Vocals are one of the most important elements in any song, so you have to make sure that you mix them properly.
And, equalizing vocals can be challenging, especially when their bass is strong, or when they have harsh frequencies.
But, fortunately, there is a great general guideline that will always give you your desired result.
There are three main areas you need to know to equalize vocals. The first area is the bass (0hz – 250hz), the second is the low-mid (250hz – 600hz), and the third is the brilliance (6kHz – 20kHz).
Normally, you’ll need to lower the bass, remove resonating frequencies, and balance the mid-range and high-end frequencies.
In this article, I’ll review these areas and other important ones, and tell you exactly what you should do according to your goals when equalizing them.
Principles You Should Know
Principle #1: Make Things Right From The Beginning
Before you start recording, take a minute to think about how you want the final vocals to sound like, and plan things accordingly.
For example, if you want the vocals to be bright and clear, use a diaphragm condenser microphone, and get a bit further from the microphone (5-10 inches).
But, if you want a warm and close sound, use a dynamic microphone, get closer to the microphone (2-5 inches).
Principle #2: Avoid The Solo Button
In the end, the most important thing is the context of the vocals with the song.
And even though the changes you make when on the vocals sound great on solo, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will sound good in the mix. Therefore, try to avoid it as much as you can.
The only time you should listen to the vocals in solo is when you try to remove resonating frequencies.
Principle #3: Always Cut Before You Boost
When you’re cutting frequencies, you’re reshaping the vocals, and you clear some space.
After you remove frequencies that were too strong, you make room for the other frequencies to pop, and you may find out that you don’t need to boost anything at all.
To achieve the balanced tone that you often hear in professional production, you’ll have to nail things right from the beginning.
This step is all about setting the basics right, so I really recommend you to read it.
But, if you want to just see how to equalize your vocals, jump ahead to step 1.
How To Setup The Mics
Setting up the mics right is one of the most important things you need to do to get your recordings sound how you want them.
There are a couple of variables that determine the sound of the recording.
Recording Room Choicement
Picking the right recording room will save you a whole lot of time mixing and get you better results than you’ve ever imagined.
Whether you’re going to record in a professional recording room or your home studio, you have to find a place the treats your voice well.
Things To Consider When Picking The Room –
- The Singer’s Voice – Each person has a room that goes along great with his voice.
Try and experiment with different places until you find the best for your singer.
- The Genre You’re Recording – Depending on the genre, you might want to change your recording room.When recording hip-hop, for example, you might want to record in a very dry studio, so you get the super close, warm feeling.
But that might not be the case for pop or jazz songs.
You should record in a room that’s quite dry, but not too dry (the dryer the place, the less reverberation it makes).
- Your Budget – If you have a limited budget, you might need to settle for the recording room.But, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get great recordings.
Just try to work with what you already have, and find the best room you can reach out to.
Remember that in the end, the most important things are the singer’s voice and his talent.
Placement In The Room
This is something lots of people forget to take care of, but it’s a significant key for a great recording.
Every room has its own “sweet spot”, and it would be best if you record in this exact spot.
There are two guidelines for positioning microphones:
- Don’t place the microphone in the exact center of the room – There is a buildup of standing waves that will sabotage your recording.
- Stay away from walls or reflective surfaces – There will be lots of reflections coming to your microphone.
- Don’t ever record near corners – The corners are the place where all the bass and muddiness tends to come to, so it’s best if you stay away from there.
The best spot to position your mic is usually slightly off the exact center of the room.
This way, you’re not interrupted by the standing waves (which are boosted waves of certain frequencies), and you’re also not facing a bunch of reflections.
Distance From The Mic
The distance you keep from the microphone has a massive effect over the low frequencies of the vocals.
Basically, the further away you go from the microphone, the less boomy and muddy it will sound.
But don’t go too far away because if you do you, you might lose the power and the body of the vocals.
Usually, it’s excellent to keep about 4-6 inches away from the microphone, but it’s best to experiment with different ranges.
Height Of The Mic
The microphone height also determines the sound of the vocals.
There are two variables to consider here – high frequencies’ direction and bass response.
Since high frequencies emit in a downwards cone, a microphone positioned below the lips will sound brighter than a microphone placed above the lips.
Since most of the bass centers in the chest, a lower mic placement will increase the bass response.
As you lower the microphone, you increase both the high frequencies and the bass response.
So, to get bright vocals with strong bass response, place the microphone below the lips.
And, to get vocals with a dominant mid-range, place the microphone above the lips.
Step #1: Cut Unnecessary Frequencies
Each and every element in your song will have some unnecessary frequencies.
When I say unnecessary frequencies, I mean the frequencies that don’t improve the sound of the mix or frequencies that don’t add anything to the element’s sound.
Unnecessary frequencies of vocals will usually be at 0Hz – 80Hz.
