How To Fix Harsh Vocals In Your Mix (2023)

I will often set a dynamic EQ on individual vocals and have it reduce harsh resonant frequencies only when they become too overpowering on specific phrases or words. This leaves the other moments of the track unaffected anddoesn’t cause problemswhen key changes occur.

Use Clip Gain and Volume Automation to Manually Reduce Volume

In my experience, I use this approach the most when dealing with harsh frequencies as it often yields the very transparent results when executed correctly.

If you’re using a DAW like Pro Tools which allows you to adjust an audio track’s clip gain – you may crop out harsh moments on a clip, and manually reduce the volume using clip gain to reduce harshness yet maintain the track’s presence in the mix.

When doing this, keep in mind that clip gain adjustments will occur at the pre-FX level and will affect your track’s input into existing processing such as compression, leading to your compressor (and other FX) now reacting differently to the source material.

The other approach involves incorporating volume automation. Using this strategy won’t affect your compression or any processing on the channel as it occurs post FX. This can be helpful when combined with other tools to tame harshness such as EQ, compression and de-essing.

Use a Multi-Band Compressor to Squash Harsh Frequencies

If you do not have a de-esser, or if you aren’t able to get the results you want from the de-esser, you may use a multi-band compressor to achieve similar results.

How To Fix Harsh Vocals In Your Mix (1)

FabFilter Pro MB – a popular multiband compression plugin

Enable a multi-band compressor on your source material and create a frequency band within it that focuses onthe harsh frequencies, typically between 5-10Khz.

Once you’ve got your band focused on the harsh vocal frequency content, set your threshold to attenuate the band whenever the volume of the harsh parts exceeds your threshold.

This will allow the frequencies to travel through and only bereduced in volume when they become too overpowering.

Use a Compressor with a High-Pass Filter Enabled

If you don’t have access to a de-esser or a multi-band compressor, (or just want to switch things up) you can still make use of a regular compressor with a high-pass filter.

Since harsh frequencies are often found within the high-end of a track, you can set up the high-pass filter of the compressor to a specific frequency just below where the harsh frequencies reside. From there, the compressor will focus solely on compressing all frequencies above that filter point, which should include the track’s harshness.

This will yield similar results to a de-esser and multi-band compressor, albeit with a bit less control as you will be compressing and affecting all frequencies above the high-pass filter setting, as opposed to a specific frequency range as determined by you.

Tweak The Chain, Use Good Vocal Technique & Record Them Properly

This should really be step one. As much as we look to mixing as a place to correct problems – the real culprit of harsh vocals tends to be a what happens before mixing takes place.

For the artist, things like their natural tonality; vocal delivery technique and recording position on the microphone will affect sibilance.

On the engineering side, it could be a number of things. It may be as simple as the vocal preamp recording level being too hot on the louder “ess” sounds and not having enoughheadroom. The vocal recording chain may also be causing a build up of high frequencies leading to additional sibilance issues too.

While it’s challenging to be aware of each of these and correct them before recording, it’s essential to do so in order to reduce the amount of work you will have to do afterwards while mixing, and lead to a cleaner song overall.

For more help with setting levels during vocal recording, watch my tutorial onHow To Set Levels For Recording Vocals:


How To Fix Harsh Vocals In Your Mix? ›

When working with a harsh vocal, you can typically tame it by attenuating frequencies above 2kHz and below 12kHz using a subtle bell filter via an EQ. Attenuating 3-5kHz will help significantly, as will using a de-esser on 5kHz to 12kHz to reduce harsh-sounding sibilance.

How do you soften vocals in a mix? ›

When trying to make your vocals smooth sounding, it's all about balancing high frequencies with low-mids. Attenuate your sibilance with a de-esser, equalizer, or with an analog emulation that dampens highs, then subtly increase low-mids to mask higher frequencies and add a warm, smooth quality.

How do you fix a harsh sounding mix? ›

Step One - Balance All Frequencies

The most effective way to solve harshness is to improve your overall tonal balance in your mix. You might find that the 1kHz-10kHz region is loud relative to your low-end and low-mids. A boost in these areas can alleviate the harshness.

Why do my vocals sound so harsh? ›

The true problem with harsh vocals is that they are caused by specific frequency resonances within the high frequencies of the vocal track. These resonances often don't happen all the time but rather only when certain consonants, phrases and notes occur within the vocal performance.

What frequency makes vocals harsh? ›

The word harsh typically describes a shrill or cold sound and generally speaking, harshness exists in the range of 3kHz-5kHz. Usually, this is the problematic area bothering listeners when they claim “the vocal sounds too bright,” even though “bright” can also be a term to describe higher, airy bands.

