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In The Studio: EQ And Compression Techniques For Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

A few simple compression and EQ techniques can help in getting all of the parts of a mix to fit nicely...

Vocal EQ

I rarely, if ever, EQ my vocals on the way in. I prefer to get a good uncolored vocal sound so that when it comes time to mix with the final instrumentation, I have the flexibility to work with the “un-EQed” vocal audio.

This is particularly useful when you start by tracking a vocal against a single instrument like the acoustic guitar but end up mixing it in with a full band. EQ decisions shouldn’t be made in a vacuum. Ultimately it’s the relationship of the voice with all of the other elements in the mix that determines the EQ approach.

Often, a vocal EQ that works in a mix won’t sound particularly good when the vocal is soloed.

As I mentioned earlier, my preference is to cut the EQ in certain frequencies as opposed to boosting it. Here are a couple of instances where cutting frequencies can solve common vocal problems:

—Muddy or boomy vocal – In this situation, I tend to pull a dB or two at around 200 Hz. This also has the effect of making the vocal cut through a mix better or sound brighter.
—Piercing or painful vocal – Here, I’ll pull a few dB at around 3 kHz. This tends to take the edge off of the vocal without removing any of the clarity.
—Bringing out the low end in a vocal – add 1 or 2 dB of gain at between 80 Hz and 100 Hz.

EQ cut settings (left) and EQ boost settings.

Here are a few instances where the tasteful boosting of frequencies is useful:

—Adding brightness – Occasionally if a vocal sound is just a bit too dark or undefined, I’ll add a few dB of gain at 5 kHz
—Adding air or breath – Here I’ll use a shelving EQ which boosts all frequencies above 12.5 kHz

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