Sound Advice – EQ Part III

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The Art of EQ Part III… Where to Begin?

by Mike Sokol

Tweaking Vocals

Wondering what to do to make the equalization of the vocals in your mix sound great? It all comes down to what your own sound system sounds like, plus the genre of music you’re mixing, plus the performance of your talent. For instance, consider how different the vocals are “supposed” to sound for a ballad singer compared to a heavy metal singer. There will be radically different equalization and performance styles needed for each singer, and each one is right for the crowd listening to it. But the clever sound guy doesn’t get the two mixed up.

What About Preset Libraries?

If you have a modern digital console you’ll soon find a bunch of preset libraries with suggestions for every kind of sound you might encounter. However, I don’t know of a single professional sound engineer who uses those preset EQs in any of these digital consoles. These are just generic settings that might be useful in a few situations, but the vast majority of times they’re only a starting place. They can’t possibly know what type of mic you’re using (dynamic or condenser), timber of the vocalist (thin or earthy) and what the rest of the band is doing (highly compressed or lots of dynamics and air).

Rolling Your Own

iPadEQThe best way to  begin equalization is by listening to what you’ve got to work with, then cutting out the stuff you don’t want, Now I don’t mean you shouldn’t also boost some of the stuff you do want. In fact, their basic recommendation of rolling off some to the lows and boosting some of the highs is a good place to start. If, however, you already have a condenser mic on a female vocalist with a lot of “zing” around 7 or 8 kHz (AKG 535, for example), then you probably don’t need to add any boost at 7 kHz. But, you’ll probably want to add a little (+3 dB) presence boost around 3.5 kHz to give her voice a little more punch in the mix. The opposite is true with a dynamic mic (say, a Shure SM58), which already has a ton of presence punch around 4 kHz but not a lot of “zing.” In that case you’ll want to add some 8 kHz boost to get a little “zing” in a female voice.

Sing to Me

Now if your female singer has a voice that is “earthy” like Aretha Franklin, then you might also want to cut a little 200 Hz out to reduce some of the bottom boom. Or if she has a lilting voice like Joni Mitchell, then adding a little 200 Hz boost might help fill out her spectrum. And that’s not even taking into account the music genre’ and SPL of the room, which as I mentioned above is a huge part of equalization decisions. So again, there are just too many variables for a one-size-fits-all solution in a generic library without using your own ears to make decisions.

In short, while the digital console manufacturers know a lot about building consoles, there’s no way they can predict the rest of the variables in your sound system. Far better for you to find what works in your own situation and then create your own library of EQs and Dynamics that works for you. That’s the real power of digital mixing consoles.

Copyright Mike Sokol 2015
All Rights Reserved

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