Imagine this scenario: You’re deep into a mix when you notice one track standing out as quieter than the rest. You attempt to boost its volume, but it still fails to hold its ground.
The root cause may not necessarily be its softness, but rather it’s stuck in the middle, sandwiched between two other tracks, leaving no room for its presence to shine through.
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What is Frequency?
Frequency is closely tied to the pitch of a sound, as the pitch reveals its frequency. With a wide frequency range reaching up to 20,000 kilohertz (kHz), you may wonder how this relates to mixing. After all, sounds have different pitches. So, why is understanding frequency crucial?
The answer lies in managing pitch clashes among different sounds in a track. Simply increasing the volume won’t necessarily make an audio element shine; it may instead muddle the entire track’s appeal.
Instead, it’s important to address the frequency of each audio element before adjusting its volume. This involves boosting the relevant frequencies and cutting or reducing the frequencies that don’t belong to that specific element.
By having a firm grasp of an audio element’s frequency, you can make precise adjustments. This process, known as equalization or EQ-ing, allows for fine-tuning, increasing, or decreasing an audio element’s frequency range.
We will touch upon EQ-ing later on, but first, let’s talk about the actual frequency spectrum.
To help understand the spectrum a lot more, many EQ plugins divide the spectrum into sections. These are called bands. The one that we’ll discuss is 7-band EQ. So the spectrum can be divided into 7 parts.
These are the sub-bass, bass, low-midrange, midrange, upper-midrange, presence, and brilliance.
The first section is called the sub-bass. The frequencies inside this section are 20-60Hz.
The most common sound that resides in the sub-bass is the kick drum. Apart from that, most of the instruments, especially those that provide the melody, will be much higher.
Sub-bass is heavy and when edited right, can give off a feeling of power.
The bass section houses a frequency between 60-250Hz. As you can guess, the instrument most associated with this section is the bass guitar.
This lower section focuses on warmth, something that makes a song’s bass line sound alluring. Too little of it will make the bass sound thin and flimsy. But too much of it will make it sound boomy and too overbearing.
Bass guitars and bass synths are the ones that get a boost in this section, but not too much. If the other audios aren’t from the aforementioned instruments, then cut that section.
The lower mid-range houses 250-500Hz.
This section still focuses on the bass or lower sounds of a track. Where the previous section focuses on warmth, this section is more interested in its presence.
Other sounds in this section include the lower strings of an electric guitar or the lower keys of a piano.
The mid-range represents the realm where high-pitched melodies and harmonies take center stage. It encompasses various elements such as the rich tones of an electric guitar, the majority of piano keys, and the vibrant sounds produced by instruments like horns and string sections.
In terms of frequencies, the mid-range typically spans from 500 to 2000 kilohertz (kHz). This sonic territory plays a crucial role in adding depth, texture, and character to musical compositions.
This section can be tricky, but a general rule of thumb is to be wary of boosting this frequency. Increasing the level of this frequency can make your audio sound thin and even screechy.
It is especially dangerous to increase it as it can affect your ears and give you a bit of a headache.
Keep this in mind when you’re about to tackle this frequency range.
Beyond the mid-range lies the upper mid-range, which builds upon the presence and clarity of audio. This frequency range typically spans from 2000 to 4000 kilohertz (kHz).
It’s crucial to exercise caution with the amount of sound occupying this frequency range, as an excess can overwhelm the entire track, resulting in an overpowering mix.
To achieve a clearer and less muddled sound, most instruments should have their frequencies cut within this range, creating space to highlight the vocals. This principle relates directly to the previous example—when the upper mid-range frequencies in vocals are not boosted, they can feel buried beneath the other instruments.
Increasing the volume alone won’t rectify this issue. Instead, focus on boosting the upper mid-range frequencies in the vocals to bring them to the forefront, ensuring they command the attention they deserve.
Presence plays a critical role in ensuring clarity and intricate detail in audio. It aims to bring the sound closer and enhance the sense of immersion for the listener.
The frequency range of this section typically spans from 4000 to 6000 kilohertz (kHz). By emphasizing presence, you can achieve a heightened level of clarity and meticulousness in the audio, allowing individual elements to shine and create a more intimate and engaging experience.
The ones that will benefit a boost in this section are vocals. Vocals are the main attraction of a song. Not to undermine the other instruments of course, but when a track has singing vocals, you will mostly zero in on the singer.
As such, you want to bring the presence of the vocals much closer to the listener.
Another instrument that will benefit from a boost in this range is the snare drum. Boosting it a bit (emphasis on “a bit”) will give your snare a more punchy and stronger sound.
The last section is called Brilliance. The frequencies inside this section are 6000-20,000kHz.
So what this section provides is polish and more definition.
Again, your vocals will benefit greatly if you add a small boost in this frequency. Like with the other sections, too much boost will make it sound too airy. Another risk it creates is sibilance. These are the “s” sounds in singing and they can be jarring to hear all the time.
That’s why plugins known as de-essers are used, to take out as many sibilances.
Another instrument that benefits a slight boost is cymbals. Boosting it slightly will add crisper when hi-hits and cymbals are played.
It’s All About Balance
When it comes to the vast world of frequencies, the key takeaway is all about creating a balanced mix. While the allure of clear vocal takes, captivating melodies, and dazzling effects can make a song great, their impact diminishes without proper mixing. Without cohesion, sounds clash, and the result is a dissonant composition.
Enter EQ-ing. Armed with knowledge of which sounds inhabit specific frequencies, you can now determine whether boosting or cutting certain frequencies will benefit the audio. Understanding frequencies in this way brings clarity to the mix and helps achieve a harmonious and cohesive sound.
Consider this your guide to demystifying frequencies, making the learning process more approachable and digestible. Embrace the power of the frequency spectrum and unlock the potential to craft well-balanced and captivating mixes.