One of the biggest problems facing producers who process vocal takes is that of sibilance. Sibilance refers to the harsh consonants, notably ess and eff, that are exaggerated due to either the singer’s voice or delivery (sometimes getting too close to the microphone can exaggerate sibilance). The microphone is merciless in picking up sibilance and taming these nasties can be a nightmare if you don’t know how.
What is a de-esser
The process of taming or controlling sibilance is called De Essing which makes perfect sense as what we are trying to do is to de-ess, ie, remove the sss or attenuate it. Quite often the producer will manually search for sibilance and use volume automation to attenuate the sibilant frequencies. However, this can be time consuming and quite laborious and in these instances we prefer to use a dedicated de-esser. The de-esser is designed specifically to treat sibilance in vocal recordings.
The problem with treating sibilance is trying to locate exactly where it resides in the vocal waveform. Sibilance invariably can cover quite a wide band of frequencies and I have often treated them from 4 kHz all the way to 12 kHz. Additionally, you need to be careful not to attenuate too heavily as the process can suck the life out of the band of frequencies being processed: remember that we are attenuating a range of frequencies and not individual frequencies.
How to use a de-esser
With a de-esser we need to first specify the range of frequencies we want to process and we are given two parameters to play with; the start of the range and the end of the range. This is referred to as the bandwidth. Once we have the range selected we need to use the threshold feature to determine at what point we want the de-esser to start to attenuate the frequencies. We then need to shape the behaviour of the de-esser by using the attack and release functions and finally we need to determine by what amount we want the frequencies attenuated; this is often referred to as reduction or range.
With EDM vocals sibilance can be really problematic because EDM productions tend to lend themselves to high stem counts and getting vocals to cut through a busy mix requires that some of the sibilant letters be pronounced as opposed to being attenuated. However, there are always workarounds to every problem in this industry.
In the video I show you what a de-esser is outlining all of its features. I follow this up by showing you how various de-essers, including Cubase’s stock de-esser, work and what settings to use for de-essing female vocals. I finish off by showing you some industry techniques for de-essing quickly and efficiently.
Plugins used in this video:
Topics covered in this video are:
- De esser
- Bandwidth and Range
- Compensatory Processing
- Pre de essing EQ
- FabFilter DS
- Cubase De esser
- Tips and Tricks