Ultimate Vocal Mixing Guide | Part 1
Mixing professional sounding vocals can be hard. From knowing where to start, how to EQ harsh vocals, what FX to use and which compressor is the right one!
Over the next few weeks we're going to be breaking down the process into 3 easy to digest chunks, each with it's own clear video showing you a step by step guide to for getting that vocals to sit in your mix. Here's what's in store:
1 - Prepping your vocals for mixing | How To EQ Harsh Vocals & How To De-es a vocal.
2 - How to Compress Vocals | How & When to use automation
3 - How to add FX to your vocals | Using Reverb On Vocals | Vocal Delays & Throws
So.. let's dig in!
Preparing Your Vocal For Mixing
1.Label & Arrange your tracks
Organisation is key. I like to use the same labelling, colouring and grouping style wherever possible.
2. Roughly set volumes using faders or clip gain.
Before we even think about EQ or compression, set the basic levels and panning using the faders or clip gains. As a rule of thumb I keep my main vocal (and double) in the middle, then pan the harmonies either side of it.
3. Delete any unnecessary breaths and noises.
If you have numerous layers of vocals, the sound of 4+ breaths can be intense. Try deleting the breaths out of everything apart from the main vocal. I like to leave these in as it feels more natural.
4. Colour code for speed
It's worth having a system that you stick to. The same goes for the rest of your channels also.
5. Group your vocals
By grouping your vocals together we're able to process all the vocals at once as well as easily being able to solo, mute or turn them all up / down - HANDY!
(A well organised session can save you so much time when you start mixing - be organised!)
BASIC EQ CHOICES
When EQ'ing a vocal, it's easy to go overboard, do the wrong thing and create an unwanted outcome. Here's my list of go-to tips on what to look out for and how to start:
- High Pass - Remove any unwanted low end noise. This can be rumble, the sound of a foot hitting a mic stand, sub frequencies in the vocal and general noise.
2. Look for any stand frequencies and resonances. It's worth sweeping the EQ with a tight Q & High gain to reveal these. Once you've found the frequency you dislike you can reverse the gain to remove that annoyance.
Something like this EQ cheat sheet can be really useful for getting started. Be warned though, the frequencies won't always match up, see it more as a great starting point for where to head.
How To Eq Harsh Vocals
When dealing with harsh vocals, I find a multistage approach is the best way to go. Not only are we looking to deal with 'esses' (The noise from words with strong T's & S's), we could also have lots of constant top end information, distortion and resonant frequency peaks. Some of this distortion could come from overloading the signal (too loud), the wrong microphone for the singer or distorting the diaphragm in the mic. Here's what I'd do:
I'll be looking in the top end frequencies for any obvious resonant peaks. By using the above technique we can sweep through the sound and see there are any easy wins. Remember to use a tighht Q setting so we don't lose too much information.
The 4.5Khz - 8Khz region is often known for it's harshness so that's a good starting point.
DE-ESSING HARSH VOCALS
A de-esser is basically a multiband compressor / dynamic EQ. Its job is to target top end or harsh frequencies. Every time a sound plays, if the frequency it targets goes above a certain threshold, the de-esser will turn down this band by an amount that has been set. This is commonly used with turning down those harsh notes and words known as 'Sibilance'.
Tip: Be careful not to remove too many dB's with the de-esser as the vocals can sound strange giving the impression of a lisp.
Fancy learning more?! Check out our other vocal production tips & tricks.
DYNAMIC EQ / MULTIBAND COMPRESSION
In a similar fashion to the de-esser, a multiband compressor can offer great assistance with controlling harsh frequencies. In the example below, I've set the band to be focusing on the 3-10Khz range. The benefit of this over a de-esser is the level of control it offers. I can set the release time to work in tandem with the tempo of the song, or the speed of the vocal. I'm also able to control the attack time to fit the song.
Similar to a De-Esser - The Multiband reacts to certain frequencies that pass above the 'threshold'.
So, we've learnt how to EQ harsh vocals, how a De-Esser or Muiltiband could be of assistance but we still need more. A great place to look is the humble tape machine plugin. The great thing about these are their ability to mimic the characteristics of old tape machines.
The natural characteristics are the control of transients, a soft high frequency roll off and controlled amounts of saturation. All of these things can be incredibly useful for control harsh vocals.
Tip: Try testing out the different tape types, speeds and bias - Lower tape speeds usually promote a smoother top end, rolling off a little and promoting weight.
Why not get creative with your amazing vocals and learn how to create pads from vocal samples.