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  • Philip Marsden

How to EQ Vocals



Vocals are easily one of the hardest elements of a mix to get right, especially when it comes to using EQ to shape them and get them to fit within a mix. I know it took me a while to get to grips with it when I first started mixing, but thousands of mixes later, it’s like second nature. So, today I thought I’d share some advice on how to approach EQing vocals and what to look for, so that you can get your recordings sounding exactly how you imagined them.


 

A few things to consider…


  • As a general rule of thumb, when you use an EQ on a vocal, you should boost with a higher Q setting and cut with a lower Q setting. These wider boosts and more narrow cuts tend to sound much more natural and transparent.


  • On a well recorded vocal, less is more. Try to keep your EQ nice and subtle so that you don’t end up with something that sounds really over-processed - unless you’re going for some sort of effect like an old radio sound or distanced, filtered vocal.


  • Always, always EQ your vocals in context with the mix, with it set to a level that works. Although it can be tempting to solo it so you can hear it in more detail, this can create more problems than it solves. When you’re shaping the tone of your vocal, you need to be listening to it with everything else around it so that you can be sure it fits with the mix.


  • Always gain stage - When your boost or take away frequencies, you’re going to affect the level of the track, so adjust the output gain on your EQ accordingly, making sure the level leaving it is the same as the level going in. This will mean you don’t constantly have to change the fader balance and will make sure you’re not fooled into thinking a louder vocal sounds better when you A-B test what you’ve done against the original sound.


  • And lastly, the frequencies I talk about below are just rough ranges - the exact frequencies you need to manipulate will change from song to song, but these are good starting points to help you find the sound you’re looking for.


 

So let’s dive in… Below I’ve split the frequency spectrum into six main areas and describe what sort of tones and sounds you can find in each. If you have an idea of what you want your vocal to sound like, but you’re not sure how to get there, make a note of these to help you along the way.


20Hz - 150Hz

These are your subs and bass frequencies. In a vocal, you can cut these out with a high pass filter because there’s rarely anything of use there - Just rumble, room noise and sometimes some boominess from the voice. Set your high pass filter anywhere between 120Hz and 250Hz depending on the voice, song and tone you’re going for. In a stripped back acoustic track with a male vocalist, I might leave more low-end in, whereas in a busy pop mix with a female vocalist, I might cut more out. It just depends on the context and what sounds good!


150Hz - 300Hz

These frequencies are often the fundamental frequencies of the voice. It’s where you’ll often find either a lot of richness or more of a muddy sound. If your vocal sounds boomy, muddy or undefined turn these frequencies down a touch. If you want a bit more richness and low-end from the voice or if the recording sounds thin, bring them up a touch.


300Hz - 800Hz

This is quite a broad range of frequencies in the mids and it’s typically where you’ll find boxiness and room sound. If your vocal has too much echo from the room or sounds boxy and small, take down some of these frequencies. If your vocal sounds lifeless, scooped or over processed, it might be worth bringing these up a touch.


800Hz - 4kHz

This is the range our ears are most sensitive to. It’s also a very busy area in most mixes. If your vocal needs more clarity, brightness or just needs to poke out of the mix more, try a boost around here. If your vocal sounds harsh, honky or nasal, experiment with turning down some of these frequencies with some high-q cuts.

5kHz - 8kHz

This is where a lot of presence and high-end clarity can be found. A small boost here can make a vocal pop right out of a mix and sound nice and crisp, but too much of it can easily sound harsh, thin and bring out sibilance too much.


10Khz and up

This is where you’ll find a lot of “air” in the vocal. You can boost this with a high shelf to bring out the top-end and give it quite a modern, bright, poppy sound, or roll some of it off if the vocal is just a bit too bright and “tizzy” or “brittle”.


 

I hope this is helpful for you! If you ever need any feedback on a track you’re working on just email me on phil@marsdenmastering.com. I’m always happy to help!


 

Want to get better at producing vocals? Download my free guide - Vocal Production Start to Finish



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