by Rob Bee
Audio Production demands a skill-base many have referred to as witchcraft. Equalisation is a big part of the tools we have to master, so how do you apply a wizardly approach to EQ?
There’s a quote by Terry Pratchett. You’ll find it in Going Postal. It concerns magic and how the wizards use it. It goes like this…
‘Not doing any magic at all was the chief task of wizards – not ‘not doing magic’ because they couldn’t do magic, but not doing magic when they could and didn’t. Any ignorant fool can fail to turn someone else into a frog. You have to be clever to refrain from doing it when you know how easy it is. There were places in the world commemorating those times when wizards hadn’t been quite as clever as that, and on many of them the grass would never grow again.’
I like to think that those of us involved in audio production have a similar role. In front of us we have all the tools we could possibly want to manipulate and bend audio. We can take a sound and make it unrecognisable and unidentifiable from its original form. Digital audio production has opened so many doors and made things possible that even 10 years ago would have been thought to be impossible. But that doesn’t mean we should be using these tools just because we can. Just as those wizards were taught at the Unseen University to only use magic when there was no option, so we should be sparing in our use of the tools we have at hand.
I’ll give you an example.
I see the question asked many times on voiceover forums ‘What EQ should I be applying to my VO?’ and answers coming in thick and fast ‘Cut xxKhz,’… ‘Boost xKHz,’… ‘Roll off from xxxxHz,’. I’ve seen samples of EQ curves that voiceovers have saved as presets that barely leave a frequency untouched and it all makes me despair.
If we’ve invested wisely in our mic, interface and recording environment we already have great sound. With the possible exception of a high pass filter there should be no need to apply EQ to our dry VO recordings. You’re not improving the sound, you’re just changing it.
Yes, learning about EQ is a vital part of learning to produce audio. Recognising problem frequencies and making adjustments is an ability that will serve you well, Using EQ to create space for the different components in a mix or to create an effect or particular ambience is a skill that separates a good producer from a merely competant one. But this is a different thing to just whacking a few cuts and boosts onto a piece of dry VO just because we think it’s what a producer does.
A good producer is like a wizard; they know when to leave things alone because they’re already good. A good producer will only turn you into a frog if the script says you need to be a frog.
Need a hand with audio production?
Take a look at Rob’s audio services.