A LOT of work goes into carefully crafting a sound. Everything from mixing the instrument tracks to EQing vocals.
It can be a LONG process, but well worth it when you come out the other end with the perfect mix.
What is EQing vocals? And why is it so important? That’s what we’re going to look at in this guide on how to EQ vocals.
To EQ vocals is the process by which a producer enhances the vocals. This is done to give the vocals the BEST QUALITY SOUND for whatever environment it is played in or to improve the track’s ending sound.
Every aspect of the song must come together, and the vocals play a vital role in that. There are a lot of great tips and tricks you can use to craft the perfect vocal, so let’s get right down to it.
Tips on How to EQ Vocals
Like with every aspect of music, there are always industry tricks and techniques you can use to ensure that you get the best quality sound possible.
Here are some of the best tips to EQ vocals:
1. Be Prepared
In the end, the vocal sound quality of your entire recording comes down to some prep work. It all starts with the mic and other environmental aspects that help craft the perfect space.
You will want to consider what sound you are going for.
Once you have this, choose the room, the mic, the setup, and the treatment that will herald the sound you are looking for. This will give you an excellent foundation to utilize the following tips and techniques.
2. Just a Bit Off the Sides
You want your vocal track to sound natural, and that is done by not being trigger-happy with the EQ.
Staying in the sweet spot can be done by not cutting or boosting any vocals more than 5dB. This will give the sound an authentic quality and improve the overall vocal track without distortion of the tones.
3. To Cut or Boost?
A good rule of thumb is that you will want to cut when trying to improve the sound and boost when you want to augment or tweak the sound.
This is true with any form of vocal EQ manipulation.
Start with the room noise, then the vocals, and then you can boost to your heart’s content. If you use this method, you will end up with a killer track and vocals that sing.
NOTE: Make sure you cut before you begin the compression process. Then you can boost to round out the process.
4. Delete the Rumble and Noise
Typically, a vocalist’s range lands somewhere in the range of 120 Hz- 20KHz (except for male vocalists that have that deep baritone timber). When you look at that range, you can easily see that a majority of the low end is all environment noise and rumble.
That means this is the noise that is taking up bandwidth and messing up your sound, so get rid of it!
5. Warm, Muffled, or Brittle?
There are a lot of dimensions to music, especially when it comes to vocals. You should know what you want the end product to sound like.
Once you figure it out and start experimenting, you might find yourself dealing with a sound that’s too warm, so you might want to try boosting it gently.
In fact, a boost of no more than 6kHz could be the secret sauce that you are looking for to fix the clarity of tone.
If your vocals go the opposite way and sound a bit brittle, then try fixing it (after compression, as we talked about above) by decreasing the frequency range by a small amount.
6. Mud is Bad
When you get a bunch of sounds together, it may sound like a big heaping pile of… MUD! That is because many of the instrument and vocal tracks will fall in the same range.
This will cause a jumble of noise, and in this jumble, you will find it hard to pick out one noise from the rest. That does not make for a sweet track!
So, the best thing to do is try to get rid of the mud, and this can be done with a little bit of cutting and a bit of Feng Shui action. That means cut and move until you get just the right sound.
Typically, this can be done by cutting no more than 5dB, as we talked about above. The trick is to do this around the 300Hz area. However, this only really works if you’re dealing with good vocals.
If you don’t have good vocals and they seem a little thin, you may have to do the cutting in the instrument tracks instead.
These are all great tips that will help you craft better EQ’d vocals, and in the end, lead to a well-mixed track that will be easy to upload for the masses to hear and download.
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Issues to Watch For
Understanding how to EQ voice and use techniques to craft your mixes (especially sick tracks) are the main goal.
However, what issues with vocals should you look for? After all, no voice is perfect, and there are bound to be a few flaws that need to be addressed.
These flaws can be used to create a specific sound or could be the downfall of a great track, so knowing what to look for can be a HUGE factor in the end product.
Here are some of the most significant issues that can occur with a vocalist instrument while recording that can be fixed with a proper EQ:
Though primarily fixed with a de-esser, this problem can be addressed with a little cutting in the EQ. Sibilance is when the singer’s vocals sound harsh and produce consonant sounds. This can really take the oomph out of a vocal.
Watching the frequencies and lowering or cutting them can help decrease the impact of these consonants and save the overall mix.
Although, you will definitely need to couple this with a de-esser.
Contracted Neck Muscles
Tension in the neck can cut off sounds or muddy them, and that can be tragic for the mix. This action often gives more power to the midrange.
If this is not what you are looking for, you can use vocal EQ to decrease the presence of that energy, creating a more even vocal.
Tension in the Nasal Cavity
When this happens, you will notice a decreased power in high notes. In fact, this tension in the nasal cavity will have the same results as tension in the neck.
With the nasal passage tensed the power will be driven into the mid-range tones. The actual location depends on the vocalist’s mouth and nose shapes, but the issue will be present, nonetheless.
The best way to deal with this is to make a significant cut in the offending frequency. This should relieve the “honk” of the nasal tension.
Too Close for Their Own Good
Standing too close to the mic or bobbing and weaving into it can cause serious attenuation. This can be a problem and needs to be addressed.
If you don’t catch while recording, using a vocal EQ filter and compressor to remove the unevenness of the vocals could be the way to go.
