APRIL, 1999

reqlogonew.gif (7329 bytes)RECORDING TECHNIQUES

EQ / EFFECTS / DYNAMICS SHAPING

BY ROBERT DENNIS

You spent 5 hours getting "the" mix in the studio. You left your mix "set up" and you went to play a copy on different systems.   You played it on a boombox, in your car and on another system.  You decided it was "almost perfect" - the voice wasn't quite present enough.  What do you change?
The solution may not be as simple as it sounds.  There are a variety of ways that you could accomplish this simple task.  Each way has its advantages and disadvantages.  We have divided the solutions around different signal processing devices.  So let's examine this more carefully:

NON PROCESSING SOLUTIONS

Not everything you do needs different signal processing or effects.  In the overall picture it is often best to use the "less processing is best" approach.

Bring Up Fader

Why It Works It brings up the vocal.
Advantages Doesn't change vocal quality.
Disadvantages Sometimes bringing up the vocal can cause other instruments to be harder to hear (because a frequency element in the voce now covers up another instrument part).   Bringing the vocal up can sometimes reduce the "excitement" of the mix because the instruments are now lower than they were (relative to the voice).  The vocal can sound too loud in spots.

Ride The Fader

Why It Works Brings up vocal lines that were hard to hear.
Advantages Doesn't change vocal quality.
Disadvantages If it is done incorrectly, it can make matters worse.

DYNAMICS PROCESSING SOLUTIONS

The Compression & Limiting functions on your dynamics processing will turn down the louder passages, automatically.  Now the vocal will not peak as high and it is usually brought up to be the same peak level as it was before using compression or limiting.  This effectively increases the "average level" making the low-level passages louder.

Compress The Vocal

How It Works It effectively brings up the passages that are being covered up, directly helping each line being heard. 
Advantages It does not "color" or change the vocal quality.
Disadvantages The voice can, again, start to cover up instruments that are low in the mix.  Using too much compression tends to :"take the life out" of the vocal and in extreme cases causes a "pumping" (where you hear noise and leakage come up on low-level passages) or a "restricted" sound on the loud passages.

Compress The Mix

Compressing the overall mix tends to make everything heard better.   Sometimes it does one good to process the overall mix with compression rather than the voice.  The disadvantages for overall compression are much the same as the disadvantages of compressing the vocal only.

Limit The Mix

Limiting is an extreme form of compression, allowing no signal to get above a preset level (called the Threshold).  Running your limiter with the quickest attack time possible and 5 ms. or so release time can reduce those quick spikes that cause the overall level to be low.  Set the "threshold control" so these peaks are reduced about 6 dB.  Now the whole mix can come up in level.   Anytime you increase the overall level, the mix will sound better. Maybe the vocal really doesn't need adjustment.

EQUALIZATION SOLUTIONS

Equalization changes the level of the signal for a particular band of frequencies.   Applying equalization to a vocal will tend to accent certain harmonic frequencies over others.

Boost Presence or Projection Frequencies

How It Works The presence frequencies (around 5 kHz) and projection frequencies (around 3 kHz) will make the vocal cut though the music track.
Advantages This often allows the vocal to be mixed near the level of the track, creating "excitement"
Disadvantages The hyping of these frequencies with EQ makes the voice less natural.   If overdone, the vocal becomes harsh and irritating and can "thin-out.".

Boost Presence on Entire Mix

Even after the mix is complete, boosting 3-5 kHz can bring out the vocal in the mix, along with the possible disadvantages listed above.
EFFECTS SOLUTIONS
The use of delay and reverb effects to "bring out" things in the mix is the most neglected technique in today's mixing. 

Reduce Reverb While Adding Delay

How It Works Reverberation makes things sound more distant.  Reducing reverberation on the vocal will put the vocal more "up front."   Unfortunately this usually causes the vocal to "sound bare."  Adding a Slap or Space Echo to the vocal helps give the character of more reverberation without sending the vocal further back in the mix.
Advantages This solution does not change vocal quality.
Disadvantages The slap or space echo tends to make the recording sound somewhat like it was made in an outdoor arena, especially if overdone.  The vocal can also become harder to understand.

Customize Effects Parameters For Vocal

How It Works Pre-delay on the reverberation makes the vocal sound more present.   Certain programs, such as Hall programs tend to have a high "pre" or "initial" delay.  Other programs, such as "Plate" and "Room" tend to have shorter pre-delay parameters.  Using the correct kind of reverb program, (Plate or Room on instruments and Hall on vocals) or adjustment of parameters on the reverb will help bring the vocal forward in the mix.
Advantages This works without changing the balance of the mix.
Disadvantages If the programs are too dissimilar, it begins to sound like the vocal and the band are in different rooms.  To help with this, adjust the reverb time parameter of both units to match or at least be close. Another disadvantage is that it takes an additional effects unit for the vocal sound.
One of the ways to get a really good mix is to use all of your shaping tools on the different instruments that make up the production.  There are many other settings that can be used with EQ/Effects/Dynamics to achieve the best mix.   One of which is the "Exciting Compressor" and others which you will find in the RID Pro Audio Specialist and EQ & Mixing study modules in the Recordist online training service.  Find out more about RID Training Modules here.
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