In this quick tip, you will learn a very simple and quick method in applying vocal EQ and compression using Waves plugins in Reaper DAW. We'll use the Waves C4 compressor, Q3-Paragraphic EQ and DeEsser. The targeted genre for this vocal EQ/compression is pop, rock and country music.
Record the vocals first. I recommend you use a vocal condenser microphone as it can capture the wide frequency response and dynamic range necessary for great vocals. Make sure the vocals' maximum peak (loudest section) is somewhere between -18 dBFS to -6 dBFS maximum. Make sure you record them at a minimum of 24-bit/48 kHz resolution.
Normalize the vocals in the mix. This will maximize the vocal volume in the mix without clipping. Right click on the vocal track, then click "Item processing" - "Normalize Items".
Remove the unnecessary background noise before the start of the vocals. You can do this using volume track envelopes. This feature is available in most DAWs including Reaper.
It is time to apply some EQ. Click the FX button of the vocal track then add "Waves Q3-Paragraphic EQ". Apply the EQ setting as shown in the following screenshot.
The purpose of the -6 dB low shelf at around 100 Hz removes the vocal low frequency which is not desirable in most cases. However this strongly depends on the song and the singer. The purpose of +3 dB boost at 3000 Hz is to increase the clarity of the vocal lyrics and helps convey singing emotions.
Watch the output meters of the Q3 Paragraphic EQ for clipping. If a clipping occurs, lower the input (in this case, it is lowered to -4 dB) until there is no clipping on the output throughout the vocal tracks.
You can then compress the vocals after EQ. In this case, add the Waves C4 effect next to the Q3 Paragraphic EQ. Then use the "Pop Vocal" preset at first. This is the recommended starting preset for pop, rock and country vocals.
To increase vocal clarity in the mix after applying the above settings, you might want to cut a hole in other instruments' frequencies. For example for all guitars, try cutting -6 dB to -9 dB for at 3000 Hz. You can use Q3 Paragraphic EQ for this. See the EQ settings below on all guitars:
It is time to level the vocals and other instruments in the mix. The objective is to achieve a desirable balance of vocals and other instruments. Try playing the entire mix together. Then if the vocals seem very dominant with respect to other instruments, try to lower the amount of gain boosted on 3000 Hz. For example if you have boosted +3 dB; you might try +1.5 dB first. Listen again until the levels are now comparable.
Check if other instruments are not too buried in the mix. You can decrease the amount of dB cut at 3000 Hz. For example for guitars, you might want to reduce the dB cut from -6.5 dB to -5 dB. Always use your ear to determine the optimum adjustments.
You may find there is a strong vocal sibilance after adding the EQ and compressor. You can resolve this using Waves DeEsser. For example it is controlled using the female shh preset below.
This is a sample raw mix with vocals processed using the above steps:
Vocals by: Jeanine Maningo