Friday, September 4, 2009

Filtering vocals - High Pass and Low Pass

(This is an embellishment on a post I did on

Like many engineers, I put a High Pass filter on my vocals when I’m mixing. Usually from 100hz to 150hz. (A little higher with female vocals.)
I do this because for the most part there really isn’t much down there that is useful or going to be heard in the mix (before I get any haters, let me say that if I were mixing a vocal and acoustic guitar only or a solo vocal than maybe I might approach this differently. I am mostly talking about dense mixes and production).

I do the filtering pre-compression so that any low frequencies won’t pump the compressor. This filtering will really clear up the mix a lot. For that matter I do a lot of high pass filtering on other sounds too, because low end is weird in that a tiny tiny amount of it can really screw up a mix. Even stuff you can’t hear will mess with a mix.

But here is something else I do that I think is a little unusual: I often put a low pass filter on vocals as well, most of the time using a McDSP plugin called Filterbank (F2 configuration).

I usually do this on backing vocals or on ‘adlib’ tracks in hip hop. Usually I’m taking out everything above 10khz and even as low down as 6.5khz.
I’ve found that sometimes the vocals just get so harsh and I’m putting de-essers on all the vocals, so might as well take a short cut. It’s also because so many times when I’m mixing for clients it sounds like all the vocals were recorded using the same mic with the same settings. It’s kinda hard to to get a good blend sometimes when all the vocal stacks sound the same.

I read an article about how Michael Jackson recorded his vocals. He would do his leads on a condenser mic and back-ups or stacks on a dynamic (in the article they said a Sure SM7). I think the point is to switch up the source; it gives a bigger sound. So when I’m mixing I’m trying to achieve the same thing with the tracks that are sent to me.

Here’s something else I noticed while mixing. I would often get a nice natural sounding vocal and then in one part of the song want to get that 'telephone' filtered effect. I would always be surprised that after doing that that the natural sounding vocal just sounded boring. It made me start filtering the lows out of my vocals more and being a little more extreme in my approach. I also sometimes go halfway into that telephone type sound for my leads, even boosting the mid-range on my vocals. Remember, all sound systems sound different and you can never really be sure how your mix is gonna sound. But you can be sure that all sound systems do have mid-range and your vocals will be heard there if you treat mid-range as your friend.

I hope this helps.