it’s not your comfy studio with a hundred mastering grade plugins and ample time. You have to do it fast, make proper decisions along the way and stick with them until you find they’re not working. You have to make decisions. Have to make decisions no other guy in the room would like to make. It’s your job. Even if sometimes it’s hard.

In my opinion, you can learn a lot from all of the above mentioned things. Over time it’s much easier, but still, it’s not that easy even after many, many years. But you have to deal with them, properly. The side benefit is that you’ll be more comfortable with many things that also could happen in the studio. So to wrap up, you can learn a lot of things from it. But to really be better, you have to keep trying, no matter how bad that night is.

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Plugin revision (again)

Every year I stop and look back, re-open older sessions to see what I’ve done and how I’ve done it. And also to see what tools I’ve been using, which are the ones I seldom use. To be honest my iLok is very valuable not for the obvious reason that it holds the licenses, but because I’ve spent huge amount of money to software in the last couple of years. But only spent money which was really worth, which I really needed for my job.

Test, demo, test

As you might know I’m very picky when it comes to plugins. I always, always thoroughly test before deciding if I really need or want something. I’m a true believer in that you don’t need 100 different EQs and 200 different compressors to mix. A few carefully selected ones will make your life easier, will help you to achieve the SOUND you’re after, but that’s it. No need to a mile long list of fetish emulation. Don’t get me wrong, there are superb emulations out there, but you certainly don’t need them all.

ilok2

Plugin companies want you to believe that their new/old/emulation stuff will make your mix so much better, even they ask famous engineers to endorse/promote their plugins. In reality though, you need only a few to make a word class mix.

On my iLok I have 77 activated plugins. Including different Pro Tools licenses, EQs, Compressors, Reverbs and other miscellaneous stuff. I think it’s a bit too much, but going through the list I realise that I use almost all of it. Only 4 activated plugins sitting there mostly unused. Not because they’re bad, but whether I’ve found some better alternative, or I don’t really need it.

This yearly housekeeping always reminds me how important to choose our weapons wisely, and to not listen to promising advertising. Instead, if you feel the urge to buy something, I suggest to always, always make time to really test it. Do what you want to do with it, then do more, do crazy things with it to see-hear under all possible circumstances. After these first tests, try to recreate the behaviour with other plugins you already have in your arsenal. If, with some effort, it is possible to recreate that thing, you’ve got your answer, you don’t need the new plugin.

I take this very seriously. I could’ve spent many thousands on different emulations, but honestly many times they’re not that far apart from each other.

My very strict test process saved me huge amount of money over the years, so I stick with it. It takes more time and effort to always test the newcomers, but this way I really know that I have the best possible tools for my job.

Be your own judge, don’t let the marketing department fool you!

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Fabfilter ProQ 2 THE UPDATE

Yes, I mean it, with all capital letters. Honestly I’m very seldom get excited by any software update. When I saw Fabfilter’s sneak peak video about the new ProQ2 EQ, I thought that it’s very nice, I have to try it in the minute they’re going to release it.

The original ProQ has been my go to eq for some months now, no matter what production I’m in. It served amazingly well in music productions, sound design, dialogue mixing, during full re-recording sessions, so literally in every possible scenario.

Now here comes ProQ2, which is considered as a new product, but Fabfilter customers get a very fair discount upgrade price.

ffpq2 q

The update is not a cosmetic thing at Fabfilter, here’s the list of the new things:

  • Different interface sizes and additional Full Screen modeNEW
  • Operates in zero latency mode, linear phase mode with adjustable latency or the unique Natural Phase modeNEW
  • Spectrum Grab: just grab and adjust a peak in the real-time spectrum analyser right away!NEW
  • Filter shapes: Bell, Notch, High/Low Shelf, High/Low Cut, Band Pass, Tilt ShelfNEW
  • Universal filter slope support for all filter types, up to 96 dB/octNEW
  • EQ Match feature to automatically match the spectrum of another track via the side-chain inputNEW
  • Phase Invert option to change polarityNEW
  • Highly improved CPU optimisation: Pro-Q 2 uses less memory and is more than twice as efficient as its predecessor!NEW
  • Optional Gain-Q interactionNEW
  • Auto Gain and Gain ScaleNEW
  • Built-in spectrum analyser with Pre-EQ, Post-EQ and SC modes, adjustable range, speed, resolution, tilt and freezeNEW
  • Optional piano roll display to quantize EQ frequencies to musical notesNEW
  • Large output level meter with peak level readoutNEW

What really should be normal daily operation in the software world, but we all know it’s not, every new function works flawlessly, just as they promised. No weird things, no unkept promises, it’s just works.

ffpq2spectrumgrab

You really have to try it to believe. It’s not only a spectacular sounding eq plugin, but this one also has all the features we wished in post production. So, if you want a trusty eq which is not only good sounding but also “clever”, then try ProQ2.

I truly wish that more developers would go on this route like Fabfilter and Exponential Audio, that we, users really get value for our money.

Just for you to know, this is not a sponsored post, I’m a genuine Fabfilter customer, get the same prices and discounts as any other customer.

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Mix tips #1

The first very short tip is about low frequency content. Obviously everyone wants a tight, well-defined low end, which is so powerful that you can feel it in your stomach, yet so clear that it’s never mask or overpower the rest of the spectrum.

To achieve this, our very best friend is the good old high-pass filter. This is not a secret, but we have to be careful with it, or else we can easily kill our sub power, left with a bass shy, thin sounding mix. On the other hand, if we don’t use enough of it, we might end up with boomy bass spectrum, nasty rumbling dialogue, eating up our precious headroom. Neither is good for us, so we have to be cruel and soft at the same time.

Use a 18–24dB/octave high-pass to filter out the junk, the unnecessary rumbling, and use another one, preferably with a gentle 6dB/octave slope to reduce the lower part of the sound.

2highpass

It may sound strange, but with this technique, you’ll have a very natural sounding low-end, which remains powerful, but very controlled. The added benefit is that you can automate it easily, so whenever you need a little less or more cut, just move the filter lower or higher and you’re done.
Alternatively if you don’t have such a clever eq plugin that can provide two high-pass filters, use one high-pass to filter out the super-lows, and use a low shelf to execute the necessary low cut.

highpasslowshelf

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