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Vocal Mixing Tips

Vocal mixing is perhaps the most important part of a mix.  The vocal is what most people are listening to. 

If it doesn't pop out of the speakers than you can lose your listener.  Mixing vocals is an art form that takes lots of practice to get just the right sound.

If you're using software, there are vocal plugins in the form of a vocal compressor, a vocal processor and a vocal harmonizer.  These are just a few of the tools available to you.

Share your recording knowledge/experiences/questions here!

Whether you are using software or a hard drive on a mixing board, there are definitely some rules of the road to follow and consider. 

Before mixing a track it needs to be recorded correctly.  It will be so much easier to mix if it is a quality recording.

1.  Regardless of the mic, you should use a pop filter.  This absorbs plosives and other harsh consonants.

2.  I stand up to three feet from the mic.  Closer if I want to make it a more intimate performance.  Backing vocals should definitely be at least three from the mic.

3.  I run the mic through my Focusrite Trackmaster, a channel strip, which encompasses a pre-amp, an optical compressor and a three band equalizer.  It doesn't matter what outboard gear you use, these principals apply to all gear and plugins

This site offers info on a variety of vocal plugins for a variety of software.

When you are auditioning your vocal always set input first.  Set it as high as it can go without clipping.  Once you have set the compressor and EQ then set the output as high as it can go without distorting or clipping.

COMPRESSION set to about 9 o'clock
TIGHT disengaged
PUNCH disengaged
RELEASE set to about 12 o'clock
TUBE SOUND fully counter clockwise (off)
MAKE UP set to the "4" position

COMPRESSION set to about 3 o'clock
TIGHT engaged
PUNCH disengaged
RELEASE set to about 12 o'clock
TUBE SOUND fully counter clockwise (off)
MAKE UP set to the "13" position

I tend to leave these at zero as I want to try and capture as natural a performance as possible.  You can always tweak as needed.  However, I tend to add a little EQ at my recording source which is an AW2816 digital audio workstation.

4.  My Focusrite then goes into my workstation where I check levels again to make sure they are as high as possible without clipping or distorting.  I generally keep the level just below zero.

5.  I set the vocal compressor and EQ on my recording device to presets for male or female voice depending.  Yes, another pass of compression and EQ.

6.  I turn off all effects when I record.  You want to be able to add this and control it in the mix.  Don't record with effects on!  You might get a great take, but you can't get rid of all that delay for example.  You can add them in later in the mix.

7.  Lastly, I always make sure I double every track including backing tracks.  This creates a richness in the mix and aids with intonation problems by creating a chorusing effect. 


After I have a great vocal (and backing vocals) that I have edited and have just how I want them, it's time to begin vocal mixing. 

1.  Start by muting everything but the lead vocal.  See if any EQ is needed:

FULLNESS add a few dbs at 150 Hz
MUDDINESS cut a few dbs 200-250 Hz
SIBILANCE (harshness on Ss) cut dbs between 7.5-10 kHz
PRESENCE add at 5 kHz
CLARITY add a bit at 3 kHz
BRIGHTEN add a few dbs at 10 kHz

I also, compress the vocal again using the appropriate preset.

2.  Next, I always add a little delay and reverb.  Not too much!  A dry vocal or wet vocal refers to how much reverb is used.  The dryer the vocal the more present it is in the mix. 

3.  Better to add more reverb and delay to your backing vocals.

4.  Once effects, compressor and EQ are set, it's time to place it in the mix.  Play your vocals against just the bass and drums.  It should sit just above them.  A good vocal mix should sound strong with just bass and drums.

5.  Your doubled lead vocal track should not be detectable but exists to beef up the lead vocal track.

6.  Background vocals should be audible but not interfere with the lead vocal.  They should improve the intonation of the lead vocal.  The should be panned hard left and right. 

7.  Slowly add in the rest of the mix, but never forget that for most styles of music, the most important thing to the listener is the vocal. 

*Vocal mixing is an art form.  The biggest mistake most people make is making the vocal too loud.  The second biggest mistake they make is making it too soft.  It should sit comfortably in the mix while driving the song!

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