The EQ-Body-Map: Feeling The Frequency Spectrum
Have you ever read the advice “Use your ears?”
Also, you might have often asked yourself while mixing and mastering, “am I doing this, right?”
Well, some articles say, “If it sounds right, it is right.” Still, you would not necessarily know what those pieces of advice mean, right?
I am a mastering engineer from Berlin. When mastering, I think the key to a great sounding master is an excellent enhancement of the mix combined with a nice balance in the context of the particular song’s genre. Of course, this involves dynamics as well, but the most powerful tool to me in mastering is the equalizer.
If you have been reading about whether you should use a linear phase EQ or a non-linear phase EQ, passive, active, you name it, my initial answer for a headstart in mastering is: It doesn’t matter at first.
What matters is, that you understand what an equalizer does and what that sounds like.
Listen to the music – and yourself.
Music provokes emotions and mixing and mastering help reinforce that effect – when done correctly.
To understand how the tools in my DAW worked on an emotional basis, I did a lot of “blind-folded” trial and error-playing around with my equalizers and compressors.
It was fascinating to wildly “spin around” the knobs without seeing what I’m doing. However, this experience became even more intense and clear when repeating that with headphones.
And then it hit me! I was suddenly able to put into words why I equalized a certain way because I started to feel what the different frequency bands did to my body.
We respond to music all the time. And it is exciting how you can shape how we react to it!
What is the EQ Body Map?
Well, we’ve all seen analyzer interfaces already, laying out the frequency spectrum from left to right, lows to highs.
Tilt the spectrum by 90 degrees, so that it reads lows to highs from the bottom to the top.
Next, sketch a body next to the spectrum.
Now, you can adjust the scale of the frequency spectrum freely so that specific key frequencies match corresponding parts of your body.
Preparing the map
To identify the critical frequencies for your map, you need a few songs that you like and have a killer production, your DAW, a parametric equalizer and a pair of good quality headphones that you know very well.
For identifying the key frequencies, do the following: Import your reference songs in your DAW.
Before boosting or cutting anything, listen to one of your reference songs first. Close your eyes and pay attention to “where” you perceive which instrument.
After listening to the song as it is, listen to it again and try playing around with the equalizer. Choose one frequency band and set the Q-factor to 1. Set the frequency to 50 Hz if you want to start from the low end.
I found this easier to follow the “location” of the sound on my body. Now set a boost of about 4-6 dB and the change will be obvious.
Close your eyes and hit play again. Listen to the song, and feel the difference now.
Is it rumbling below your feet? Or more shaking at your ankles? Or is 50Hz making you want to shake your butt a little?
There is no right or wrong to that: Just take a note of it and move on. If possible, only shift the frequency without touching the boost amount or q-factor.
Again: optimum would be blindfolded.
Now, move up the frequency band a little. Does the “impact” change on your body? Can you determine where the song hits you most now? Open your eyes again and watch at what frequency you are. Take note of it again and move on like that until you are through the spectrum.
To give you an example, my map looks like this:
- 50Hz: Bottom. Increasing that works well for hip hop if you ask me. You know what’s up, shake your butt and bounce!
- 100Hz: Hips. A good punch in the kick drum makes you dance and shake your hips to the rocking beat. Too much might make your body look like a weird pear.
- 200Hz: Belly. Hmmm, nice. A little soft belly always feels nice. No belly at all might suit “slim” aesthetics; some aesthetics actually might require a big belly that squishes your ears a little.
- 300Hz: Sixpack/Muscles. This is where the energy lays in a mix according to my perception. If you have too little here, your mix will be lacking energy. Too much, and your mix will look like a tiny Hulk. Funny, but not necessarily what you might be looking for.
- 400Hz: Torso. 400Hz, to me, is defining the ratio between torso and limbs. The less you put here, the smaller the chest and the longer the arms and legs get. If you cut all of it out, you are creating a “slender man” mix. If you boost too much, your mix’s legs will be too short to run in the competitive race of the music industry.
- 600Hz: Throat. With that, I mean the base of the throat. If it’s too bulky, to me, it feels like a bad imitation of a bull.
- 900Hz: Nose. That’s the frequency to start your hunt for unwanted frequencies when your vocalist sounds like they are having a cold.
- 1500Hz: Cheek osseins. Too much here and it feels like I’m taking a phone call on a very old phone with a damaged speaker. Not very pleasant, but if it wasn’t there, you wouldn’t understand what somebody is telling you.
- 2800Hz: Forehead. Imagine someone pointing a nail on your forehead and is already reaching back with a hammer. That is what 2800Hz sounds like to me.
- 3600Hz: Temples. Copy the description of 2800Hz to 3600Hz and transfer it to the temples. Too much of it causes heavy migraine, trust me.
- 6000Hz: Cortex. A nice haircut will be a finishing touch to every mix. But the shiny effect of your appearance might be gone literally after seconds and then become super annoying if you overdo your hair. Do you like the smell of hair spray? Yea sure! But not too much.
- 10000Hz: Air. A nice mix needs room to breathe – air. What else do I need to say about this? Evaluate your mix’s context and give it as much room as it needs, but not as much as possible.
- 20000Hz: Space. I outlined 20000Hz as space since I am not able to hear 20kHz anymore, and I probably will never reach either. However, I can kind of look at it, and I would certainly feel it if it collapsed. Keep that in mind while mixing!
The body defines the performance
Being a mastering engineer, I use this body map on every track that I master. It helps me get a feel of what the mix needs to perform better:
E.g., a pop-punk song that could be on the next Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Soundtrack should have a sporty frequency outfit and perform cool tricks in a skatepark. Whereas a warm country song would be played at bonfires and is likely to have a farmer’s beer belly and telling his tales of the youth during a warm summer night.
I’ll bet you get the picture. If you’ve learned a lot of theory already, that’s great! Now you can link it to your emotional responses and how that makes your body feel. I hope that the idea of an EQ-body-map will enhance your mixes and help you place your mixes into their desired contexts.