Step #2: Balance The Bass
You need to lower all the bass frequencies that are taking too much space in the mix. Usually, they’re at (100hz-250hz).
You cut those frequencies because the vocals basically don’t belong to the bass, but, of course, there are exceptions.
If you want the vocals to sound heavy and “in your face,” you shouldn’t lower the bass. Another thing that I find especially helpful is using dynamic equalizers.
Dynamic equalizers are the combination of an equalizer and a compressor. They allow you to lower the bass only when it goes over a certain threshold.
This way, you can make a well-balanced sound without messing with automation.
Step #3: Balance The Mids
The Mid-Range Frequencies (500Hz – 2kHz)
Boosting these frequencies can give your vocals extra crunchiness. You should boost them if you feel like the vocals lack some power.
But notice that you should be extra careful when boosting these frequencies.
The human ear is super sensitive to these frequencies, so only boost them if you have to.
The Upper Mid-Range Frequencies (2kHz – 4kHz)
The human hearing is mainly centered at the upper midrange frequencies, so it’s crucial that you balance those correctly.
These frequencies are mostly responsible for the attack, but they can also add presence when they’re boosted.
Boosting these frequencies can make your vocals stand out a lot more, but if you boost them too much, they can also cause listening exhaustion.
Step #4: Remove Resonating/Harsh Frequencies
Pretty much every recording you’ll ever make will have some resonating frequencies. And they can easily ruin amazing records. So It’s important to treat and remove them correctly.
To do so, make a bell band with a really narrow Q (about 20), and a high gain (at least +10dB).
Then, go over the frequency spectrum and try to find the resonating frequency that’s bothering you.
It would help to take a moment and decide what this frequency sounds like.
If it sounds like a whistle – (200Hz-600Hz), if it sounds harsh and thin – (600Hz-4kHz), if it sounds like sharp air – (4kHz-20kHz).
If you’re still having a hard time finding the right frequencies to eq, I highly recommend that you start using these excellent ear training methods of “TrainYourEars”.
They will let you take a self suited training series that will make a massive change to your hearing and mixing skills.
Step #5: Balance The Highs
The Presence Frequencies (4kHz – 8kHz)
These frequencies are responsible for the clarity of the vocals. These are also the frequencies that most home stereos center their treble control on.
If you want to make your vocals stand out a bit more, you should try and boost these frequencies.
Start by adding a wide boost of about 2-3dB and fine-tune it from there.
The Brilliance Frequencies (8kHz – 20kHz)
These frequencies are responsible for the sparkle and air sound of the vocals.
If you want to increase the spark of the vocals, boost around (12kHz-15kHz). Boosting these frequencies will make your vocals pop instantly.
However, if you boost them too much, they might make your vocals a bit harsh, so be cautious when boosting them. Usually, a 2dB-4dB boost is a perfect amount.
5 Common Mistakes When Equalizing Vocals
Mistake #1: Making Automatic Actions
By “automatic actions,” I mean the acts that you make even before you listen to the track.
Such as – high-passing everything up to 100hz. You have to remember that there is no straight pattern for a great mix.
Every track is a little different. Therefore, every track needs a different treatment. So, instead, listen to each track carefully and make intentional choices.
Mistake #2: Ignoring The Context
Don’t forget that your final goal is to make your mix sound great, so your final choices must be made while hearing how your vocals interact with other tracks in your mix.
So try to avoid the solo button while you’re equalizing, but don’t avoid the solo button completely.
It’s ok to use it when you need to be specific, but always check how the changes you make affect the mixdown.
Mistake #3: Avoiding Extreme Decisions
There is some advice out there that tells you to avoid extreme eq decisions, and that’s great most of the time.
But there are situations when you absolutely need to make those decisions. So, bottom line, the best thing you can do is to trust your ears.
Bonus tip: Use reference tracks and compare your vocals with already equalized professional vocals. This way, you can make sure that you’re doing the right thing.
Mistake #4: Over Equalizing
Over equalizing can make your vocals sound electronic, weird, and unnatural.
Therefore, it’s important to be cautious when equalizing.
However, you should also avoid mistake number 2, and always trust your ears.
So, how can you know what’s over equalizing, and what’s a correct extreme decision?
Use Reference Tracks!
Reference tracks would tell you exactly how your vocals should sound like, and guide you into the right direction, so you can avoid over equalizing, and make extreme decisions when needed.
Another great thing I like doing is setting the vocals’ tone how I want before I record them by setting the right mic placement and trying to find a great recording room.
Mistake #5: Cutting The Low-End Instead Of Lowering It
This is a mistake that most beginners do when they hear vocals with heavy bass.
Cutting up too high will make your vocals sound thin and dull. But not cutting at all will leave some unnecessary frequencies.
So, the best thing to do is to both cut and lower.
Usually, I cut everything from 0Hz up to 80Hz-120Hz, and if I feel the vocals need it, I also lower 120Hz-250Hz.