Have you ever heard a modern hit record with a poorly mixed vocal?
We don't think so. Probably because it doesn't exist.
Sadly, the truth is…
If your vocals don't sound good, you may be dooming your music to obscurity.
However, knowing this alone does not make mixing them easier.
Voices are tricky. They're often the loudest part of a mix, so there's little room for error. And, since we’re so familiar with the sound of the human voice, we’re quick to notice any imperfections.
These seven tips will help you create studio-quality vocals. Find out how to mix vocals like a pro…
Bring Them In Early
A mix begins as a blank canvas.
The track you bring in first has all the space in the world. It doesn't need to be shaped to fit anywhere else.
As you move through the mixing process, space fills up. As new tracks are added, you EQ and process them so that they blend in with the rest of the mix.
What Is The Effect?
Usually, these tracks end up sounding smaller than the ones you started with.
The order in which you mix is therefore crucial.
When bringing in the vocals, don't wait too long. When you pull up the fader and realize there's no space, you will often need gobs of EQ to solve the problem.
What Is The Result?
You will hear a small, thin, and harsh track in your mix.
Bring in the vocals early instead. This will help you shape the rest of your mix around them. You'll get a vocal that's full and present, without a lot of processing.
Process Them In Context
Your enemy is the solo button.
Because mixing is all about context. You want the tracks to sound good together. However, the solo button eliminates this context. Therefore, mixing becomes nearly impossible.
Soloing a track prevents you from hearing how it relates to others. As a result, you can make decisions you think are better, but in reality, make tracks sound worse when compared to the rest of your mix.
When shaping vocals, do not use the solo button. Make adjustments while everything is playing simultaneously.
It may be challenging at first since it's hard to hear subtle changes when 50 tracks are playing simultaneously. However, do not give in. Keep in mind that avoiding the solo button will lead to better mixing decisions.
Recent comments by Matthew Weiss suggest that reverb is back in style.
While reverb can enhance the feel of distance, it can also make a vocal sound distant. The vocal should usually be the focal point of the mix. But how do you do that?
The pre-delay parameter is found in most reverb plugins. Increasing the volume will separate the reverb from the dry vocal with a short delay.
What Is The Effect?
Your brain will no longer connect the two. The reverb adds a sense of space and depth, but the vocal will remain prominent.
Find The Right De-Esser
You can create great mixes with just about any tool (including stock plugins in your DAW).
There are, however, exceptions. De-essing is one of them.
Choosing the right de-esser is crucial. Poor ones will dull and flatten your voice. The best ones will control sibilance while maintaining clarity and presence.
In our opinion, FabFilter's Pro-DS is the best.
It is also possible to automate sibilance out manually. This is often the most transparent solution, though it may be too time-consuming to be practical.
Avoid Ultra-Fast Attack Times
An ultra-fast attack time is seductive.
They are popular with mixers because they tightly control the dynamics of a track. There are, however, some downsides.
Fast attack times annihilate punches and annihilate impacts. A track can sound muffled and distant when these effects are used, sucking energy from a performance.
Generally, you shouldn't use them on vocals. If your vocal isn't cutting through a mix, slowing down the attack time can help.
Don’t Rely On Compression Alone
A great vocal sound can't always be achieved through compression.
Some words and phrases may still get lost. The compression may also sound too aggressive in other areas.
You'll usually fail to meet your goals if you rely exclusively on compression.
What would be a better strategy?
Combine compression with automation. Use compression to get 80 to 90 percent of the way there, and automation to finish the job. Both are essential.
Pay Attention To Breaths And Other Noises
I often hear vocals that sound almost great.
They have a good EQ and balance. They have tasteful effects. They aren't overly compressed.
In these cases, the problem isn't the voice, but what gets in its way.
Compression can cause all kinds of distracting sounds, including breaths, lip smacks, clicks, pops, and rumbles. The best mixers handle these sounds correctly.
If breaths are too loud, turn them down until they are at a reasonable level. Don't remove them completely, because they can often be a crucial part of a performance. If you take a deep breath before a chorus, you create anticipation of what's to come.
In contrast, lip smacks, clicks, and pops can usually be removed entirely. For this job, we prefer iZotope De-click.
We hope this guide has helped you understand the vocal mixing process. Now, all that’s left for you to do is record some killer vocals and mix them until they are of the best quality.