Oh, yes, the dreaded “t” word. For many musicians, this is the misery of their existence. We just want to get into the studio and start working on our next masterpiece without having to think about things like frequency bands, key changes, or bit-rate.
But, unless we want to pay other people to do our work for us — which isn’t necessarily a bad approach — we’ll have to cross these bridges. It would be satisfying to burn them, but it would be detrimental to your quest to become the next insert influential songwriter here.
While your DAW and instruments will always be the backbone of your music studio, audio effects — whether native to your workstation’s software or third-party plugins — can be a Swiss army knife of otherwise unobtainable sounds and audio manipulation if utilised wisely.
You may provide yourself a better starting pad for your home studio’s creations by knowing about some of the most common audio effects, their intended objectives, and prospective uses.
Whether you want to learn how to mix your own music, explore the vast world of VSTs to expand your studio’s toolkit, or simply understand the theory behind it — no way! — It is my honest hope that this post will assist you in reaching your objectives.
Waves of Sound
I’m not a professional engineer, and I’m not claiming that this article will transform you from a complete newbie to a master of production, but it should provide an accessible overview of the most widely used audio effects.
With this information, you may begin to apply it to your own creative works, gradually becoming a competent audio engineer who is comfortable employing most of the generic audio effects on their songs via practise and application.
Books on Music
Of course, there are literally hundreds of books on the subject that will jumpstart your music studio’s campaign, hitting the ‘issue’ (that is, how to make a song sound good) from a variety of perspectives.
Individual audio effects have been the subject of entire books, so if you want further resources beyond what I present, please do so.
I’m not going to be envious.
THE FIVE MOST IMPORTANT
The 5 Most Important Audio Effects
In general, there are five basic audio effects that may be heard in practically any song that is recorded or played. Even if you’re not mixing, it’s likely that at least one of The Big 5 will become involved in some manner while you’re just fiddling around with some guitar pedals or even your hi-fi system.
Because of their prevalence, it is critical that we have a fundamental understanding of their functions before beginning any home studio project, even if we want to remain with vanilla VST/audio effects in the future.
The big five are as follows:
Compression is the compression of anything.
Saturation is the state of being completely saturated.
Today’s lesson will be focused on these topics, so sit up, pay attention, and prepare to take notes. If you’re lucky — and well-behaved — I might suggest a few additional exciting audio effects to impress your projects after class.
Are you all set?
Let’s get started.
EQS (Environmental Quality Standards) (EQUALIZERS)
WHAT ARE THEY, EXACTLY?
Equalizers (also known as EQs) are one of the most frequent types of audio processing, and are likely the only one of the five that customers have used without ever writing a song.
On your phone, typically with many presets, on your hi-fi system, on Spotify, on a guitar pedal, and even in your automobile, you can find EQs.
EQs can also be found in amplifiers and speakers, as well as in radio and television production rooms and theaters.Sound Sliders
Graphic and parametric EQ are the two most used types of EQ. There are a few others, but they all perform the same thing at a fundamental functional level: adjust the amplitude (electrical signal) of a specific “frequency band,” hence adjusting the overall sound.
This can be used to make things sound better, such as ramping up the bass in your automobile when a certain song comes on, or to remove unpleasant frequencies (sounds) like electrical hums and squeals.
Most EQs you’ll come across in your basic mixing and music-making adventures will also include a Q value, which determines the width of the frequency range that’s being tweaked.
Let’s imagine you want to reduce the bass volume of a music you’re working on. A low Q value suggests a wide band, which means your bass balancing cuts could range from 100 to 400 Hz.
On the other hand, if you use a much higher Q value, the loudness change may only apply to a range of 250-270hz.
A ‘filter’ is a term used to describe a method of modifying an audio signal. There are many distinct types of filters. Many of these will become second nature as your career as the next great musician progresses, but for now, I’ll keep it easy and provide a brief overview of the most prevalent and accessible filtering methods.
