Do your vocals lack presence, body, impact, sparkle, depth and clarity? Are the instruments in your mix dominating whilst your vocal whimpers in the background? Or is the notion of even considering a vocal track so uncomfortable that a tight woolen jumper against your bear skin in 40°c has greater appeal? If the answer is yes to any of these questions then the following article is for you.
As producers and label owners we know only too well the fraught world of vocal processing and therefore the following three video’s and related reading are all tutorials that have greatly helped us when attempting to effectively mix vocals.
Video 1 – How To Sit Vocals In A Mix via Point Blank Music School
Awkward intro aside this video is a fantastic resource for the complete beginner and the more experienced producer as Ganesh explains his vocal workflow in a clear yet detailed manner. Skills demonstrated:
- Workflow – tracks and buses, plus effects what, where and when.
- De-Essers – removing sibilance or S’s.
- EQ – Subtractive EQ to remove unwanted frequencies // Shaping EQ for body, brightness, air, and cut.
- Compression – For shape and dynamic control, looking at attack & release speeds and threshold levels.
- Buses – Illustration of his vocal template with 8 buses each undertaking a different processing task.
- Parallel Compression – to bring vocal forward and give it energy.
- Bit Crusher or Distortion – texture and cut.
- Plate Reverb – the importance of pre-delay and using EQ to shape your reverb sound.
- Slap Back Delay – to give vocal more front to back depth (16th notes).
- Stereo Delay – to give a wider left to right stereo width to the vocals (16th notes).
- Side Chain Compression – to help vocal cut through busy instrumentation.
Video 2 – Mixing & Balancing Vocals via Point Blank Music School
The second video in this weeks article also comes via Point Blank and whilst it covers a similar subject matter to video 1, we found that JC Concato gives a greater emphasis to the importance of understanding and effectively applying compression when mixing vocals. He also touches upon blending in Backing Vocals or BV’s that are harmonies of the lead vocal, this is particularly useful as you can clearly hear the benefit of double tracking and harmonies. This tutorial is effectively split in to two parts with Part 1 covering basic vocal admin, i.e standard best practices that should form the foundation of any solid vocal mix, whilst Part 2 looks at the effects used to take that foundation and blend it into the complete mix. Skills demonstrated:
- Workflow – Ordering effects, multiple EQ’s and compressors.
- EQ – Corrective EQ & Shaping EQ.
- Compressors – to control peaks, performance smoothing and transient shaping.
- De-Esser – looks at using a compressor as an alternative to a specific de-esser.
- Plate Reverb – importance of pre-delay.
- Delay – discusses how the repetitions blend the vocal into the mix.
- Backing Vocals / Double Tracking – pitch shifting and panning the BV’s.
- Parallel Compression – to give the vocal greater body in the mix.
Video 3 – Mixing Vocals (Beginner)
The third video is very much aimed at the complete beginner, with a basic intro into EQ and Compression. Having said that it does also touch upon using a Gate which maybe useful for those of you recording your own vocals.
So there you go three video’s that have massively improved our own vocal processing techniques. As always with these articles the information discussed is foundational and therefore as your mixing skills progress we would always recommend exploring your own ideas and occasionally breaking the rules. To assist this journey of discovery we have also provided a couple of additional related reading links. In particular we’d recommend exploring Warren Huart’s YouTube channel as he has numerous vocal related tutorials, he’s quite chatty in style but he has some unique hints and tips we didnt find elsewhere.