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EQ and Compression Techniques For Vocals and Acoustic Guitar

By Sarit Bruno


Not enough compression will leave tracks that jump out of a mix at inappropriate times or get lost in the sound of the other instruments; however, too much compression can make a track sound lifeless or uninspired.

Vocal Compression on the Way In

Getting a vocal to sit well in a mix is a combination of compression, EQ and often volume fader automation. This leaves me room in the mix to compress further using a software compression plug-in.

Vocal Compression in the Mix

Once the vocal is in the mix, I go to a plug-in compressor to further help keep the vocal present in the mix without jumping out too much in the loud spots.

Vocal EQ

I prefer to get a good uncolored vocal sound so that when it comes time to mix with the final instrumentation, I have the flexibility to work with the un-EQed vocal audio. This is particularly useful when you start by tracking a vocal against a single instrument like the acoustic guitar but end up mixing it in with a full band. Often, a vocal EQ that works in a mix won't sound particularly good when the vocal is soloed. Here are a couple of instances where cutting frequencies can solve common vocal problems:

Muddy or Boomy Vocal - In this situation, I tend to pull a dB or two at around 200hz. This also has the effect of making the vocal cut through a mix better or sound brighter.

Piercing or Painful Vocal - Here, I'll pull a few dB at around 3 khz. Bringing out the low end in a vocal - add 1 or 2db of gain at between 80hz and 100hz

Adding Brightness - Occasionally if a vocal sound is just a bit too dark or undefined, I'll add a few dB of gain at 5khz


Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic Guitar Compression on the Way In

When compressing acoustic guitar on the way into my DAW, I find it's better to be a bit more aggressive with attack and release settings than you would with a lead vocal. Acoustic Guitar Compression in the Mix

If it's a simple acoustic guitar and vocal recording, it's entirely possible to leave off all compression on the acoustic. Ratio

A compressor reduces an audio signal's gain (level) if its amplitude exceeds a certain threshold. Acoustic Guitar EQ

In general terms, the EQ approach is more subtle in the simple guitar/vocal to preserve the fuller tone of the acoustic and more aggressive in the full-band mix to make room for other instruments while still preserving the essential elements of the acoustic's sound.

Here are some EQ settings for a simple acoustic guitar and vocal recording:

Adding Clarity - I've found that a high-pass filter at 120hz leaves room for the kick drum and bass guitar in a mix while allowing the acoustic to shine at the higher frequencies. Leaving in the low parts of the acoustic's frequency will often muddy the mix and obscure the kick drum and bass.

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