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We now know that de-essing is frequency specific compression. Let's put a de-esser to work on a vocal track. Take a listen to this vocal passage, paying particular attention to the ess sounds. >> Tonight I feel asleep at the wheel. I woke up just in time with chills darting down my spine. >> Because these ess sounds will likely get a bit crispy as we add some top end EQ to the mix, especially on the words asleep, chills, and spine, we can use a de-esser to tame that sibilance.
I like to use my de-essers before applying compression in EQ. So I can get the bad stuff out of the way before it hits my other processors. Now listen again as I activate the de-esser. >> Tonight I feel asleep at the wheel. I woke up just in time with chills darting down my spine. >> It's subtle, but effective.
Using a high frequency only de-esser, all I'm doing here is just taking a bit of the edge off those particularly sibilant words. Many de-essers allow you to preview the side chain signal and tune the frequency band to match the track. So you might trying selecting a particularly sibilant passage to play back in a loop and sweep through the frequencies until you here it get really nasty and resonant. Setting up the target frequency is key because you don't want the de-esser to react to non-sibilant passages of the vocal. In this case, I've set my target frequency to 6k, a good starting point for a male vocalist.
By dialing down the threshold, I can choose the amount of gain reduction or overall de-essing that I want to achieve. I want to pay particular attention during this stage as too much de-essing will create a lisp in the performance. I find that on vocals, I like to use split band de-essing so that only the high frequencies are compressed during the sibilant sections. This helps the de-esser sound more transparent to my ears, and I can get away with more gain reduction, without introducing a lisp. Take a listen to this passage as I dial in too much full range de-essing, giving the singer a lisp.
>> Tonight I feel asleep at the wheel. I woke up just in time with chills darting down my spine. >> Now, unless I'm playing a cruel trick on the vocalist, I hope you could hear that I don't want to abuse the de-esser like this. Ultimately, you may find that no matter how well you set your target frequency, other non-sibilant material will trigger the de-esser too.
This is normal, so use your ears and find a sweet spot that does the best job without triggering significant compression on the non-sibilant passages. One trick I like to use to evaluate my sibilance is to listen to the mix on smaller speakers, as they tend to exhibit harsh sibilant sounds in a more pronounced way. On particularly tough sections, I might also use volume automation to reduce the specific sections of extreme sibilance. If you're constantly struggling with overwhelming sibilance in your vocal tracks You might try re-recording the track with a different mic as certain voices do not work well with certain models of mics.
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