How To Tame Unruly Vocals And Guitar Parts

2012 Oct 15, 2012

Have you ever mixed a song where a handful of background vocals or guitar parts keep fighting for the spotlight? They are important to the song but they just can’t seem to find their place. Like an unruly child they need to be reigned in so they don’t take over the mix. One of the fastest and easiest thing you can do to help the situation is reach for a simple low pass filter.

The Lonely Low Pass Filter

With as much as people sing the praises of a high pass filter (myself included), it seems his poor cousin the low pass filter often gets left out of the discussion. It might be because it seems weird to roll off the highs and high mids of a track when that is where we perceive intelligibility (critical for vocals) and clarity (same with guitars).But rolling off the highs is exactly what you want to do if you need something to sit back in the mix a bit.
By reducing the perceived high mids and “breathy” highs, the track will still contain substance, but it will no longer pop to the top of the mix and fight for the spotlight. This is super helpful to know when you need to tuck in a guitar or vocal part.

Smooth Vocal Harmonies

I love vocal harmonies. They add such a nice layer of energy to a song, no matter the genre. But the goal of most harmony vocal parts is to fill out the lead vocal, not take over the lead vocal. So when EQing your background vocals you mustn’t treat them as you would the lead. Sure you’ll likely use a high pass to roll off the lows, and perhaps pull out some muddy frequencies, but when it comes to the top end, slap a low pass filter on and gently lop off the high end until they sit just behind the lead.

This type of treatment on all your harmonies and doubles can give you that smooth, thick, vocal sound that is felt and heard, but never in an intrusive way. Let the air and crispness of the lead vocal stand out on its own while you bring in the other vocal tracks to support it.

Putting Guitars In Their Place

Guitars are tricky because they take up so many interesting slices of the frequency spectrum. Depending on the song and the style, you likely want some beef at the bottom, some chunk in the mids, and some crispness up top. But no matter how great your guitar parts are, they still should never get in the way of the lead vocal.

So just like with vocal harmonies, bring out a low pass filter as needed to dial back any harshness or competing frequencies on the top end. You might be able to roll more off of a lead part than a rhythm part, and you may even want to automate how much you cut out depending on when the vocal is actually in the mix. Either way, a simple low pass filter will help keep the tone of your guitars in tact, while pushing them back in the mix just enough to not cause a fight.

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