Processing Vocals Part 4 – 3 Tips for EQ-ing Vocals

Once I’ve recorded, edited, and tuned the vocal, my next step is to reach for an EQ. Some may go for compression, and that’s fine, but my preference is to EQ the vocal first.

If you haven’t already, you should watch my video Intro to EQ. In it, I explain the basics of EQ. As you can surmise from the video, I don’t like to use EQ as an effect. I view it as a shaping tool. If you need to use drastic EQ on a track, chances are it wasn’t recorded very well.

Here are some quick tips to try out when you EQ your next vocal.

3 Tips for EQ-ing Vocals

1. Get rid of excess low end.

I’m a big fan of using a lot of high-pass filters when I mix. In other words, I like to roll of the bottom end on just about everything in a mix except for kick and bass. Too much low end makes your mixes sound muddy and unprofessional.

Take a listen to a few of your favorite recordings. What do you notice about the vocal? It doesn’t have a lot of low end. If you’re looking for a sure-fire method for creating amateur-sounding mixes, just leave the low end in your vocal track. It’ll sound muffled and thick.

The reason for this is that most vocals are recorded with the vocalist just a few inches from the mic. Being that close to the mic brings the proximity effect into play. The closer a microphone is to the source, the greater the bass response of the mic.

So, by default a vocal recording will already have an exaggerated bottom end. Roll off all that boomy garbage.

2. Remove problem frequencies rather than boosting other frequencies.

This applies to anything you EQ. If you get in the habit of using EQ as a subtractive tool rather than an additive tool, your EQ will sound much more natural. Our ears tend to notice an EQ boost more than a cut. Cuts are more subtle and (in my opinion) more effective.

Here are some starting points for EQ-ing a vocal.

  • Roll off everything below 150 Hz.
  • If the vocal is still boomy, try cutting somewhere between 250 and 350 Hz.
  • If the vocal sounds “boxy” but not boomy, try cutting a little bit around 400-500 Hz.
  • If the vocal sounds a bit “honky” or “nasal,” try cutting somewhere between 1kHz and 4kHz

The one place I will boost EQ is in the high-end. If the vocal needs a bit of “air,” I’ll boost somewhere around 12 kHz.

3. Use EQ before compression

This is debatable, but nine times out of ten I end up using EQ before compression. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Compression brings out the flaws in a recording. Compression by definition makes the louder parts quieter and the quiet parts louder. So if there are a few frequencies that need to be cut, you need to do it before the compressor. Otherwise, those frequencies will only get boosted with compression.
  • Low frequencies tend to hog the compressor. If you put the EQ after the compressor, then all the bottom end that you plan to roll off with the EQ will still pass through the compressor. Low frequencies have a LOT of energy. All this energy will trigger the compressor more than you want it to, causing excess compression. If you roll of these frequencies first, the compressor will behave more naturally.

This article won’t make you a master at EQ-ing vocals, but it will give you a starting point. As always, use your ears.

If you want more help with EQ, check out:

www.UnderstandingEQ.com

Other Articles in This Series

  • Edgardo F. Salgado Bonilla

    Hey joe, Im trying to understand equlization it is not easy for me. what software do you recommend for starters and home recording. something not so topnotch but good. ive been using audacity but i wanna try others. ALso when i choose to equalized it shows a straight line on 0dB for you to edit so it doean show the equalization the sound already has… so i cant really “pick” low ends or anything cuz its just straight..

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Hi Edgardo,

      It sounds like you just need to spend some time playing around with EQ. As far as software I recommend, I love Studio One from Presonus. Great software to learn on.

  • http://twitter.com/m3n7alpiracy M3n7al Piracy

    awesome! applied ballpark gains or cuts of 1 to each recommended freq. on the center speaker channel, and removed dolby compression, it sounds amazing!

  • Nottheunabomber

    This little article improved my vocals so much. Thanks a ton!

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      You’re welcome!

  • LinzJupiter

    Thanks so much for this, Joe! My vocals sound fantastic now.

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Ha! That’s awesome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tevita.lolomanaia Tevita Lolomana’ia

    Thanks a lot for these tips, I am now excited to put it to use!

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      You’re welcome!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/sammy.g.t Sammy Taylor

    Super helpful.  Thanks!

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Glad you liked it. Thanks Sammy!