How can I make my voice soft and deep? ›

Try inhaling deeply through your nose, bringing the air all the way in and as far down as possible; then, while exhaling slowly, say something. You should feel a vibration as you speak. This technique—popular among singers and actors—might be able to help you control the pitch of your voice.

Why do my vocal mixes sound bad? ›

This is usually a sign of terrible monitors being used at the mixing stage - great monitors let you hear the whole frequency range of your mix. A simple rule of thumb is to keep instruments of the same frequency apart, like naughty children, so you don't get them clashing and fighting with one another for attention.

What frequency should you avoid when mixing? ›

A boxy mix has too much mid-range frequency, typically between 250 Hz and 900 Hz or so—these frequencies typically contribute to a sound's 'body'—but too much will result in the mix as a whole sounding boxy. A poor arrangement can be a big contributor to this, too.

What frequency should I cut when mixing? ›

Many male vocals rely on frequency content around 100 Hz, while lots of female vocals can be cut at 150-200 Hz. Some instruments like electric guitar may even rely on frequency content down to 60-80 Hz; it depends on what else is happening in your mix and how you're choosing to fill space within your stereo field.

What causes harsh vocal quality? ›

Most commonly, dysphonia is caused by an abnormality with the vocal cords (also known as vocal folds) but there can be other causes from problems with airflow from the lungs or abnormalities with the structures of the throat near the vocal cords.

How do I EQ my vocals better? ›

How to EQ vocals
  1. Remove unwanted low end (1 Hz–100 Hz) ...
  2. Balance body and warmth (100 Hz–400 Hz) ...
  3. Remove hollow or boxy frequencies (400 Hz–800 Hz) ...
  4. Remove unwanted resonances in the nasal cavity (800 Hz–1.5 kHz) ...
  5. Improve presence and intelligibility (1.5 kHz–5 kHz) ...
  6. Address sibilance (5 kHz–8 kHz) ...
  7. Add sparkle (8 kHz–12 kHz)
Dec 20, 2022

What do over compressed vocals sound like? ›

Too much compression produces a flat, non-dynamic performance that doesn't have a “live” feel to it. An overly compressed vocal will feel unnatural and dull to the listener, so it's key to avoid this point if at all possible. Lead vocals should be consistent, but still, have a degree of dynamic fluctuation.

What frequency should I boost my vocal clarity? ›

The important frequency range for speech intelligibility is in the 1,000 Hz to 4,000 Hz range. Often, a boost of 3 to 5 dB in this range will increase the clarity. Start around the 3,000 Hz point.

What frequency should I boost my vocals? ›

Boost presence and warmth with bell filters

These areas tend to be in the mid range, between 1–6 kHz. If a vocal is feeling thin, a boost between 200–300 Hz can work well. Be careful boosting around 4–9 kHz since that's where sibilance tends to hide out. Boosting too much here can cause your vocal to sound harsh.

What frequencies are best to enhance in mixing vocals? ›

Best EQ Settings for Vocals
  • Roll off the low-end starting around 90 Hz.
  • Reduce the mud around 250 Hz.
  • Add a high shelf around 9 kHz & a high roll off around 18 kHz.
  • Add a presence boost around 5 kHz.
  • Boost the core around 1 kHz to 2 kHz.
  • Reduce sibilance around 5 kHz to 8 kHz.
Nov 30, 2019

Are deeper voices more attractive? ›

Research confirms that deep voices give men an aura of power and sexual allure. Men with low, resonant voices are more likely to be perceived as attractive, masculine, respectable, and dominant.

Does testosterone deepen your voice? ›

Testosterone will cause a thickening of the vocal chords, which will result in a more male-sounding voice. Not all trans men will experience a full deepening of the pitch of their voice with testosterone, however.

Why does my voice sound so deep? ›

As your larynx grows, your vocal cords grow longer and thicker. Also, your facial bones begin to grow. Cavities in the sinuses, the nose, and the back of the throat grow bigger, creating more space in the face that gives your voice more room to echo. All of these factors cause your voice to get deeper.

Should the vocals be louder than the mix? ›

Your vocals should sound louder than the beat between -10dB and -15dB. A reliable method would be to set your lead vocal track to -12dB, then push back your instrumental tracks accordingly.

What happens if sound frequency is too high? ›

High frequency sound causes two types of health effects: on the one hand objective health effects such as hearing loss (in case of protracted exposure) and on the other hand subjective effects which may already occur after a few minutes: headache, tinnitus, fatigue, dizziness and nausea.

What is the 80 20 rule in audio mixing? ›

The 80/20 rule says that 80% of the results you get come from only 20% of the things you do. That means 80% of your effort is a waste of time. It's true for mixing too.

