Vocal Recording, Pt. Four: Compression & EQ

By Mitchell Sigman


In this entry we’ll talk about using compression and EQ to maximize vocal quality and punch.

Using Compression


In the first video of this series, I talked about using a compressor immediately following the mic preamp to compress the vocal during the recording process. I also mentioned that I like using a second compressor at mixdown in order to “double-compress” the signal. This usually works pretty well as long as the compressors (or plug-in equivalents) are of decent quality. Ideally, this results in a nicely smashed vocal with a very even dynamic range, making vocal mixing really easy. The only potential downfall is that heavy compression can negatively affect performances requiring a large dynamic range, but even in those situations, I find one can usually compensate with the use of track volume automation. Additionally, for “intimate performances,” compression can make the vocal sound very “in your face” – as if the performer is almost whispering in your ear (Fiona Apple’s records are excellent examples). Check out the video at the 1:20 mark for info on how to add and use a compressor in Mixcraft.

EQ: The Great Equalizer


As young music nuts, we’ve probably all cranked every band of the EQ on our dad’s stereo for maximum rock awesomeness. What we likely didn’t realize at the time was that we were effectively just turning up the volume knob, because in reality, an EQ is a frequency–dependent volume control. Boosting or cutting a particular area or “band” simple increases or decreases the volume of that specific area of frequencies. Though this may seem obvious, it’s a good idea to keep this idea in mind when mixing, because the more EQ boost you add (and in turn, the more boosted frequencies), the more you’re really just effectively turning up the volume knob. Here’s a helpful visual reference from your good friends, Quiet Riot:


Much of the time, it makes sense to cut rather than boost EQ. Try to think about it as if you’re sonically sculpting, and just hacking away the unnecessary pieces of stone to leave a beautiful mix statue. In real–world terms, this might translate to high-passing sub–bass HVAC noise, cutting “boxy” vocal frequencies in the 200–400 Hz range, or attenuating piercing harshness in the 3000 kHz range. Have a look at the video at the 4:35 mark to see how to insert and use an EQ in Mixcraft.