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There is a wide variety of types of vocals. You’ll hear nasally vocals, airy vocals, high-pitched and low ones. So when you’re equalizing vocals, you have to pay close attention to how the singer sings and how they sound.
For example, if someone has a low baritone voice, you can’t assume that their voice only has low frequencies. There will be more low frequencies present, but, like every singer, they will have a whole frequency spectrum. You’ll need a good understanding of each singer’s spectrum.
We recommend EQing tracks before you add any effects to them, because effects can change or distort the overall sound. Leave effects like reverb for afterward, then come back and EQ again.
To get started with EQing, first solo out your vocal track in the Pro Tools mix window. Click on an empty insert section in the track’s channel strip, then click plug-in–EQ–EQ 3 7-Band (mono).
Listen to the track. Pay attention to the type of voice, keeping an ear out for “airiness,” lowness,” “muddiness,” “boxiness” or any other negative qualities.
1. With vocals, start by cutting off a lot of the lower end at 80 to 100 Hz (depending on the voice and the recording). This will help to make the track stand out in the mix. Vocals should be very present, because most people want to hear those more than the other instruments.
You can tell while listening to this track that there’s not too much low end or “boominess” in the voice, so we don’t need those low frequencies. We want to take them away, so that other instruments can be in the low end.
With this in mind, start with the HPF. Click IN to turn it on. Change the Q to 24 dB/oct. Turn the frequency up to around 100 Hz. The sound is now more “present” and “clear.”
2. Generally, you’ll want to take “muddiness” out of vocals, and that’s usually somewhere around 250 Hz. So now, we’ll look at the LMF section. The frequency is already set at 200.0 Hz, which is close enough to 250.
Begin using the sweep technique. In this technique, you boost gain heavily and then slowly turn the frequency back and forth until you hear the frequency that you like or don’t like. After you find that, you can raise or lower the gain again.
In the tutorial video, there is “muddiness” and a muffled feeling around 300 Hz. Turn down the gain. Narrow down the Q (raising the number), taking fewer frequencies around that focal point of the frequency. Don’t narrow it down too much, because that will create artifacts of sound and make it sound artificial.
3. The track needs more “clarity” and “presence.” “Clarity” is found around 3 to 5 kHz, and “presence” is between 5 and 7 kHz. To get those, move to the HMF section. Turn the frequency to 5 kHz. Continue the sweeping method.
4. Go back to the MF and raise the frequency to 3.0 kHz, then begin sweeping. Generally, if you’re adjusting a node close to another node, you don’t want to go too high or too low in relation to it.
5. To get rid of “airiness,” go to the HF section. Switch it to Peak. Start the frequency 11.0. kHz. Narrow the Q and turn off the IN buttons in MF and HMF, so that you can focus on the HF and find any problems. Lower the frequency and the gain. Turn the MF and HMF back on.
6. Once the track is equalized to your liking, compare your final product to the original by playing the equalized track. While it’s playing, click the Compare button on and off to hear both versions. If the track has been successfully equalized, it should have “presence” and no more lower frequencies.
If you’re working with a low baritone voice, you may not want to use a high-pass filter.
In general, there’s nothing wrong with breaking any of these rules inside of EQing or mixing. What’s most important is how everything sounds to you.
Having a frequency node very close to another one is not a problem, so don’t worry about that whenever it comes up.
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