These days most artists and engineers prefer the DIY route, which means vocals are usually not being recorded in a well-treated room.
It's not always the environment that creates unpleasant vocals, sometimes it's simply the singer's voice itself. Each voice resonates in different ways, which can produce boomy, muddy, nasal, or harsh sounds.
Recordings never quite capture the singer's true sound. Different microphones, recording spaces, and other factors can all alter the frequency response and character of the sound. As a result, recordings usually don't perfectly reflect what a singer sounds like in real life.
So that is why we use EQ to correct the voice to make it sound as natural as possible and pleasant to the ear.
Do Vocals Need EQ?
We’ve all heard a song and felt our heart sink or soar to the music as soon as we hear the vocal line come in. If your listeners don’t feel these emotions, then you are missing a vital part of capturing the listener.
EQ is about making everything sound better as a unit in a song, not just individual sources. When you balance the frequencies of each track and giving them each their own space in the mix, you can create a more cohesive and enjoyable song.
EQing a vocal is all about finding the perfect balance in the frequency spectrum. By removing certain frequencies that aren't needed, you can make room for the vocal to sit perfectly in the mix. This allows you to raise the volume of the vocal without causing any audio clutter.
Microphones are not like our ears - they pick up frequencies differently. EQ helps to address this by making the audio information they collect sound more pleasant, or at least different. This makes the overall sound closer to what we would normally hear in real life.
However, feel free to be creative and go crazy with EQ and make the voice sound different than what we normally hear.
How Many EQs Do You Need For Vocals?
If you’re mixing a vocal that is not too dynamic then you can get away with just one EQ. But if you’re equalizing a voice recording that’s too dynamic then you’re going to need multiple EQs.
When you’re working on a vocal that’s too dynamic you’ll need one EQ to clean all the problem frequencies then add compression to control dynamics. Once you’re done with compression you’ll need another EQ to boost certain frequencies to help the vocal cut through the mix.
You could also need another equalizer on the vocal bus track to help the lead and supporting vocals fit better in the mix.
Another important area where you’re going to need EQ is your vocal effects. Time-based vocal effects such as reverb and delay also need to get EQ so that they don’t add mud or any unwanted frequencies in the mix.
This doesn’t mean you have to apply multiple EQs on every mix. Simply listen, diagnose, and then do what will work best for the particular song you’re mixing.
Can You Mix Without EQ?
It is very possible to mix a song without using EQ but it requires a lot of resources. You’ll need to test different types of preamps, microphones, mic placements, converters, etc. till you find the perfect one for the particular voice or instrument that you’re recording. Not to mention a well-tuned recording studio with fancy gear.
The late Al Schmitt (may his soul rest in peace) is a famous recording engineer who was popular for not using EQ when mixing music.
Al would spend a lot of time testing different mics, pre-amps, placement, and other studio equipment until he gets the sound that he wants from the source.
Dating back to the 1960s, Schmitt has won GRAMMYs in six consecutive decades. So this is not something that you can do overnight. It requires a lot of practice plus a lot of trial and error.
However, it is possible for any engineer to mix without EQ, it’s just not practical for the average home recording engineer or producer.
I need to mention that I’m not condoning the use of EQ as a crutch. I’m simply being practical.
You have to do everything that you can to be like Al Schmitt and get the best results straight from the source without relying too much on fixing things in the mix.
Leave a comment below to me know if you’re going to use EQ or not after reading this post. Feel free to leave a comment in case anything is not clear.