Vocal Mixing Guide | FX
In this article we're going to answer the age old question of how do I add FX to my vocals? Over the last 3 weeks we've been explaining the process of how to mix vocals to sound professional, controlled and inspiring.
In this, the final part we'll be looking at the techniques used to add depth, space and life to our now compressed and control performances. Topics include reverb, pre-delay, spring reverbs, slap back delay and adding delay throws into the mix.
Picking the right reverb for the job can be tricky, that's why we're going to keep it basic and use the stock Ableton one. This simple plugin is greta for leanring the basics, and implementing the right moves to get your reverbs to sound great and master the art of adding FX to vocals.
The key to a greta reverb sound is the use of EQ, decay time and pre-delay. By controlling these 3 elements we can start to shape a reverb that fits beautifully around our vocal, leaving clarity but gaining 3-D space.
By EQ'ing the input and the output of the reverb, we cans top those annoying reverb spikes from happening, making the vocal sound fake and amateur.
Tip: try High passing AND Low-passing your reverbs for extra clarity. The bottom has muddy frequencies and the top clashes with the vocal.
What is pre-delay?
In my opinion an absolute must have when adding FX to vocals. The pre-delay is the time taken to hear the initial reflections after the vocal. This separation of time allows the vocal space before the space is revealed and asa. result, the vocal sounds cleaner.
Much like in a real room, the walls aren't 30cm from the singer so we use pre-delay to re-create this.
Setting the the time of the pre-delay can be done two ways:
- Use your ears - what feels natural? What sounds silly?
- Use a delay time calculator like this amazing one from Joseph Lyons. Input your bpm at the top and it will calculate all the ms timings for different pre-delay speeds.
Note: The delay-time calculator is also great for calculating delay times in analog hardware like delays.
If you're new to this check out parts 1 &2 where you'll learn how to compress vocals
This third reverb is used for adding extra character and depth. Many of the great records we know and love utilised a combination of plates & springs so we'll do the same. Ableton's convolution spring utilises recordings of actual old spring units, providing the perfect tool for creating those iconic, vintage tones.
A key feature of getting your reverb to fit is the use of EQ, this is something we'll discuss more below. I find EQ is one of the most valuable tools when learning how to add FX to vocals.
EQ Your Delay Returns
This is without doubt one of the most important things to try and when adding reverb and FX to vocals. By ensuring we mix using aux sends (buses) for our reverb and delay FX we can easily add a filter or delay after the reverb.
The low frequencies in a reverb can swallow up headroom and space plus the high frequencies can stick out, sounding fake. Often called the Abbey Road reverb trick, this EQ move will sure your vocals are way more present and clean.
Waves Pedal FX For Delay Throws
My last vocal tip is have fun and look in unexpected places for killer, unique sounds. The Waves GTR Stomp plug-in offers a huge range of abstract FX that sound killer away from the guitar. In the example video, we use a combination of recording automation of a 'delay throw' to get that out of this world dub style effect. By automating the feedback and filter dial of the delay we can create huge, self oscillations can drift off into the ether. GET CREATIVE!