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Vocal EQ Cheat Sheet

How to EQ Vocals for a Perfect Mix

Many engineers and producers overlook the importance of vocal EQ when mixing down their projects, which can really ruin the end result. Although you’ll have to use some trial and error to figure out the best way to EQ your own vocals, there are definitely some basic rules you can follow that will improve your vocals in the mix every time, no matter what type of music you’re producing or working on. Follow these 5 tips to learn how to EQ vocals properly for a perfect mix. 

Vocal EQ Cheat Sheet

Get To Know Vocals Better: Vocal Range

There are six vocal ranges, soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, and bass. Vocal ranges and styles will have a fundamental effect on the use of EQ in production. A singer who sings in the tenor range will have a different vocal frequency than one who sings as an alto. A singer with a higher voice needs less low end, while one with a lower voice might need more low end in order to sound fuller. For example, a bass may need more low end because their voice is naturally deeper. The same goes for how high you boost your high end (6k-10k). 

Vocal EQ Cheat Sheet

Vocal Elements

Vocals are also made up of vowels and consonants; each of these contributes to the intelligibility of sung lyrics. Adjusting EQ on the consonant side can make certain words clearer. Cutting out certain frequencies around 5kHz can make words sound crisper, or removing 200Hz can help with muting m sounds such as map or mat so that all other vowels can be heard easier. Boosting 1kHz and 3kHz will add brightness to male vocals without compromising articulation or crispness; boosting 2kHz and 4kHz will help female vocals cut through a mix. To help even out intonation across vowel types, it’s important to listen closely when choosing where to cut/boost either high or low-frequency ranges during the mixing process—for example: boosting 5 kHz for male vocals but cutting at 5 kHz for female vocals. Or vice versa. Females tend to have higher pitched voices, so you want them to cut out any frequencies below 300 Hz to prevent muddy-sounding vocals. 

Vocal EQ Cheat Sheet

Dealing With Acoustics (Boxy Region) 

If you’re recording vocals in an untreated or acoustically unfriendly room, you’re going to have a hard time getting them to sound good in the mix. The first step is to try and improve the acoustics of your recording environment. This can be done by hanging blankets or foam panels on the walls or by using a portable vocal booth. 

To deal with problems like boxiness that are caused by bad acoustics, cut out specific frequencies from your signal using an equalizer plugin such as FabFilter Pro-Q 2. The exact frequency of the boxiness in your vocal will depend on the dimensions of the room and the location of the recording. In all but the worst-sounding environments, you’ll find that each frequency has its own way of interacting with room acoustics. Although it can be very time-consuming, each of these problems can be treated individually using a parametric equalizer. If you’re at the mercy of poor recordings fairly often or just don’t want to take all that time squashing rogue frequencies, then modern processors such as Oeksound Soothe2 can really make life a lot easier! 

Vocal EQ Cheat Sheet

Fixing Recording Mistakes

Proximity effect, sibilance, nasal tone, brittleness, and harshness are all problems that can occur during recording. If not dealt with properly, they can ruin a vocal track. 

Here are five ways to fix these problems using EQ: 

– Use a high-pass filter or low shelf to reduce the proximity effect. 

– Reduce Sibilance by cutting frequencies around 10kHz.*

– Reduce nasal tone by boosting frequencies around 200Hz and 3kHz. 

– Reduce brittleness by boosting frequencies between 500Hz and 8kHz. 

– Remove harshness by reducing the level of frequencies in the 5-8kHz range.

*Please note that sibilance can also be treated dynamically with a de-esser.

Vocal EQ Cheat Sheet

Fitting Vocals In The Mix & Making Vocals Present

How a vocal will fit in the mix in the context of what else is going on really depends on the individual mix. For beginners out there, EQ Instrument charts can help you understand where your vocal fits on a basic level. To get a little more specific many modern equalizers such as FabFilter Pro-Q 3 and iZotope’s Neutron 4 include built-in analysers to help understand the specific problem frequency ranges between tracks. It is generally advisable to either leave or carve some space for the vocal in the arrangement or individual musical elements. Using subtractive equalization in competing elements is a great way to give the vocal the breathing room it needs. 

If the vocal is still lacking the sparkle you hoped for, here are 5 tips to help make it stand out.

– To fix vocal muddiness, try using a high-pass filter to remove the low end. 

– To add vocal sheen, use a boost around 4-5kHz. 

– To give vocal presence, use a shelf boost around 2-3kHz. 

– To add vocal crispness, use a boost at 10kHz. 

– Finally, to add air, use a high shelf boost at 12kHz or above.

Vocal EQ Cheat Sheet

Professional Results With Fuller Tones

We have talked about how to make dull vocals sparkle, but you can also try using an EQ to make your vocals sound full, warm, and thick. By doing this, you’ll add body and depth to your mix, making it sound more professional. 

Here are five tips to get you started:

– Cut frequencies that cause vocal fatigue or hurt the ears (1 kHz).

– Boost frequencies that make the vocals warmer (500 Hz).

– Boost frequencies that make the vocals clearer (5 kHz).

– Add roundness with a mid boost around 500 Hz.

– Filter out frequency ranges to clear up sibilance (8 kHz).

Vocal EQ Cheat Sheet

Conclusion

To summarise, here are the key takeaways for your next vocal project.

1. Understanding the specific differences between vocal ranges, vocal styles, and vocal elements can drastically improve your ability to treat vocals with spectral (EQ), dynamic and creative processing. 

2. Acoustic problems are sometimes unavoidable; it’s important to know how to deal with boxiness.

3. Although it’s really best to take the time to capture a clear vocal, luckily, there are ways to iron out a bad recording if you can not part with the performance you already have. 

4. Fitting vocals into a mix has as much to do with the vocal capture as it does with leaving or carving space in the mix. If the vocal is sitting nicely in a well-carved space, we can also add presence or fullness to make it stand out. 

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