Mixing Vocals: My Go-To Frequency Spots for a Perfect Mix

Hey everyone, Matty Here. I’m thrilled to share with you some of the Best Vocal Frequencies To EQ that I always turn to when mixing vocals. If you’re into mixing, you know how crucial it is to get those vocals just right. They’re the soul of the track, after all. So, let’s dive in!

Understanding the Low-Cut: The Foundation of Clarity

The Importance of Cutting the Low-End

One of the first things I do in my mixing process is to apply a low-cut filter. This is a classic move; if you’ve been mixing for a while, you’re probably familiar with it. The low-cut is essential for removing unnecessary low-end rumble that can muddy up your mix. This rumble could be anything from footsteps to air conditioner noise. I typically use an 18 or 12 dB slope, and for genres like pop or hip-hop, I might go as high as 80 Hz. It’s all about cleaning up that low end to make room for the vocals to shine.

Personal Anecdote: The Studio Rumble

I remember this one time I was mixing in a home studio, and there was this persistent low-end rumble. It took me a while to figure out it was the vibration from a nearby subway! A simple low-cut filter at around 80 Hz did the trick, and suddenly, the vocals stood out clear and crisp.

Tackling the Mud: 200 to 500 Hz

Identifying and Removing Muddiness

The next frequency range I focus on is between 200 and 500 Hz. This is where a lot of the muddiness in vocals can accumulate. To tackle this, I use a tighter Q and sweep through this range to identify and cut out the muddy frequencies. It’s a delicate process, and I rely heavily on my ears rather than just visuals. Another way to clean this up is to use a Dynamic EQ. That way, you can clean up the vocal when it gets too muddy, but then leave the vocal alone when the frequency isn’t overbearing. Thus keeping the vocal sound more natural.

Dynamic EQ: A Lifesaver

I often use a dynamic EQ in this range. It’s great for controlling the buildup without affecting the vocal’s natural tone. It’s like having an automated hand that turns down the muddiness only when it gets too loud.

The Harshness Zone: 2 kHz to 5 kHz

Managing Nasality and Harshness

Moving up the frequency spectrum, the 2 kHz to 5 kHz range is where vocals can get harsh or nasally, depending on the singer. This is a critical area to manage, especially after compression, as it can make or break the vocal’s presence in the mix. I usually use a dynamic EQ here as well to tame any harshness.

A Trick I Learned

One trick I’ve learned is to solo the band and make slight adjustments while listening closely. It’s amazing how a small cut in this range can make the vocals sit perfectly in the mix.

The High-End: De-Essing and Adding Air

De-essing, a crucial step in vocal processing, is all about managing sibilance – those sharp ‘s’ and ‘t’ sounds that can pierce through a mix uncomfortably. It’s not just about reducing sibilance; it’s about understanding its character. Each vocalist has a unique sibilant frequency, and identifying this is key to effective de-essing. I remember working on a track where the vocalist had a particularly sharp sibilance around 7 kHz. The standard de-essers weren’t cutting it. So, I manually swept through the frequency spectrum to pinpoint the exact sibilant frequencies. By setting the de-esser to target these specific frequencies, I managed to tame the harshness without affecting the vocal’s clarity and energy. It was a subtle yet transformative adjustment.

Integrating De-Essing with Other Processes

De-essing doesn’t work in isolation. It’s part of a chain of processes that contribute to the final vocal sound. For instance, how you EQ and compress the vocals can impact sibilance. Sometimes, a slight boost in the high-mid frequencies can exacerbate sibilance, necessitating a more aggressive de-essing approach. Conversely, if you’re compressing the vocals heavily, it can bring up the sibilance, again requiring careful de-essing.

Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s no one-size-fits-all setting for de-essing. It requires a good ear and an understanding of the vocalist’s unique characteristics. Sometimes, what looks good on paper (or on-screen) doesn’t translate well to the ears. Trusting your auditory judgment is crucial.

Adding Air and Presence

Boosting above 10 kHz can add that elusive ‘air’ to vocals, making them breathe and stand out in the mix. However, this needs to be done judiciously to avoid introducing harshness or excessive sibilance. A lot of times, I will use the UAD Avalon EQ which has a beautiful 25k frequency selection that can add nice air but not sound too harsh.

Mixing Is an Art, Not a Science

Every Vocal Is Unique

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that every vocal is unique, and so is every recording environment. There are no set rules in mixing. What works for one track may not work for another. It’s all about using your ears and making adjustments based on what the track needs.

The Role of Presets

While presets can be a great starting point, they are just that – a starting point. They should never replace your ears and your judgment. Every mix demands a unique approach, and that’s the beauty of mixing.

Wrapping Up

I hope these insights help you in your mixing journey. Remember, mixing is as much about feeling and listening as it is about technical knowledge. Trust your ears, experiment, and don’t be afraid to break the rules sometimes.

If you need your song mixed or mastered, please get in touch with me. I also offer vocal presets, which can be a great starting point.

Happy mixing, and I’ll see you guys next time!