From casual music fans to trained musicians, vocals immediately connect the listener. For us, the sound of the human voice naturally stands out since we are designed to focus on it in a world of constant external stimuli.
However, amazing vocals can also make a sub-par instrumental standout. In contrast, the lyrics can help give a song meaning, which is the main reason a vocal sticks in the listeners’ minds.
So, it is key for them to sound right regardless of the scenario, as you may already tell.
However, many different steps go into perfectly mixing and mastering vocals (such as compression and balanced use of effects), but we will focus on the most important step, equalization.
But before we start, it is worth becoming familiar with some of the common terminology, which will help guide your vocal mixing and mastering decisions, together with some of the important things to keep in mind.
Firstly, be aware that male vocals have multiple notable differences compared to female vocals.
For example, male vocals typically tend to be on the lower registers of the frequency spectrum than female vocals. However, this does not mean there are not low female voices.
Vocals are mixed quite differently from genre to genre, so you need to be aware of the vocalist’s range that you are working with and what you are trying to achieve stylistically.
Fortunately, most of the common vocal mixing and mastering services terms remain true regardless of the genre.
Looking at the lowest frequencies, vocals tend to be between 100 Hz and 400 Hz, depending on the singer. As mentioned, female vocals naturally start higher than male vocals but treat each vocal uniquely.
Furthermore, this range provides much of the “body” and “weight“ of the vocal. Therefore, overloading this frequency range can cause vocals to sound unbalanced and “muddy“, while not having enough can cause the vocals to sound “weak“ and unsupported.
However, a vocal’s most valuable frequency content occurs from 400 Hz to around 8 kHz. This is because the human ear is naturally more attentive to this range, and it accounts for much of the sound energy in a human’s voice.
For example, a frequency around 1 kHz to 3 kHz tends to evoke emotions in the human brain. In comparison, 3 kHz to 5 kHz typically signals danger and stress (actually, crying babies, ambulances, and police car sirens have their most prominent frequencies in this range for a reason).
In addition, a frequency between 5 kHz to 8 kHz generally helps with the intelligibility of the vocals. However, it is worth mentioning that the upper-frequency ranges, 8 kHz and above, are commonly disregarded by those who study phoniatrics. This is because the upper frequencies only affect sibilance and how bright or airy the vocal may sound; it has no direct impact on the actual words.
Nevertheless, it would be best NOT to disregard them as a music producer, though, as upper frequencies are particularly important, especially in genres like pop music.