Applying vocal EQ to a recorded performance involves taking a raw, “dry” track and making it into something that is “radio-ready”. Vocal EQ involves editing various track elements to improve the quality and sound of the recorded vocals. The idea is to EQ it to sound as clean and natural as possible within the overall mix. More often than not, small changes end up having significant effects.
It shouldn’t take much to EQ a vocal track to your liking with a quality vocal performance. Simple moves such as filtering low-end, boosting the high-end, and attenuating harsh frequencies can completely change the sound of a track. As you begin to get comfortable playing around with vocal EQ, you’ll quickly notice an improvement in the overall quality of your mixes.
Critical Frequencies To Be Aware Of
When it comes to Vocal EQing, it’s crucial to know which frequencies address what aspects of your track. Knowing these EQ frequencies allows you to eliminate any guesswork and make quick, intentional changes to your track.
It’s best to remember that these are average ranges, and they will vary slightly from one artist to the next. However, this should give you a good idea of where to start.
- 100 to 300 Hz: Warmth and fullness
- 500 to 800 Hz: Boxiness
- 800 to 1.5 kHz: Nasal tones
- 3 to 6 kHz: Presence
- 4 to 7 kHz: Sibilance
- 10 to 15 kHz: Air
In addition to the individual artist performance, the recording space and gear used to record may also have a slight effect on these frequencies. For the most part, the guide above should help you identify the major areas you will want to focus on EQing.
A good way to familiarize yourself is to simply spend some time boosting and cutting these ranges. You’ll get a pretty good idea of how each area affects the overall tonality of the track. The more familiar you become, the more quick and precise you will become at preparing vocal tracks.
Top Vocal EQ Tips
Let’s take a step-by-step look at some of the top Vocal EQ tips for any genre or style of music.
Use A High-Pass Filter
Utilizing the high-pass filter will always be one of the first steps you take when EQing vocals. This will help remove any unnecessary background frequencies to make the vocal track more clean and clear.
Start by applying the high-pass filter to your vocal track and setting it around 100 Hz. You’ll want to leave a gentle slope so that you aren’t harshly cutting everything under 100 Hz and creating an unnaturally thin-sounding track. As we mentioned earlier, you’d be surprised what a difference a few gentle adjustments can make here.
It’s common for engineers to record vocals using a preamp with a high-pass filter engaged. This usually puts your range somewhere between 60 and 80 Hz. You can adjust the filter more towards 80+ Hz if you feel your vocal track needs a bit more depth and bottom-end.
A good rule of thumb to follow is that, generally, adjusting your HPF as low as you can get it without thinning out the sound will be your sweet spot.
While there are general steps you can take to streamline your vocal mixing across the entire song, such as creating a vocal bus (more on this below), you will always need to make time to go through each track individually. This helps you identify any errant frequencies or uneven spots that need to be adjusted still.
While it is important to pay attention to the overall sound of a mix, knowing how and where to identify little details that are almost-right-but-not-quite in a track will boost the overall quality of your song. This goes back to what we were saying about small changes producing big results.
The lesson? While you don’t want to lose sight of the big picture, making time to individually EQ each vocal track as needed will help make your vocal performances sound tight while eliminating any unnecessary frequencies.
Create A Universal EQ On A Vocal Bus
It is common practice for experienced mixers to have a preferred vocal signal chain on a mix bus. This makes it easy to select tracks to route through it. These chains usually include the basic mixing tools such as a compressor, de-esser, and an EQ, which get universally applied to any and all tracks routed through it.
You can use this to set up a vocal EQ chain that will process all of the vocal tracks running through it. This is where you will be able to shape a consistent, overall vocal sound. You will want to pay special attention to dialing in the high and low-ends.
If you have already applied a high pass filter around 100 Hz, then you can cut here around 250-300 Hz. This will help clear up any of the muddy lows still sitting between 100 and 300 Hz for most vocal performances. Be careful not to cut out too much here, as it can leave your track sounding thin and lifeless.
If you need to brighten up the track a bit, you can add a little air between 10-12 Hz using the bus EQ. This should add a more polished edge to the sound.
Other Tips To Consider
EQ The Lead Separately FromThe Back-ups
To ensure your vocals sound great, you should always separate your background vocals and harmonies from the lead vocals. You can use your EQ here to make sure that the background vocals sit neatly below the leads without trampling all over them or distracting from them.
One way to achieve this would be to “tuck” the background tracks underneath the leads by filtering out some of the high-end. A low-pass filter set somewhere between 6-8 Hz can help un-muddy the background from the leads without sacrificing depth.
The telephone EQ effect is often heard in recordings and simulates vocals coming through the filter of an old telephone line. This is used in pop and hip-hop most often but has been used by artists of all types.
Using your EQ to create the telephone effect is actually quite easy. In fact, many EQs come with a preset that emulates this effect. You can also achieve it by applying a band-pass to “pinch” the vocal track. This basically filters out both the high and low frequencies simultaneously. To add more of a crisp edge to the sound, you can boost the mid-range frequencies to exaggerate the effect.
When it comes to vocal EQ tips, there is no substitute for experience and experimentation! Every artist and engineer is different, each with their own unique preferences and methods for achieving their sound.
Having a general understanding of how an EQ works and what frequencies affect which aspects of performance will ultimately save you a lot of time and effort while improving the overall quality of your song.
Also, read How To Really Use An Equalizer (EQ)