By the end of this article, we aim that you should come away with an understanding of how to EQ male and female vocals in your mix.
In short, there are a few differences between EQing male and female vocals, as the bodies of the said vocals live within the different ranges. Still, the core principles remain intact, you should cut all unnecessary frequencies and boost those that sound bland. Aside from EQ, you should pay attention to the recording process. And apply compression only if necessary.
How to EQ male vocals
Before you start EQing, you shouldn’t forget that the fundamental frequencies of the adult male are within the 85-180 Hz range, so you should monitor anything that happens there. In the low-end, you should cut everything below 80 Hz using a high-pass filter and lower all bass frequencies within the range of 85-300 Hz.
While working in the low-mids range, if you have the intention of bringing backing vocals further in the back, you should apply a gentle cut around 400-600 Hz. If you aim to make vocals crunchier, then you should make a very surgical boost around 500 Hz – 1 kHz.
If frequencies that occupy the midrange aren’t treated carefully, you will end up with listening exhaustion, and it’s nowhere near a desirable result. So to avoid that, you should apply a very gentle and precise boost around 2-4 kHz only if your mix sounds bland, in all other cases, consider not boosting at all.
If your mix lacks clarity, you should apply a gentle wide boost of 2-4 dB within the range of 4-8 kHz. And if the vocals lack sparkle and air, proceed with boosting around 12-15 kHz for 2-4 dB.
Vocals tend not to have any low-frequency content, that’s why it’s generally a good idea to eliminate it and, by doing that, give room for instruments that occupy lower frequencies, such as kick drum and bass guitar. So, you should apply a high-pass filter and cut everything below 80 Hz.
Most commonly, fundamental frequencies of the adult male are occupied from 85 to 180 Hz, so you should closely monitor what is happening in the range of 85 to 300 Hz. The good idea here would be to lower all bass frequencies that are within this range, including vocals. The more you will roll off in this range, the less present and lighter the vocal would feel. But, if you need, for the sake of your track, that vocal sounds “in your face” and heavy, then it’s better not to lower the bass.
The next area is where the boxy and hollow sounds usually live around 400-600 Hz. Also, the same range is occupied with the main body of vocals and it supports the upper harmonics of the voice. If you work with backing vocals or your track is in the hip-hop genre, you can apply a gentle cut around 400-600 Hz to make the backing vocals sit further behind in the mix. Applying that will also help with providing more space for the lead vocal.
Also, you may find some resonating frequencies that sound low and fat that live within 300-600 Hz, to deal with them, you should apply a low-pass filter to them to reduce them by 5dB or so.
If you aim to make the vocal crunchier, you can apply a very precise boost around 500 Hz – 1 kHz. But you should be extra careful while doing that as human ears are super sensitive to those frequencies.
The next area of 1-4 kHz needs your undivided attention as well as if not treated correctly, it will result in listening exhaustion. In heavier styles of music, a lot of things are happening within this range, so you should be extra vigilant. So if your mix sounds a bit dull and bland, you should boost around 2-4 kHz to make the vocals stand out and be noticeable. Additionally, you may find some resonating frequencies that sound like a whistle that live within 1-4 kHz, to deal with them, you should apply a low-pass filter to them to reduce them by 5dB or so.
The next things to address are presence and clarity, which commonly live within the range from 4 to 8 kHz, so in order to make your vocals cut even more through the mix, you can apply a gentle wide boost of 2-4 dB within the range. Try to be very precise and meticulous while boosting, as there is a risk of overdoing it, and then your vocals will sound rather harsh and disjointed from the mix.
If your vocals lack air and sparkle, you can correct the situation by boosting for 2-4 dB around 12-15 kHz. But you can apply a cut with the help of a high-shelf filter within the same range to sacrifice the sparkle of the vocal but leave room for airy synthesizers or cymbals. Additionally, you may find some resonating frequencies that sound like a sharp whistle that live within 4-20 kHz, to deal with them, you should apply a low-pass filter to them to reduce them by 5dB or so.
How to EQ female vocals
Before you start EQing, you should remember that the fundamental frequencies of the adult female are within the 165-255 Hz range, so you should carefully observe anything that happens there. In the low-end, you should cut anything below 165 Hz with the help of a high-pass filter. The range of 165-350 Hz is the home of the body of the vocal and the mud at the same time, so you should proceed with caution while implementing any cuts.
In the midrange, you will address boxiness and nasal honks. To eliminate boxiness, you should apply a gentle cut of 2-3 dB around 400-600 Hz, and to address nasal honkiness, you should apply surgical cuts within the range of 800 Hz – 1.5 kHz.
When you’re applying EQ in highs, you should monitor the appearance of any piercing frequencies carefully, so boost around 2-4 kHz only if the whole track is sung in a quiet voice or if the vocals are too thin. Also, to make the vocal sound open, you can boost around 5 kHz. To address esses, you should apply very precise cuts around 6-7 kHz. Finally, to add sparkle and air, you might want to boost around 8-10 kHz.
As usual, you should start with eliminating all frequencies that are inaudible or some undesired audio content. In order to do that, you need to apply a high-pass filter up to 165 Hz. The fundamental frequencies of the adult female are occupied from 165 to 255 Hz, so you should closely monitor what is happening in the range of 165 to 350 Hz. This range is where the muddiness can occur, but as we established that the body of the vocal also lives here, you should be extra careful with cutting as you might get a thin and not very powerful vocal as a result.
You will find boxy sounds living around 400-600 Hz, so you should apply a gentle cut of 2-3 Db within this range to eliminate boxiness and make vocals clear. The next range, 800 Hz – 1.5 kHz is where nasal honkiness and bite live, you should listen carefully and apply gentle cuts to eliminate frequencies that sound rather unpleasant.
If the vocal sounds too thin or not that pronounced, you can apply a wide gentle boost around 2-4 kHz. Still, you should be careful while doing that because while the thin part may sound good after being boosted, the part where the female vocalist is giving her best loud performance on the chorus or any other emphasized part, you may end up with piercing frequencies. Piercing frequencies are nasty creatures that easily make listeners exhausted, so they should be eliminated. To make the vocal sound open, you can apply a wide gentle boost around 5 kHz. Another good idea would be to eliminate any esses via precise cuts around 6-7 kHz. And finally, to get more air and sparkle, you should apply a high-shelf boost of around 8-10 kHz.
Every great track starts with a meticulous process of recording, which can go sideways if a few important things are left off, such as the vocalist’s role, mic choice, and room treatment. The vocalist can be a lead singer or a backing singer, and it requires different angles in EQing, but their voices should be recorded properly and as clean as possible. That gets us to choose a microphone that has the right polar pattern and captures the vocalist’s voice the best. To save your precious time, you should record in a treated room that will guarantee you having a clearer sound.
If we’re discussing compression, then the amount of it depends on the genre of your track and the style of the performance. As compression settings vary from track to track, we would advise you to have a few reference tracks in the genre you’re working on and listen carefully so as to analyze how dynamic the vocal is. If there are no changes in dynamic, it means that it was heavily compressed, and if there are some changes, it means that it’s less compressed.