In my previous article, Mixing Rap Vocals Part 1, we discussed the importance of having an end game for your vocal sound.
In this article I’m going to give you techniques for actually getting there.
I’ve read (too) many articles about mixing vocals. Cut 300 Hz, boost 2 kHz, compress 4:1, yada yada. Unfortunately these articles don’t actually give you any real resource – they simply speculate on generalities.
What I’m going to give you is specific things to listen for and how to address them. This article will focus on EQ.
A vocal recording is an interaction between the vocalist and the microphone. In order to treat the vocal we’re going to have to address both the character of the voice, and the character of microphone interacting with the voice.
Two common issues that arise from the microphone are low-end proximity build-up, and mid-range resonance.
When a vocalist gets too close to a microphone the low end will build up. If you have control of the tracking scenario, the optimal solution is to get the vocalist at the right distance from the mic.
In the mix, the best way to eliminate this is to use a high-pass filter. I recommend not doing this haphazardly – the weight of the voice is caught in that proximity mud.
Try using a gradual slope where the build up begins, or a medium slope to knock out the heavy build-up in conjunction with a low shelf or bell to ease off any residual build up in the higher bass range.
Microphones also tend to be sensitive to the mid-range. It’s not uncommon for an airy-resonance to perk up somewhere in the 300—600 Hz range. Usually a couple 2 dB cuts at a narrow Q will suck that right out.
However, don’t make any cuts if there’s nothing there you want to get rid of! In fact – be very wary of this range – this is sort of the area where everyone wants to constantly cut – but that’s the body – the “thickness” of the voice. You want enough content here that the vocal feels “full”, but not so much that it feels “unmixed” or “sloppy.”
Now we can start listening to the character of the voice. For most rap vocals we want a sound that’s both bright and forward, but has body and character. Attaining forwardness and brightness tend to go hand in hand.
An easy place to start is in the treble range. Obviously if you already have a bright vocal, don’t boost the high end. However, many vocals benefit from some kind of high shelf boost. The high end boost does not need to be supremely focused – in fact a broad boost is generally more effective.
I like shelves that have very gradual slopes – Pultecs, the UBK Clariphonic, Waves HLS or the LinEQ by Waves (using the non-resonant shelf) are all great choices. Of course, they’re also expensive choices. Most stock DAW EQs are pretty good these days, so don’t feel you need the most expensive equipment or plug-ins to get good results.