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

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