Tips for Contouring a Lead Vocal with EQ
I want to talk about EQ contouring. What do I mean by contouring? Well, I kind of mean it in the same way it’s used in the sense of putting on makeup. The idea is to smooth out some of the things that we don’t like to highlight the things that we do, and overall create a prettier picture.
So this is going to be the tonal equivalent of that.
So I’m going to play the before, I’m going to play the after, and then I’m going to walk you through the EQ process, and show you how I’m using various curves and various corner frequencies to create a contour that really highlights the best parts of this particular singer.
Alright, here we go.
Okay. So I think it’s pretty obvious to hear the difference there, but it’s not so easy to put a finger on all of the things that are changing.
So let’s go through this process here.
Okay, so the first thing we’ve got to do is pull up an EQ. My pick for this one is going to be the PSP E27. It’s got this very unique quality of being both very smooth sounding, but also kind of assertive sounding, which is sort of a rare mix. It models an Avedis 500 series EQ.
So, I want to address the three basic bands of the vocal, and we’re going to use this two time thing here to bring up multiple instances of each corner frequency selector, because we’re going to want to be doing a lot of shifting around.
So let’s start with the treble end. The treble in this vocal is kind of tricky, actually. It’s got that vintagey mic kind of sound where if this was a record that was being put out like, thirty years ago, it would be bright enough already, and the top end would be fine. We wouldn’t really need to change it.
But it’s 2016. We’re used to hearing a brighter, more solid top end, so we want to bring that quality out.
The problem is that this vocal has a very, very assertive and really kind of aggressive treble range, and so we need to smooth it out before we can polish it up and bring out the upper tones.
This is a good line. There’s a lot of esses jumping through, and you can hear that the ess sound, like the texture of the esses is almost white noisey, because it’s so aggressive in that sort of 10kHz range.
So what I’m going to do is I’m going to select 10kHz, and I’m going to turn it down until this vocal is no longer harsh in any way, shape, or form, and it’s no longer offensive.
[vocals, adjusting EQ]
So now it’s nice and round, but it sounds really dull, right? There’s no top end, so we need to then replenish the top end by selecting a corner frequency that’s more flattering to the vocal.
So for that, I’m pulling up the 17.5, which is significantly higher than where I’ve attenuated, and I’m going to replenish the top end by boosting this range.
[vocals, adding 17.5kHz]
So let me do the before and after real quick.
[vocals, without EQ, then with EQ]
And now we have a much more flattering top end texture. It’s still about the same in terms of it’s brightness, it’s just a better form of brightness for this vocalist.
Alright, let’s work out the mid-range here. We hear a sort of like, “woom” kind of quality that’s coming through, so there’s something in there that’s maybe a little bit too much.
Yeah, I like that better for sure. That 1kHz range is not super flattering in her vocal.
And I think what I’d rather hear is that top end forwardness, so I’m going to pull up her mid-range around the 3.8 or 3kHz, whichever seems to be the more flattering.
[vocals, adjusting EQ]
They’re pretty close. I think that the 3kHz is a little bit too forward in her voice.
[vocals 3 kHz boost]
Like, that’s like rap vocal kind of forward.
[vocals 3.8 kHz boost]
That’s a little gentler and a little bit easier, so I think I’m going to go with that. So let’s before and after these real quick one more time.
[vocals, bypassed and unbypassed EQ]
So you hear that the less flattering parts are receding, and the more flattering parts are coming forward.
Let’s see if we can do that in the low end a little bit as well.
Now, I think that the low end is pretty solid in her voice at the moment. I don’t think that we need to do much. But I do think there’s a little bit of excess rumble, and possibly a little bit of excess room tone that’s filtering into the very lower parts.
So what I’m going to do is I’m going to pull down her voice from below where her fundamental tones are. Like, 80Hz, and use a shelf. Once I feel the vocal really tighten up, then I’m going to replenish the low end that I like using a bell.
[vocals, adjusting low end]
Like, even the 63Hz corner frequency, using the shelf, because it’s such a broad slope, we still hear a difference in the low end.
Here’s the before and after real quick.
[vocals before and after low end adjustment]
Like, you can hear the low end tighten up significantly.
Now it feels a little bit thin, so we’re going to try and build a little bit of that back up, but we’re really headed in the right track here.
[vocals, adjusting low end]
Nice. And now we’re just going to throw on a high pass filter.
[vocals with high pass]
So now let’s do the before and after one time in solo mode.
[vocals before and after EQ]
So the ultimate end result of this is that we don’t feel like we’ve necessarily lost or gained anything in particular, we just feel like the vocal has sort of come into itself. It exists in a way that is like, “This is more her vocal in it’s best light.” So now I’m going to bring in the rest of the record and we’re going to before and after, and then sign on out.
By the way, the song that I’m using here is called “All I Want” by Hemming. It’s taken from the “Shaking Through” series off of the Weathervane Project, which is curated by my friend Brian McTear in Philadelphia.
It’s a really cool project. It’s something where you can sign up for like, $8 a month, and you get access to all of their recording and production for these songs that are granted to artists completely free. It allows artists to get into the studio without having to pay a huge price, and then also download these stems that you can then mix yourself and put up on your reel.
So you know, if you get a chance, that’s worth popping over to and checking out as well. Weathervane, “Shaking Through.”
So yeah, anyway, thank you guys for checking it out. Hope you learned something. Until next time.