In episode 0123 of the Worship Ministry Catalyst Podcast, we talked about some of the issues that plague worship ministries around the world. If you haven’t checked out that episode, you’re definitely going to want to do that! You’ll also want to check out the last post I wrote about Gain Staging.
Let me issue you the same caveat I issued before, I’m a worship pastor and musician who has had to learn sound throughout my career. I have no professional training, I just have what I have learned through research and experience.
Graphic equalizers are quickly becoming a thing of the past. They are much like the ones you remember on your old stereo, and in racks of sound gear. For live sound use, you probably saw a 31 band eq. This gave you 31 bands that you could turn up or down. Since they’re not that popular anymore, I won’t spend much time talking about them.
The way I would describe how EQ works is like turning up the volume on a specific or fairly specific frequency. On analog sound boards, the user will have very little control over the frequencies to choose from. Typically there will be three EQ knobs to choose from, Hi, Mid & Low. Generally, the frequency for the Hi and Low are set, and all you can do is turn them up. However, often times you will have a knob for the mids that you can use to sweep to a different frequency.
On digital boards, you usually have what is called a parametric EQ, with 4-7 bands. A parametric EQ gives you at least a hi, mid and low knob that you can use to choose a frequency. Then you have what is called a Q knob, or width or bandwidth. And of course you have a knob that you can use to turn the frequency you selected up or down.
The hard thing to explain is the Q knob. First you set the frequency you want to turn down or up. Then the wider your Q the more surrounding frequencies will also be adjusted when you turn the frequency knob up or down. For example, if you are trying to find a specific frequency that is causing you issues when it comes to feedback, you would want a fairly narrow Q. Then you’d just sweep the frequency knob until you found the feedback and could turn it down. If you were trying to bring up the low end of a bass guitar, you’d want to set your EQ to something low, around 125 or 150 and set a fairly wide Q. (Since each note of the guitar is a different frequency, you’ll want the EQ to encompass all of the low frequencies.)
The general consensus I have found when it comes to how you should approach EQ is to subtract first. If something is muddy, start taking out frequencies first, before you boost others.
For instance if a vocal is muddy, you would probably want to start in the 4-600 hz range and bring some of that down. If they’re still not crisp, you might want to add some around 2khz. You may also want to add some around the actual tonal range of the voice, (for males around 200-300hz, females 300-500hz)
The next theoretical way to use EQ is to help clean up your mix. The idea is get each individual channel or instrument into its own EQ slot. In other words, you wouldn’t want to turn up 500hz on every channel. You would want to decide what instrument fits most natrually within that range and turn it up.
So, Bass & Kick will be your Low frequency items, as well as Bass vocalists. Then you’ll have things like male voice, maybe piano, maybe acoustic guitar, Toms, Snare and female vocalists. After that up in the 600+ range you’ll have guitars and other instruments. You do NOT want to try to limit instruments to a very narrow range, things will sound really weird. But you will want to accentuate those instruments in their natural range and turn them down in areas that aren’t natural for them.
This post is already getting kind of long, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. There are literally thousands of different directions we could go from here. You’ll want to do some research on how to EQ a Kick Drum and a Snare. As well as an acoustic guitar.
Play with the knobs during rehearsal. Don’t do it during the service, but especially when things are just getting started, play with the knobs and learn what sounds good and what sounds bad. Try widening the Q and narrowing it. Try turing up 500hz on the snare drum and widening the Q (and hopefully hear how bad that sounds…) and then do the opposite, turn down 500hz and narrow the Q.
The more you adjust and listen and learn, the more you will train your ears and brain to hear what sounds good and what doesn’t. Start to train your ears so that when you hear something that’s off you’ll be able to identify it and go adjust the EQ.
Hope that helps. If it doesn’t, ask a question below.
If I’m wrong about something, correct me by leaving a comment!