Compression, EQ and the female vocal

by caro on November 12, 2011 · 1 comment

Just recently I have come across a couple of interviews about or with well-known female musicians who are challenging the standard treatment of their voice recordings in popular music engineering and production. Bjork’s technical enabler Damian Taylor explained how Bjork in her latest album insisted on very little compression and EQ on her vocal recording. And then ex-American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson stated a in recent interview that she was also preferring and demanding less compression on her voice.

bjork

It may well be the feminist in me, but I am encouraged by female musicians wanting and having some say in how their voice is treated – especially in the popular and more big industry chain of power and commands. With a google search for how to produce female vocals I came across the more traditional settings for EQ and compression. Pop vocals are nearly always heavily compressed (to the extent of changing the voice quality) reducing dynamics (the difference between quiet and louder moments). Of course, heavy compression can be a desired creative effect, but it is mostly employed as a preset way of mixing music.

With EQ settings, it is most commonly recommended to cut off the lower frequencies and enhance the hi mid/presence frequencies with a female voice. To avoid its lower, fundamental frequencies getting in the way of the rest of the mix. Yet with my own creative music I have felt the fundamental tones of the vocal are indeed fundamental – this is the warmth, depth and foundation of my authentic voice and storytelling.

Linked to this topic, I also really enjoy how Leanne Ungar, engineer and producer of many of Leonard Cohen’s album treats his voice. She seems to build the arrangements around the warm bottom end of Leonard Cohen’s voice, the characteristic which I like best. I happened across a ten year old but nonetheless interesting interview with Leanne here.

So maybe female musicians may actually not want to fit the presets more systematically applied to their gender’s vocal recordings. And seeing as though the job of the engineer is to be the midwife for others’ creative visions, I believe their wish is our command.


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