Tightening in the Larynx
Closing the vocal cords is something many vocalists do. It can be effective when used sparingly, but when it is the rule rather than the exception, you may have to fix it with EQ.
If you can find the range and use EQ to attenuate it, you may be able to lessen the effect and craft a smoother vocal.
Many things can cause thin vocals. Sometimes it is the vocalist’s voice. Or it can be an amp or mic that is a little light in tonal range. You can fix this issue pretty easily.
Simply bring up the bass in a wide frequency range. However, if it is the singer’s voice, you may have to do some creative problem-solving.
Instead of playing with the vocal EQ to boost the bass, you may bring everything else down into the low end. This should round out the vocals nicely.
This is caused by the loss of tonal range at the top end of your vocals. This can be fixed easily with a treble boost. This is going to need to begin with a slope from the corner frequency.
This should help rebuild the top end and make the vocals sound FULLER.
If there is too much energy put into the lower mid-range tones of a vocal, you may be looking at a mic issue. It could also be an issue that occurs due to the size of the room.
You might not be able to fix all these issues, but you can fix the track after recording easily. You will want to be careful and patient as the effects and EQs you will have to use may end up decreasing the fullness of the vocals altogether.
You will want to add a few EQ bands and decrease the width of the Q so that you can tidy up the sound.
This is not so much an issue with the vocal sound as it is with the equipment. In particular, the mic choice.
With this issue, you will want to add a little EQ boost in the 1-2k range. This will help give the vocals a bit of a forward push that will help with smaller speakers. You will want to be careful not to attenuate TOO MUCH out as this could damage the quality of the vocals.
We all know rumble and noise can be useful in some genres, but even too much of it in those can cause your vocals to get a bit muddy. Most of the time, a high-pass filter will be able to eliminate this issue. You can also play with the treble.
With this issue, you may have to do a little finagling to get the sound just right. You may have to use both a low and high pass filter. You may have to boost the treble slightly. But this problem is fixable with just a bit of patience.
To get the right EQ’d vocals, it takes you to know what to look for and how to fix the problems that may arise. These issues are all relatively common, and paying attention to them should help you achieve the sound you want.
In the end, most audio engineers look for a nice NEUTRAL sound that they then boost with plug-ins and effects to give the end result in a unique soundscape.
Vocal EQing Software
Having the right software to EQ vocals and mix tracks is perhaps just as crucial as the right mic and the right set-up.
Each program will have its pros and cons but finding the one that works for YOU can be the difference between an okay track and a chart-topping hit.
There are a few industry standard programs that you will have to pay for that offer more range of plug-ins. These are called DAWs or digital audio workstations.
Part of the Avid Suite, which has been used in Hollywood on major motion pictures and in the studios of many music labels, Pro Tools has been the industry standard for decades. It is a DAW and has a bit of a learning curve.
However, once you have it down, the ability to mix and EQ vocals with this program is fantastic. It does cost a bit, but if you are building a studio and you want to deliver high-end vocals and complete mixes, then Pro Tools is a great tool to have.
Adobe Audition is another option that will allow you to mix your tracks down and optimize the EQ of your vocals. It’s easier to use than Pro Tools (but isn’t quite as feature-rich) and does cost a little bit, but it’s well worth it if you want high-quality tracks.
You can purchase the cloud download for the program individually or go all-in and get the whole creative cloud for a monthly fee.
There is also some free options that you may want to check out as well. These options may not be pro-level, but they certainly offer you an excellent ability to EQ vocals.
Free is always good, and it is even better when it is free and of high quality. That is what you get when you look at Audacity. This is audio editing software that has been around for a while.
It offers a great range of effects and plugins and is user-friendly, too. Though the interface may seem a bit outdated and clunky, there are so many great tools at your disposal you will be able to craft and EQ the perfect vocals.
This is Audacity’s lighter, easier to use cousin. A new program in the game, Ocenaudio comes with a tone of vocal EQ capability, and you can even edit and hear the changes in real-time. This gives the engineer tons of control and speeds up the process.
Though it does only support single stereo files, you will still be able to use this free program to help EQ your vocals.
WavePad is another older DAW that still has a lot going for it. It is compatible with multiple devices as well as operating systems. Its interface may also seem a bit outdated and perhaps a bit clunky.
It’s easy to use and offers a lot of effects and vocal EQ capability that will help your vocal needs. You can batch process, which makes the final step easier, and you can even create a preset to apply to all the tracks as you mix them down.
Many other options only work on one OS and not the others, but the ones above are compatible with multiple devices and OS’ which will make them much more versatile. If, however, you do not need versatility.
Here are a few other free programs you could check out:
- Audio Cutter Pro
- Nero Wave Editor
With a good grasp of the knowledge, you NEED to know how to EQ vocals. You are then set with a key part of the total mix process.
In the end, even if you know how to EQ vocals perfectly, you may still end up with a mix that just doesn’t meet your requirements. Though learning this part of the process will help you get closer to that perfect product.
We hope we helped you learn how to EQ vocals and feel better prepared to set up your system and the room and get down to vocal recording some tracks that give you a great baseline to start with!
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April 27, 2022 – minor content edits
May 14, 2021 – added table of contents, updated images, fixed and updated article formatting and content, added new article images, updated links