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Strip EQ: Making A Mix Place For Everything

Someday I'd love some measurement/consultant chap to attempt to explain (to me) his educated methodology for strip EQ; odds are good that would be a brief discussion...

Strip EQ adjustment remains one of the most cowboy parts of the performance art form.

Absent punching the EQ defeats on the strips, there is no organized way to control the behavior of an engineer doing strips.

It’s always done during performance or sound check, in response to literally immeasurable stimuli.

When manipulating strip EQ, you are answering the inevitable question, “What does this need?” Further, you are answering it on multiple channels, often forty or more.

You will note the measurement geeks never speak of applying Smart or whatever to the strips. No one will ever buy into that one. Can you imagine the marketing spin; “Smaart plug-ins for that perfect gated snare are better than anything Phil Collins ever did…”?

Recently, we’ve talked a lot in class about parametric EQ for systems and channel strips. In response, I decided I’d offer a favorite parametric EQ trick.

The Alexander Method
To start, run rough EQ adjustments on your strips during sound check and get the whole mess up and running.

Next, it’s time for some sophistication.

Choose two items (I prefer to start with electric bass and kick), sharing a frequency domain, and punch them both up in your cans.

This approach assumes that you have decent headphones (and preferably an external headphone amp). Sure, you can do it in the system, but then you get the mic pre with the room and all the system “stuff”.

Even worse, you allow others hear to your EQ process. This is never a great notion.

Assume you have a four-band Strip Parametric. Solo bass and kick at the same time. Then grab the bandwidth knob on the bottom band of EQ of each strip with each hand.

Spin & Listen
Simultaneously rotate those knobs until something or other changes and you no longer have one note bass.

The two instruments will separate, one going above the other in perceived frequency. The wrong one went higher.

Then wind the knobs the other way until you get the right frequency ladder between them. Move to the low-mid band and do the same thing. Then, move upwards through the rest of both strips.

Once you’ve done this with bandwidth, repeat the process with frequency, and finally with gain.

If you do this properly, you will get far greater strip-to-strip isolation, and improved channel-to-channel integration of musically appropriate frequencies.

Repeat this with keys and guitar, and then the snare drum and lead vocal. Be advised, if the console sucks you may have to do frequency select first.

Next, yank the headphones off and touch up the result in the rig. Your task now is to integrate your relatively pristine headphone data into the realities of the rig and the room.

Finally, remember to limit adjustments to individual band gain, pan, and fader level, because it is much harder to hear bandwidth and even frequency select as clearly in a room context than in refined headphones.

Jack Alexander is an associate professor and director of the Live and Installed Sound Program in the Department of Audio Arts & Acoustics at Columbia College Chicago.

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