Working with vocals can be a little tricky but we’re here to help break through the unknown and shine a light on a few of our vocal production tips. From compression to delay, reverbs and pre-delays, we’ve got you covered on this one.
Backing Vocals & Layering / Panning
Ensuring the focus remains on the main vocal can be as easy as panning and setting levels. Traditionally (depending on how many layers you have) the main vocal stays straight down the middle with the 2 or 3 harmonies panned wide L & R.
Tip: The panning doesn’t need to be identical. A little variety always spices things up.
For this example I’ve decided to use two compressors that do very different jobs. Up first is an 1176 style FET compressor. Settings wise I’ve set the attack to be quick and the release to be ultra fast. Here’s why:
- By running this quick compression first, I’ll catch all the over the top peaks. The fast attack means no peak gets through uncompressed.
- The speed of release means my compressor is back to 0db and ready for when the next peak kicks in.
- Reduction wise I will often take off around 5-7db if needed at 4:1 ratio.
The last compressor is a LA-2A style that has a smoother and slower attack / release. I’ll use this to smooth out the last few peaks by removing 2-3db creating that finished pop sound.
Using Delays – Slap Back
When creating space around a vocal reverbs can occasionally feel too distant, this is where the humble slap back delay comes in. For this example I’m using a stereo delay with super short delay times. Here’s what’s happening:
- The delay times are set differently to create a stereo feel.
- Short feedback for minimal repeats
- The delays are heavily filtered to stop them sticking out in the mix.
- Wet dry is set to a low level and increased to slowly reveal the slap-back feel.
- Gently increasing the mix begins to add a sense of width and space around the vocal.
Setting delay times to work with your session is easy in SYNC mode but sometimes you’d rather have things slightly loser. For this you can divide 60,000 by the tempo of your session or use this amazing delay time calculator. Now we’re able to set times to things we’re familiar with like ¼ etc but have the option to nudge things around for a more organic feel.
Download This Amazing Delay Calculator HERE
Throw delay FX
Exaggerating certain words with a delay or effect is a great way to add interest and depth to a vocal. Here’s how:
- Add a delay to an AUX channel in your DAW
- Find a word or sentence in your vocal that you’d like to add the effect to.
- Automate the ‘delay send’ on your vocal channel to send a little snippet of the vocal to your delay aux channel.
- Automate the level of the send down so it only sends that single word or phrase
Tip: Don’t be afraid to automate and add different things to the AUX. It’s a great opportunity to add little bits of interest into your mix.
Looking to add some more delay chops to your skill set? Check our ‘Art Of Delay’ Article – HERE
Reverbs & Pre-delays
When processing vocals with reverb the key is to add space and depth to the voice without losing impact or closeness. This is where the humble EQ & Pre-delay come in.
The pre-delay acts a time factor that tells us when the reverb is going to start. It simulates how long it takes to hear the early reflections from our virtual room, not how big the space is.
In this example we are going to set our pre-delay using the delay calculator. Because we’re working at 100 bpm a pre-delay of 1/32 is about 75ms so that’s what we’ve gone with. Just enough time to offer some space but not so far as to make the reverb stand out too much.
EQ wise the biggest give away is often verbs being too bright and full. For this we’ve used the onboard EQ top roll off some of the high frequencies and low frequencies, drastically softening the effect. `This trick is often known as the Abbey Road Reverb Trick.
The last touch we’ll add is a little 1/4 note delay for style. As before, we’ll EQ this to keep it out the way and stop it from clashing with the main vocal. Here are my settings using Waves H-Delay
The Finished Article