Shelving FiltersBell FiltersNotch FiltersHigh and Low-Pass FiltersShelving FiltersBell FiltersNotch Filters
High and low-pass filters (HPF and LPF, respectively) completely exclude all sound below or above a given frequency.
For example, if you set a high-pass filter to 200hz – the particular frequency range depends on the Q you employ – all sound below 100hz would be removed. A low-pass filter, on the other hand, does the exact opposite.
High Pass Filter in EQ
Filter with a high-pass value
These filters are necessary for almost all audio work, and they allow even the most inexperienced audio engineers to make a noticeable impact when cleaning up their recordings.
High-pass filters are also known as low-cut filters, and low-pass filters are also known as high-cut filters.
Parametric EQs have a few other capabilities, most of which I won’t go into since I don’t want to get dragged into the never-ending vacuum (keep an eye out for more vacuum metaphors throughout this series!) of audio engineering complexities.
Okay, that’s it. That’s all I’ve got to say about it. Let’s move on to the next section, where I’ll give you a taste of what you can accomplish with the overwhelming power that a simple little graph-looking-thingy on your screen can provide.
WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH IT AND WHEN SHOULD I USE IT?
Learning and applying EQ is better done visually (via image) and musically (through song) than the written word, as I ironically strive to tell my dedicated readers through scripture.
While the visuals supplied should provide some context, I wouldn’t be surprised if the previous section left a few novices to EQ perplexed.
Don’t worry; there’s a lot more to EQ than just understanding what it does. In fact, being taught exactly what to do with any combo is a harmful mindset in and of itself. The greatest way to do something is to do it for yourself (this will not surprise you, and may even irritate you…).
Engineer in charge of audio mixing
‘Well, someone on YouTube stated that if you EQ voices with a shelf filter at 5khz and a small boost at 450hz, then BAM!’ Your music will be ready for the air. However, when I used it to my brand new song, it made it sound much worse! ’
This is due to the fact that there is no single set of standards or criteria for successfully EQing a track. It should be done based on intuition and experience, and the only way to gain experience is to have the experience you need. Are You Experienced, as Jimi Hendrix put it?
Experiment with it! Choose a song at random. Various eq points can be dragged and dropped. Examine how each small modification you make affects the audio, potentially changing it in ways that are either invisible or game-changing.
With that said, equalisation is frequently utilised to improve the mix of a song in a variety of ways. I’ll go through a few of these techniques briefly before moving on to the second of five audio effects.
Sweeping is a technique for detecting offensive sounds such as room resonances or malevolent echoes. It involves taking a bell filter, boosting it by an absurd amount (often 15dB or more), and then sweeping (I know, right?!!) through the entire frequency spectrum, noting particularly offensive sounds.
Although how you define particularly offensive is a subject of disagreement for this strategy and one of its key limitations, it can be beneficial for EQ newcomers on a basic level.
After that, add a notch filter to each of the frequency ranges you noted down.
EQUALIZING THE MIRROR
This approach of equalisation, also known as notching, is focused on ‘big’ musical productions with a number of separate tracks and layers that have some sound overlap.
Mirror EQing is a popular way to provide space to a muddy track or a tune where instruments simply disappear into the noise.
This is accomplished by raising a specific frequency signal in one recording and then cutting that same frequency band in another, allowing the sounds to cohabit happily in the auditory spectrum.
FILTERING BY PASS
Pass filtering, as previously said, is a crucial component of any mixing exercise and is one of the few clear-cut bits of guidance. This is something you should do with everything.
Basically, cut below the point where any actual sound enters the recording, then use the filter to remove hums and buzzes.
Of course, experience comes into play when selecting where to trim, and the best way to do this is to listen to the song/audio rather than what some random man on reddit suggested.
When it comes to using EQ in your home studio, the list above is just the beginning.
It can be used creatively to mimic the sound of a loudspeaker or radio, or to change the position of various recordings within a sonic field. You can make vocals sound tiny and bright, or you can make pianos sound large and boomy.
What you do with EQ is up to you.