Understanding “Frequency” When Mixing Your Beats
There’s people that only think of EQ’ing as adjusting “bass and treble”, but there’s a little more to it than that. To really have control during mixing means you should learn what Frequency means. Some cats think that this is a complicated concept, but it’s amazingly simple. I’ll describe the concept of audio frequency and what is meant by “frequency range” in the simplest way that you’ll find on the internet:
- The word Frequency simply refers to a the speed of a constant vibration that is audible to the human ear.
- The vibration speed is measured in hertz (Hz). Every 1000 HZ can be referred to as a kilohertz (kHz), so 1,600 Hz can be also written as 1.6 kHZ.
- Humans are said to be able to hear the Frequencies in the range of 20 to 20,000 Hz (20 kHz).
- If amplified enough, Frequencies below 20 Hz can be physically felt rather than heard.
- Frequency generally correlates with Pitch; lower pitched sounds reside more in the lower Frequency ranges and vice versa.
That was almost all the knowledge you need to begin experimenting with a EQ to touch up your beats. Simple wasn’t it?
You’ve Probably Made A Beat That Sounds Funny..
So you’ve made your beat, but your music doesn’t sound “right”. Listen to it closely and try to pinpoint the issues you’re having. Try to listen to which sounds are causing the issues and try to give a description to the sound that bothering you. Is what you hear muddy?.. tinny?.. thin?, crowded? distorted?, too loud? Once you have a general idea what what sounds wrong, we can use EQ to fix these issues or at least get them under control. Time to use the Equalizer (EQ).
Note: An important thing to remember when making beat is to use high quality sounds. The old saying goes that you can’t turn isht into sugar; thats mostly true with the sounds we choose when making our beats. When sampling or choosing your drums, make sure you’ re starting with sounds that already basically have the characteristics that you’re looking for (tone, pitch, texture, etc) This will make things that much easier during the mixng process.
The point of Equalization in music is to make adjustments to the sound to get the sonics that you that desire. It’s also used to carve space for the elements in your production– more on this later. The best way to learn to use the Equalizer is to constantly tinker with the frequencies and use your ears to see how the adjustments affect your sound. When you get you get your head wrapped around how things are working, you’ll be able to know exactly how to achieve the sound you’re looking for and be able to surgically make it happen with speed and purpose.
The chart below shows various instruments and the frequencies they typically produce. The bottom of the chart shows which frequencies affect tonal qualities of your music. This type of knowledge is essential for trying to achieve a certain sound or trying to correct errors in your mix.
(Right click on this link to save a full sized version of the Music Instrument Frequency Chart above)
The Six Audio Frequency Ranges
According to Bobby Owsinski in his book The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook, the audio band can effectively be broken down into six distinct ranges, each one having enormous impact on the total sound:
- Sub-Bass — The very low bass between 16Hz and 60Hz that encompasses sounds that are often felt more than heard, such as thunder in the distance. These frequencies give the music a sense of power even if they occur infrequently. Too much emphasis on this range makes the music sound muddy.
- Bass — The bass between 60Hz and 250Hz contains the fundamental notes of the rhythm section, so EQing this range can change the musical balance, making it fat or thin. Too much boost in this range can make the music sound boomy.
- Low Mids — The midrange between 250Hz and 2000Hz contains the low order harmonics of most musical instruments and can introduce a telephone-like quality to the music if boosted too much. Boosting the 500Hz to 1000Hz octave makes the instruments sound horn-like, while boosting the 1kHz to 2kHz octave makes them sound tinny. Excess output in this range can cause listening fatigue.
- High Mids — The upper midrange between 2kHz and 4kHz can mask the important speech recognition sounds if boosted, introducing a lisping quality into a voice and making sounds formed with the lips such as “m,” “b” and “v” indistinguishable. Too much boost in this range — especially at 3kHz — can also cause listening fatigue. Dipping the 3kHz range on instrument backgrounds and slightly peaking 3kHz on vocals can make the vocals audible without having to decrease the instrumental level in mixes where the voice would otherwise seem buried.
- Presence — The presence range between 4kHz and 6kHz is responsible for the clarity and definition of voices and instruments. Boosting this range can make the music seem closer to the listener. Reducing the 5kHz content of a mix makes the sound more distant and transparent.
- Brilliance — The 6kHz to 16kHz range controls the brilliance and clarity of sounds. Too much emphasis in this range, however, can produce sibilance on the vocals.
With this knowledge, you should be able to head back to your setup with a new sense of control over your beatmaking. Experiment and experiment some more. Using the EQ will become second nature after a while and your beats will much closer resemble your visions of them.