by Eric Chancey, @BigDaddyDecibel
Having trouble getting your microphones to sound good? Are the instruments sounding muddy? Are things not quite as good as they used to be?
Maybe it's time for a new system (that's what many dealers will tell you).
I can hear you now, "But you said that this article is a 'no budget' article, and last time I checked, my dealer didn't take 'no budget' for payment."
Your system probably sounded pretty good at one point, so the problem may not be in the equipment - the problem may be time.
Time? What does time have to do with it?
Time has a way of being reflected by lots of little changes to the channel equalizer (EQ) resulting in big hole carved into the sound. A change for a special guest, a small dip to squelch feedback, etc.
Those changes aren’t always apparent until they have piled on to the point that you notice that something isn't right.
Recognizing that something isn’t right is the first step. But before doing anything drastic, try a few simple steps to see if the system is really to blame.
You might just find that you're due for an "EQ Re-do" instead.
Keeping your microphone or instrument plugged in, turn the gain on the channel all the way down. I can hear you again, "What does channel gain have to do with EQ?"
Well, if you've made any EQ cuts, setting those controls back to zero (your next step) is going to add gain back into the channel. Also, make sure to bypass any dynamics or inserts (compressors, noise gates, etc. in both the digital and analog realms) you're using.
With the EQ now flat and the channel gain all the way down, bring the channel fader up to zero. Once the fader is at zero, add any additional gain needed to set your levels properly.
Now you're ready to start your EQ Re-do. Using your the channel EQ, make a quick cut to about 10:00 and sweep the frequency knob back and forth and listen so that you can CUT the bad stuff out.
How do you know which frequency to cut? Keep the cut at the point where things sound best.
When you've made the changes, there may be a need to adjust the channel input gain to make up for the lost volume due to those cuts.
If you're fortunate enough to have a Q or Bandwidth setting on your channel EQ, use that to adjust the width of your cut, so that you are not affecting good stuff that you want to keep.
That should sound better.
Once you've finished your EQ Re-do for each channel, you may have to tweak your dynamics or inserts to work with the new settings.
Finally, make sure to keep a log, write down your settings and file them in a binder so that you will have a reference to get back to. If you have a digital console, make sure to keep a "clean" scene with all of your settings safe and locked. Then you'll always have a home base that you can return to as time has its effect on your system.