EQ and compression on your voice

Back in 1996, around the time I was starting to turn my poems into bizarre audio composition, musician and blossoming recording engineer (bet you didn’t know those guys could do like flowers) Larry Crane grew tired of not finding answers to his questions. He started a magazine for recording engineers called TapeOp.

Regarding this blog, yes, he is my role model.

TapeOp has grown into something of a community affair with dozens (hundreds?) of recording engineers and recording artists  contributing their expertise, giving advice, and telling horror and/or success stories for those of us who need to know. It is the only recording magazine that I know of which is down to earth, down and dirty, true to life, and practical. The others seem to specialize in gear lust and status worship (yes, a type of pornography—promising so much and delivering so little). And TapeOp is inspiring. The ethos is that you can record with just about anything, from a cheap dictation recorder to the best studio in the world (most desired studio seems to be Abbey Road, best studio is a matter of opinion): it’s the performance that counts. Good tools in the hands of skilled users are invaluable, but it’s the performance that counts. Is it any wonder that I set down the latest issue feeling fired up and ready to work?

But…I am the sort of person who is never happy. Though TapeOp is so far ahead of the competition (in my opinion, the only contender) there will always be room for improvement. Theoretically, there is room for improvement. Perhaps they lack the time and money to make some improvements. Perhaps they don’t see the same needs as I see. The point…it’s so easy for me to digress. The point is that I would like to see and hear examples of what they’re talking about. (The online extension of the magazine has been growing—while I have little time to explore—and it’s possible they’re already doing some of this multimedia see-and-hear stuff. The technology is ripe for it, as I’m learning here.)

The first tech demonstration I want to give is on using EQ and compression to improve the clarity of your voice in an audio composition. If all you’re doing is recording a performance of your reading or improv you might not need to do much to make your voice loud and clear (normalize, yes; compress a little if you can). If you’re putting your voice into a mix of other sounds, the louder and more diverse your background the more you’re going to want to do something to be heard.

This is the basic recording, normalized to make it as loud as possible without distortion. I’m going to process the (visual) right half of the file with EQ and compression to make it louder and tinnier sounding (!) and then compare the two versions with quiet backing and loud backing.

I’ll give you a few screen shots that might help clarify what I’m saying and doing.

This is the screen shot of the original WAV file, after normalization.

This is a graphic EQ screen shot. You can see that I've cut everything below 300 Hertz, where the voice conflicts with lower pitched instruments, and boosted the sound between 500 and 1000 Hertz, which is where most of the intelligible portions of your voice lie.

The waveforms on the right show what happened after I applied the EQ settings and normalized again. See how much of the sound disappeared after cutting the lower pitches in my voice?

This is a screen shot of Sound Forge's Wave Hammer compressor's "voice" preset, just to give you an idea of where you might want to start with your compressor.

A screen shot of the wave forms after compression. The initial burst of energy, as I say "after" has remained the same but the less energetic phonemes have been boosted. That's basically what compression is for: making the weaker signals audible while keeping the louder signals from overloading.

You’ll notice that the EQ’d vocal sounds awful. I’m putting up two mixes, one with a quiet background and one with a noisy background, and you’ll hear how both the processed and unprocessed voice fit in. If you’re recording a quiet piece you still might want to do some compression just to keep the volume of your voice more consistently audible. It’s a balancing act of staying true to your reading and being courteous to your listeners.

You’ll notice on the loud demonstration that the untreated voice can barely be heard. Even with the processing, on the loud demonstration the voice is still a little weak. Either turn down the instrumentation, boost the voice if you don’t overload, or try a little more compression on the voice.

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Categories: Recording Techniques and Information | Leave a comment

About swampmessiah

Real name, Michael Myshack. I was born in 1957 (pre-Sputnik), graduated high school in 1975, and then slowly began coming to life. I am self-taught in the arts as well as most other things: drawing and babbling since a very early age; started painting seriously in 1975; began writing shortly thereafter, but began writing in earnest circa 1977 (beginning with poetry); first started recording poems and music and other sounds in 1996. Other than an individual showing of drawings at the Tweed Museum at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1983 and being an instigator and participant of a group exhibit of drawing at the Duluth Art Institute in 1985, I have no professional or academic pedigree. In other words, I have a day job. I've been with someone since 1985. Our children were born in 1991 and 1996.

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