In this article, we’ll help you understand how to EQ metal vocals whenever you come across them in a mix.
In a nutshell, when you’re EQing metal vocals, you’ll want to pay more attention to midrange and highs. This is because you’ll need vocals to sound aggressive and cut well through the mix. Aside from EQing, you should consider choosing the right mic, its position, compression settings, and whether or not to use delay and reverb.
How To EQ Metal Vocals
As usual, we’ll start with getting rid of any unwanted frequencies in a low-end region so that they wouldn’t be in conflict with the bass guitar or kick drum. To do that, you should use a high-pass filter and cut everything under 80-100 Hz. If you’re EQing screaming vocals, you should cut everything up to 120 Hz.
The next thing that you need to monitor is any low-end buildup, which can occur within the range of 100-150 Hz. When you encounter any, you should use a low-shelf filter and cut around 1-3 dB, depending on the case. Keep in mind that if the aim of the vocal is to sound “in your face”, the better idea would be not to eliminate any buildup at all.
The first thing to address in the midrange is the muddiness and boxiness of the vocals, most commonly, it lives within the range of 400-600 Hz. Cutting within this range not only will eliminate muddiness but make more room for leading vocals if the track features both leading and backing vocals.
If we talk about screaming vocals, boxiness and muddiness live within a bit different range of 500-800 Hz and it’s better not to eliminate everything within this range but rather apply very precise cuts of 1-2 dB with wide Q until you’re satisfied with the way screams sound. Also, it’s better if you don’t take those cuts that far as a result, screams won’t cut enough through the mix.
You might consider making the vocals crunchier, and in doing so, you should apply a precise boost around 500 Hz – 1 kHz, but beware of boosting too much as you might cause listening exhaustion, which is a rather unwanted outcome.
To make screaming vocals cut through the mix better and sit well on top of heavy guitars if you have any, you should consider a boost of 2-3 dB around 2 kHz. To make metal vocals cut through the mix, you should consider a boost of 2-3 dB around 4 kHz.
When talking about screaming vocals, the first thing to address would be clarity, which can be reached by boosting around 4-5 kHz. If you’re looking to make screaming vocals brighter, you can apply a high-shelf boost of 2-4 dB around 6-8 kHz.
To help metal vocals sound more present and cut through the mix even more if needed, you can apply a boost within the range of 5-10 kHz. At the point of 10 kHz, look for muddiness and the feeling of “buried” vocals, if it’s the case, consider boosting to add more brightness. On the contrary, if vocals are sibilant and rather hissy, cut around 10 kHz to eliminate those things.
Screaming vocals tend to produce a lot of hisses around 8-12 kHz, which is rather painful to hear. To get rid of those, apply a low-pass filter of 12-18 dB within the range of 8-12 kHz.
What else will help
Aside from EQ, there are a lot of things that you can do that will make the metal vocals sound better. Based on the style of the metal, you should choose between a dynamic and condenser microphone that better suits your needs. Then, put the mic in the position so that your vocalist remains relaxed a bit while singing or screaming, and keep in mind the proximity effect. All metal vocals are compressed, so based on the genre of metal, choose settings for ratio, attack, and release. Use delays and reverbs wisely so they would benefit the track rather than stick out from it.
Choosing a mic
When choosing a microphone to record metal vocals, you should keep in mind that metal music is defined by aggressive to overly aggressive vocals and roaring instruments. Therefore, you need a mic that is capable of withstanding loud vocals without distorting them and high amounts of sound pressure. For that matter, you should choose dynamic mics as they’re best in handling high pressure, screams, and loud vocals. Also, you might use a dedicated condenser microphone that will get more clarity and capture all nuances. It would be great if you had a pop filter to catch any unwanted plosives.
Most often than not, you would observe microphones being put in high placement position, but it’s not that good as a vocalist has to sing up, which adds strain and tension while making it significantly harder to sing or scream. Instead of it, you should choose one of the two following mic positions that work well with dynamic and condenser mics. First is angling the mic to be directly in front of the vocalist’s face, mouth to be precise. And second is angling the mic below the vocalist’s face at a 45-degree angle. Both those positions would ease up singing high notes and screams as well.
When your vocalist is holding the microphone close, it results in a boost in low frequencies, and when the vocalist is far from the microphone, you get brighter vocals. It is called a proximity effect, and when used deliberately, it can benefit the composition. If something gets out of hand and you need to reduce the proximity effect, there is one way to do that, you should make a cut around 80-200 Hz.
It’s rather a rare occasion that a metalhead vocalist would be able to perform those brutal and much like “from abyss” screams. So to reach exactly that effect, most of the metal vocals are heavily compressed using a favorite faithful compressor, de-esser, limiter, and multiband compressor. You can start with 4:1 – 6:1 ratios, fast attack, fast release, and around 10 dB of gain reduction. Depending on the style of metal, you might consider slower attack and release times, for example, melodic metal.
It would be wise not to overuse delays, but they are perfect for screams and moments when the vocal line ends if you aim at a carry-over effect. You can use a slapback delay which is a very fast delay with no repeats, by setting a delay time of about 100-150 ms. Also, you can use short delays of 80ms and add them to the metal vocals to make them fit better in the mix.
Not for all types of metal, it’s a good idea to add reverb, as it won’t be able to do its job the right way and make the vocals cut through the mix. But, some styles that aren’t that aggressive and don’t contain a lot of screams can benefit from adding just a touch of reverb. It’s not a good idea to choose something like a stadium or huge hall reverb settings in Room, as it’ll add mud to the vocals. Also, you can start from 20% of dry/wet controls, which will add depth without losing any clarity and tweak for more if needed.