Lesson 63

Mixing Vocals

This is fun. Vocals are often the most important individual part of a song, so you want to get them sounding as good as possible. There’s a bunch of tricks, you can do some of them, or you can do all of them... depending on how natural or processed you want it to sound. 

I consider the 100-400hz frequency range to be the mud range, and I reserve full sound in this area for the most important parts. Vocals are one of them. In the mixing process, I pull down the mid frequencies of most of the other parts, so that the most important parts such as vocals can be really clear and great sounding. I still put a low cut filter on vocals, but it’s just there to eliminate or reduce wind noise or rumble. The only other EQ’ing I do to vocals will be in the context of the mix to get the best balance. I’ll also always put a compressor on Vocals, unless they already have compression from recording them through a compressor.

Here’s a few things you can do to get a bigger vocal sound.

1- usually vocals are recorded in more than 1 take. The best take, or best sections of each take, makes up the lead vocal part. The other takes don’t need to go to waste though. You can use them to get a second best take, just be sure all the parts are not the same as the lead vocal part, and blend it in slightly. The idea is to blend them in so slightly that they can’t really be heard, but provide a feeling of the lead vocals just sounding fuller. Quite often during the recording, I’ll just record a few takes just for this. You don’t need to limit yourself to just one, you can blend in several vocal takes if you like. Stereo spread them, and make them more prominent for more of a chorus kind of sound. Here’s some examples, and Listen to the song circus by Britney Spears.

2- reverb this is a well known and common way of making vocals (or any part) sound like it was recorded in a larger space. Too little is better than too much, and remember that there will often be more reverb added in the mastering stage. Be gentle with it, but don’t be afraid to add a little. As covered in lesson 1.17 on room treatment, if you are in a small room, you likely won’t be able to hear the reverb you are adding, until you’ve added too much. 

3- delay- this is another classic technique for getting a bigger and more musical sound to vocals. I’ll use a 1/8 note delay and a 1/4 note delay, both on aux busses, and blend the volume so you can just barely hear them. I’ll like to only have the mids come through on delays, so put a low pass filter around 300 hz, and a high cut filter around 5 kHz.

4- detune- I’ll create 2 aux sends. One that’s detuned half a semi tone (59 cents) up, and the other is tuned 50 cents down. Blend these in just slightly for a fuller sound, and a subtle chorus effect. 

4- octave down trick. I cover this trick in more detail in lesson 5.20, but the idea is to duplicate the lead vocals into a new track, and detune them an octave down on the doubled track. Put a low cut filter around 100 hz, and blend it in just slightly. I normally don’t want this to be loud enough to actually hear it, but it gives a feeling of a fuller sounding vocal. 

Those are the main things I like to do. Of course, I probably use all of them at the same time, I’ll let the song dictate what kind of sound and energy to apply to the vocals. 

Some people like to add a guitar type distortion to vocals. Go ahead and experiment with this, but I’ve never liked the sound of it. You can hear this kind of sound on Lenny kravits American woman.

Let’s talk about sibilance. Usually the treble gets boosted on vocals, and it sounds great, but the problem can be that the sound of “S’s “ and “T’s” get boosted disproportionately and are way too loud. This is called sibilance, and I have a whole lesson on this in lesson 4.7- de-essing . The idea is to use a plugin called a de-esser which detects these sibilant sounds, and reduces their volume.