Mixing Vocals

Persuading a problematic vocal recording to play nicely with the rest of your mix can seem like a futile task. Well-recorded vocals and poorly-recorded vocals both need to be correctly prepared, and the processes we’re going through today will help you turn your untreated vocal take into a polished and commercial sound.

Here are some tips and techniques for treating vocal tracks with EQ while mixing.

Most importantly: Every voice is different, and every song is different. That advice bears remembering, even if you’ve heard it dozens of times. When you find yourself approaching a vocal mix on auto-pilot, applying effects “because they worked last time,” consider disabling the EQ altogether to gauge just how badly the adjustments are needed.

Reasons to EQ: The 3 main reasons to filter a vocal with EQ are
1) to help the voice sit better in the mix,
2) to correct a specific problem, and
3) to create a deliberate effect, like “A.M. radio voice.”

If you’ve EQ’d a vocal track for some other reason, be sure the result is improving the mix.

Gentle boosts: The “cut narrow, boost wide” guideline applies to vocals perhaps more than any instrument. Our ears have evolved remarkable sensitivity to the sound of human speech. (Consider how easily we pick up a single conversation in a crowded noisy room.) So we’re immediately, instinctively aware when a voice has been processed unnaturally.

High-pass: Most vocals – though of course not all – benefit from a low cut filter. The average fundamental frequency in an adult male voice is 125Hz, and often you can roll off up to 180Hz without affecting the sound. (If your mic or preamp has a low-cut filter, consider engaging it when recording vocals, as most subsonic audio in a vocal track consists of mic-stand noise, breath rumble, popping, and other undesirable sounds.)

Bypass: Especially with high-pass filters, it’s easy to remove too much body from a vocal, as our ears adjust so quickly to new sounds when mixing. If your EQ has a bypass option, use it periodically to make sure you haven’t gone too far with an adjustment.

Common fixes:

  • To reduce a nasal sound, try dipping a few dB around 1kHz, and moving the center frequency slightly up or down to find the most effective point.
  • To treat popping P’s and T’s, cut everything below 80 Hz.
  • For a little extra clarity and presence, try gently boosting the “vocal presence range” between 4kHz and 6kHz.

Reasons NOT to EQ: EQ can’t make your voice sound like someone else’s.

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