Allow us to help you understand how to EQ choir vocals, with a detailed explanation that should get you on the right track (no pun intended!) by the time you end reading this article.
But in short, before starting the process of equalization, you need to make sure that you have recorded the choir properly. Place condenser microphones in the sweet spots, which you find by walking around the place where the choir is performing. And place spot mics to catch each voice separately. During EQ, you should pay attention to all frequency ranges and don’t forget to eliminate any resonating frequencies.
How To EQ Choir Vocals
There are a few things that worth mentioning regarding the EQing process.
While working with choirs, among many other things, you should keep in mind the fundamentals and harmonic ranges of male and female voices. Female voice fundamentals live within 175 Hz – 1.175 kHz, while female voice harmonics occupy 2-12 kHz. Male voice fundamentals live within the range 87-494 Hz, while male voice harmonics occupy 1-12 kHz. So, if the sound is rather thin, you should turn up the lower frequency of the fundamentals and if the tone is too bassy, you should turn down the higher frequency of the fundamentals. And if the voice sounds rather unclear, it’s better to turn up the harmonics and if the tone is too harsh, you should turn down the harmonics.
Another good idea is to look for any resonating frequencies by making a bell band with narrow Q and high gain. Most common resonating frequencies might sound like a whistle and occupy a range of 150-600 Hz, are thin and harsh and occupy 600 Hz – 4 kHz, sound like sharp air and occupy 4-20 kHz.
It may happen that in your track, you have a lead vocal and the choir that is a background, the next few things might be useful for you. There are 3 functions of background vocals in correspondence to the lead vocals such as thicken the lead vocal up, widen the lead vocal, and fill in empty spaces. To thicken up the lead vocal, background vocals need to have a strong low-mid and quiet midrange. To widen the lead vocals, background vocals need a quiet low-mid and strong upper midrange. And to fill empty spaces, they should be balanced in accordance with the mix, not the lead vocal.
In the range of 20-80 Hz, vocals don’t have any useful content that’s why it’s a good idea to apply a high-pass filter and eliminate everything within that frequency range. Moreover, the same range is reserved for kick drum and bass. Sometimes you may use a high-pass filter even up to 100 Hz in case of electrical hum appears or up to 165 Hz if you EQing only female choir. But if you’re working with a choir that has both male and female vocals, it’s best to stick up to 80 Hz.
The range of 100-150 Hz is occupied by boominess as well as the thickness of male vocals, fullness, and warmth. So, to address boominess in male vocals, you need to apply a precise cut around 100 Hz. If the male vocals sound too thin, you should apply a precise boost around 100 Hz. You should boost any frequencies within the said range to add warmth.
If you need bass voices to sound more clear and pronounced, you should boost about 3 dB with Q set to 1 around 150 Hz. If you need baritone voices to sound pronounced and separate from other voices, you should apply a low-shelf filter of about 6dB around 175 Hz.
If female vocals sound too boomy and bassy, you should apply precise cuts around 200 Hz. And if female vocals sound too thin, you should boost around 200 Hz.
If you work with a child choir, you should apply a high-pass filter with Q set to 1.7-2.0 to eliminate any frequencies up to 200 Hz.
If you need tenor voices to sound pronounced and separate from other voices, you should apply a low-shelf filter of about 6dB around 200 Hz.
To address the muddiness of male vocals, you should apply precise cuts around 180-240 Hz. To eliminate the muddiness of female vocals, you need to apply precise cuts within the range of 200-300 Hz.
If you need alto voices to sound pronounced and separate from other voices, you should apply a low-shelf filter of about 6dB around 250 Hz. And to make soprano voices stand out from other voices, you should use a low-shelf filter of 6dB around 400 Hz.
Quite often, you may find that within the range of 400-600 Hz, vocals may sound a bit boxy, so if you spot this frequency, apply a precise cut to get rid of it. Also, it will help if within the choir you have a lead vocalist and all other choir is in a supporting role, as by applying that cut, you will save more space for the lead vocalist.
To make baritone voices stand out within the choir, you should apply a boost of 3db with Q set to 1.4 around 400 Hz. To make bass voices stand out, you should apply a cut with the help of a high-shelf filter of 6dB around 500 Hz. To make alto voices stand out, you should boost 3 dB with Q set to 2.0 around 500 Hz.
If any vocals sound too puffy, nasal, or chesty, you should apply precise cuts within the range of 500-800 Hz. If you need a lead vocalist in the choir to sound a bit crunchier, you need to boost around 500 Hz – 1 kHz, but try not to overdo it.
To make tenor voices stand out within the choir, boost 3dB with Q set to 2.0 around 1 kHz.
You have to pay attention to any actions you’re about to do in the range of 1-4 kHz because any wrong move will result in listening exhaustion, which is an unwelcome result. To make baritone voices stand out within the choir, you should use a high-shelf filter of 6dB and cut around 1 kHz. To make tenor voices more noticeable, you should use a high-shelf filter of 6 dB and cut around 2 kHz. To do the same for alto voices, you should use a high-shelf filter of 6dB and cut around 2.1 kHz. And to make soprano voices more noticeable, you should boost them for about 3 dB with Q set to 2 around 2.25 kHz.
The frequency range of 2-4 kHz is responsible for the attack and adding presence, so if you need the choir vocals to stand out more, you should boost within the range.
The first thing you might want to address in highs is presence and harshness, which can be found within the range of 3-6 kHz. So if the vocals need to sound more present, you should apply a gentle boost of 2-3 dB within the range. If the vocals sound rather harsh, it’s better to apply a gentle cut of 3-4 dB within the same range.
If you’re working with a female choir, you may notice that vocals might sound a bit thin, around 2-4 kHz. You may proceed with boosting it, but make sure that this boost will not result in piercing frequencies that might appear later in the mix when the choir reaches the loudest part.
The next thing to address is sibilance that might occur anywhere within the range of 4-9 kHz. Listen carefully and eliminate any esses that you find by precise cuts. Within the same range, you can address the clarity of the vocals by boosting in the areas where it’s needed.
If you need to make choir vocals brighter, you should apply a gentle boost of 2-3 dB around 9-11 kHz. And to add more air, you should boost around 12 kHz.
There are a few useful tips that will help you in EQing choirs.
When you’re EQing a church choir, you should remember that it always sounds natural, that’s why it’s important not to cut low-mids a lot. Gospel choirs value energy and performance, so while EQing, you should cut low-mids if they’re too boomy, add body and brightness. It’s better when children’s choirs sound natural, so you might want to cut low-mids if they are boomy, add brightness and body, and cut any resonant frequencies in highs. If the choir plays a lead role in the mix, you should be certain that details can be easily spotted. And if choir plays a background role in the mix, you need to be certain that it’s easily readable in the mix and has volume.
Sometimes you might face a certain issue that choir vocals don’t resonate on the same frequency during the whole track, while making a sweep for unpleasant frequencies, you may find some that in one moment sound really harsh but later sound rather cool. If you decide to eliminate those frequencies in the specific range, you may later find that your mix lacks. So as not to find yourself in that situation, you should use a dynamic EQ that will eliminate only the unpleasant-sounding frequency.