How Loud Should Vocals be in a Mix: Quick Professional Vocal Mixing Guide

 

Every vocal is different and every song is different as well. But generally speaking, lead vocal should be moderately loud or the loudest element next to your drums in your mix. But to give you a quick actionable steps to do, follow this process below….

Quick Vocal Mixing techniques

  • Solo your lead vocal, mute all other channels

  • Set your lead vocal peak level at -9db

  • Set your Kick Drum peak level at -6db

  • Then Set your Snare Drum peak level at -7db

  • All other instruments peak levels may be set by taste

    Now:

    To answer a popular question I hear often…

How Loud Should be in a Mix

How Loud Should be in a Mix

Should Vocals be Louder than the beat?

No and Yes! Well it depends on the genre and style you are mixing or what the song calls for. What you don’t want is a vocal poking out like a sore thumb in your song. That’s just obnoxious! Nobody wants that. You want a vocal that pulls your listeners into your music. Do not bury your vocal in the mix.

You’ re probably wondering.


What do you mean pull the listeners in?

When vocals are too low in volume, they tend to disappear and lose the attention of listeners. You do not want that. Stay away from burying your vocals, especially your lead vocal in the mix.

How loud should vocals be compared to instrumental

Vocals, especially the lead vocal should be louder than musical elements but a tad bit behind the drum transients in my opinion. But if you have an instrumental that has already been mastered and hyper-compressed which is often the case. In that case, your case is different. 

After studying various genres of music mixed by legends in the business. I have found this is the common practice. 
However, like all rules and guidelines, they are meant to be broken wisely. 

My advise:

If you are a beginner or intermediate mix engineer, use this rule I have given you for at least 10-20 mixes then you may start breaking the rules. 

“How do I break the rule wisely, Bunmi?” 

I’m glad you asked. 

This is how: 

The levels of your vocal ( especially lead vocal) are of utmost importance to the genre you are mixing. 
I mostly mix these genres: Pop, R&B, Hip hop, Rap, Gospel, Christian, Afro-beat and very little EDM. 

Hence the level relationship of your vocals to your drums and music are significantly influenced by the genres. 


Let me show you a recent mix I did.

Vocal Only Level

Drums Only Level

Music Only Level

All Elements Level

Also, take a look at the peak levels on the Voxengo SPAN Analyzer

Vocal only peak level around -6db

Vocal only peak level around -6db

Drums peak level around -1db

Drums peak level around -1db

Music peak level around -6db

Music peak level around -6db


Perfect examples of how loud vocals should be in a mix. Listen here


Moreover, these are just guidelines. Start from here, then find what actually feels good for each song. Find that perfect balance and relationship between the music and vocal that moves you emotionally.

Vocal Mixing Guide

  • How to EQ your Vocals

  • How to Compress your Vocal

  • How to Use Reverb on Vocals

How To EQ your Vocals

Use FabFilter Pro Q EQ to separate conflicting instruments, and elements that might be masking the clarity of your lead vocal. Cut out unwanted frequencies.

Then use Waves emulation EQ to add tone for sweetening.

My Process: I would make some dip in the frequency range between 300hz - 700hz or 2.5khz - 3.5khz of backing instruments. By doing so, I create a pocket for my lead vocal to sit in.

How to Compress your Vocal

Use compression to control the instruments with high dynamics. You may use it lightly or heavily depending on what the song calls for.

My Process: I usually will control the dynamics of my lead vocal with light to medium compression. Leave a little room for dynamics, then add another layer of the hyper-compressed version underneath for density. Like Jaycen Joshua always says.

How to use Reverb on Vocal

Use reverb to pan elements from back to front and front to back. There are various types of reverb, like room, plate, hall, chamber, spring.

Dave Pensado recommended in one of his youtube videos that vocals tend to sound better on plate reverb, hall reverb, and occasionally springs reverb.

Whenever you are adding any reverb to vocals, repeatedly use a pre-delay. Pre-delay allows a few seconds of your vocal to play before the reverberation kicks in. The helps create clarity in your vocals.

My Process: I always tend add more reverb to the backing instruments compared to the amount added on my lead vocal. Not frequently, you would want an extremely wet lead vocal unless the song or the artist calls for it of course. Plus, I use a lot of pre-delays.


Perfect examples of how loud vocals should be in a mix. Listen here

If you like this article, then you will definitely love our brand new article :

HOW TO MIX VOCALS: 7 PRO VOCAL TECHNIQUES

We went from vocal recording, to editing performance, and we also cover the mindset that separates amateur engineers from a professional, seasoned engineers. Go read and leave a comment.

HOW TO MIX VOCALS: 7 PRO VOCAL TECHNIQUES

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