What is the best sound level for mixing? ›

While 85dB is the mixing level suggested for larger pro control rooms, when I talked with Grammy-nominated Capitol Studios staff engineer, Steve Genewick, he mentioned that when mixing in a smaller room, stay closer to 75dB.

How do you cut harsh frequencies? ›

Using EQ to Reduce Harsh Frequencies

The easiest way to reduce harsh frequencies is with an EQ – all we need to do is reduce these areas and the vocal sound becomes less abrasive. That said, 3-5kHz also helps the vocal cut through a mix, so if we reduce it too much, it'll get buried.

How quiet should my mix be? ›

A good rule of thumb is that your volume level should be low enough to allow for conversation without raising your voice. If you need to shout to be heard, your monitors are too loud.

What are the signs of vocal problems? ›

Symptoms may include a raspy, hoarse, low, or breathy voice, or trouble swallowing or coughing. Any hoarseness or change in voice that lasts longer than 2 weeks should be brought to the attention of your healthcare provider. Vocal cord disorders caused by abuse or misuse are easily preventable.

Should I compress vocals before EQ? ›

As a rule, using EQ in front of your compressor produces a warmer, rounder tone, while using EQ after your compressor produces a cleaner, clearer sound.

How do you fix stressed vocal cords? ›

The primary treatment for vocal cord strain is speech therapy. Therapy may be prescribed to strengthen naturally weak vocal cords — using special types of exercises — or to correct or perfect breathing techniques (as in the case of overuse injuries).

How do you fix tension when singing? ›

Wiggle the jaw from side to side while vocalizing. Singers can look at themselves in a mirror at home and move the jaw slowly up and down within a limited range. Remember to release the jaw in the back when opening it to get a sense of what it feels like to move the jaw without tension.

How do you know if a mix is overcompressed? ›

If you can't make it through to the end of the song you're mixing because it sounds so harsh, you have a serious problem. Often this has to do with overcompression—and if it doesn't, EQ is probably the culprit. You may have overworked your EQ.

What are the signs of overcompression? ›

Over-compression usually eliminates all (or most of) the dynamics. Loud and soft sections sound similar. The emotions embedded in the dynamic range of the music get destroyed. The average listener might not be able to hear over-compression, but that's not the point.

How do you know if your mix is good? ›

How To Tell When Your Mix Is Finished
  1. You Can Hear Each Instrument Clearly.
  2. You Can Understand Every Word of the Lyrics.
  3. The Mix Is Glued Together.
  4. There Are No Technical Issues with the Mix.
  5. It Grows and Changes Over Time.
  6. It Sounds Good Compared to Other Songs.
  7. It Sounds Good on Multiple Sound Systems.
Sep 29, 2020

What plugin cleans up vocals? ›

Vocal Cleaner puts your vocals through a rinse cycle, subtly taming harsh sibilance and removing intermittent noise. With simple threshold sliders and Amount dials for easy operation, this should be the first plugin in your vocal effects chain, taking the pain out of that initial stage of vocal processing.

How do you make vocals pop out in a mix? ›

How To Make Your Vocal Tracks POP
  1. High-pass filter. ...
  2. High boost for “air.” A common characteristic of high-quality microphones is a boost in the 6–10 kHz range. ...
  3. Cut the “honk.” Sometimes your vocal might pop out a little more than desirable, somewhere in the 2–5 kHz range. ...
  4. Before you compress, automate!
Jan 16, 2018

How do you fix a tight voice? ›

Breathing from your diaphragm helps to release tension on the vocal cords. Breathe in with your stomach instead of your chest to help vocal cords open correctly. It helps to look in the mirror when breathing to make sure the diaphragm is filling up on inhale.

How do you compress aggressive vocals? ›

This is how to compress vocals using a lighter, more musical approach:
  1. First of all, load up a compressor. ...
  2. Next, lower the threshold and raise the ratio to extreme settings. ...
  3. Start with a medium attack time around 15ms and adjust to taste. ...
  4. Dial in a medium release time of 40ms and adjust from there.

Should vocals be the loudest in a mix? ›

Your vocals should sound louder than the beat between -10dB and -15dB. A reliable method would be to set your lead vocal track to -12dB, then push back your instrumental tracks accordingly.

How do you EQ vocals in a mix? ›

How to EQ vocals
  1. Remove unwanted low end (1 Hz–100 Hz) ...
  2. Balance body and warmth (100 Hz–400 Hz) ...
  3. Remove hollow or boxy frequencies (400 Hz–800 Hz) ...
  4. Remove unwanted resonances in the nasal cavity (800 Hz–1.5 kHz) ...
  5. Improve presence and intelligibility (1.5 kHz–5 kHz) ...
  6. Address sibilance (5 kHz–8 kHz) ...
  7. Add sparkle (8 kHz–12 kHz)
Dec 20, 2022


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