  • Ryan

    I like the idea of EQ before compression However, what i usualy do is put the compressor on the AUX track so I’m recording through the compressor, for me it’s what i like to do when i want the vocals to sound more chrisp and warm. (As long as the compression is appropriate for the vocal) On my next session I’ll takea practice run of EQing beforehand.

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Is there a reason you want to record the compressor plugin rather than just use the compressor on the track itself so you can change it later?

  • Hans

    Hi Joe, very good article. But I don’t agree with you on this: “Roll off everything below 150 Hz”. That is way too radical. I’m a baritone and my deepest note is E2 (82 Hz). By cutting everything under 150 Hz I would lose a complete octave. best regards, Hans

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Hey Hans! That’s why I always say “use your ears.” There are no rules. :-)

      However, the majority of singer can’t sing that low. That’s an incredible voice you have!

      • Hans

        Hi Joe, “use your ears” is a good rule :-) As for my range: I am a classically trained singer and in my church choir there are many other low male voices. So nothing special here. Tenors in contrast are much sought-after. Most other choirs I know (in germany) are in the same situation. Maybe in pop/rock it’s contrary. Anyway, you have an excellent site, thanks for sharing your knowledge. best regards, Hans

  • http://myspace.com/2hye Mr. hanky

    Thanks for the advice. Much props Joe.

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  • Djsam

    thanks joe .. for ur such wonderful tips ,,, regarding eqs .. trust me it really works .. i found gr8 change in ma …eq ,, plz keep sharing some ump tips … tahnks a lot once again ….

  • http://twitter.com/SinfoniaRecords Jennifer Lindsay

    Joe, do you have any guidelines for processing female vocals as opposed to male vocals?

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Not really. I approach them both roughly the same way.

  • http://www.jessegimbel.com Jesse Gimbel

    Great advice. These are things that it really takes just hearing from someone. For those wondering, EQ in general introduces slight phase changes, and boosting a relatively small Q definitely sticks out and gets much more noticeable phase issues. Even phase-linear EQ induces these issues but differently.

    But really, great tips. High cuts are a great tool and the sooner folks learn to use them the sooner they can get much better, cleaner sounding tracks. Great article.

  • Ed

    Joe,
    Wonderful site. Thanks so much!
    Apparently I’m one of the few using a hard disc recorder, (Korg D1200) You don’t talk much about recording this way and I’ll never be able to grasp the pro tools way so I’m stuck in simplicity for now.
    My korg doesn’t show the frequencies. just positive or negative increments. I’m hoping those are DB increments and I’m just turning them down 3db at a time.
    Any ideas?
    Thanks again!

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Hi Ed. I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking. Does the Korg have EQ on it or simply volume control?

  • Midus

    Joe thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge… This is an excellent site for new or experienced engineers to further their skills… I’ve learned a lot from you; keep it coming!!!!

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      You’re most welcome, Midus. Thanks for the kind words!

  • Abhijit

    Joe,
    Thanks for posting this…when you say put eq before compression, what does that exactly mean? In PT, if i am putting plgins one single track/aux-send, does that mean putting eq plugin on top (in UI) of compressor plugin?
    Abhijit

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Hi Abhijit! Yep. The audio flows through the plugins on a track from top to bottom. So if you put an EQ in the first slot and a compressor in the second slot, the EQ will be before the compressor. Try playing around with the order of your plugins, you’ll hear how differently they sound i different orders.

      • Abhijit

        Thanks..
        Abhijit

  • David S

    excellent site. i’ve been learning a lot from your postings and videos. thanks!

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Thanks David!

  • http://www.theautumnwindow.com Josh Law

    “If you’re looking for a sure-fire method for creating amateur-sounding mixes, just leave the low end in your vocal track.”

    This is SO true! I listened to a lot of my older songs and the mixes were terrible, and the vocals, as you said, had all the low end anyone could ask for.

    It’s amazing what people can learn in a few years.

  • http://www.myspace.com/t39stunes Ts Tunes

    Thanks for realizing your greatest potential and carrying us along with you Joe. Keep up the good work, you are appreciated. These lessons mean a lot to beginners like me.

    Peace and Positivity

    T

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Thanks so much! I’m glad you’re liking the site!

    • Mike Lykins

      Ditto…..thanks Joe. I really enjoy the humble approach mixed with the breadth of knowlege. Keep on sharing, am also looking forward to future training. I am eager and excited to learn.

      • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

        Thanks!