HOW TO MIX VOCALS: 7 Pro Vocal Mixing Techniques

How To Mix Vocals

HOW TO MIX VOCALS- gsolproduction.png


INTRODUCTION

Hey there this is Bunmi,  a veteran mix engineer and producer. Owner at  GSol production. 

This article is going to cover a lot of ground as possible.

We will discuss: 



How to make your vocal sound professional. 

The type of effects you should put on vocals

Vocal Mixing Chains

Vocal Mixing Techniques

How to mix vocals Ableton


With the vocal mixing techniques you will learn here today,

you will be able to use these techniques to mix vocals in genres such as Hip Hop, Rap, Pop,  R&B and EDM


I am going to start by showing you the before and after of a vocal I mixed. (In the Video Below)


We  will discuss the philosophy and mindset of mixing vocals.

I will walk you through my personal vocal mixing chain which you can download from the  link below. I will be sharing my mindset on why I do what I do. 

By the way, all the vocal mixing chain steps can be replicated in any DAW  such as Logic Pro, FL Studio, Ableton Live and Pro Tools.


You will see and hear me toggle on and off  the vocal mixing chain to hear, with it and without it. 



In the vocal mixing chain, we have: 

1. Corrective EQ -  remove annoying frequencies

2. Dynamic Peak Compression -  tame unruly peaks for more consistent vocal

3. Tonal Shaping EQ - bring out presence, midrange power, and air 

4. De-Esser - reduce and tame sibilance or harshness 

5. Tonal Density Compression - create a more compactness in sound quality

6. Volume - add gain and volume

7. Saturation - warm up the sound and increase pleasant harmonics




The first step to getting a good vocal sound begins with a  good vocal recording.

Ensure you record with a good microphone in a good room.  You may have an acoustic treatment which is rather expensive, but if you can't afford it, just make sure you have  a room that is semi dead, not too reflective or echoey.  


The next thing to take note of is your gain staging. Record at decent gain level. 

Don't record a too hot signal nor a too low signal. If you may record low but you want to be mindful of the room you are in. If you're not in a good room, you may run the risk of recording all surrounding noises too. 


After you've achieved a very good vocal recording, the next phase is editing.  In the editing phase, you want to listen to the entirety of the vocal recording.  

Listen for pops, clicks, clips  or any annoying frequency that may poke at you.   

Repair any damages, Use iZotope RX to repair clicks, clips, noise, and plosives too. 

If there are any room tones or annoying frequencies, use your EQ to notch them out.  

I'm sure you have read this in a many blogs out there but I just want to cover all the bases.


So after you’ve  got all the editing done on your vocal recording, then we can start prepping the vocal for the mix.



 Performance Editing

In the performance editing  phase, you should fix any pitch or timing errors in your vocal recording. (Try Melodyne)

If this is a singing vocal, make sure you have a pitch correction done, and tune all the vocals,   the vocal melodies and harmonies in tune with all the key of the song.   



All right let's get to the vocal mixing section. 

HOW TO MAKE YOUR VOCAL SOUND PROFESSIONAL

The reason why a lot of amateur engineers can’t  get a really good vocal mixing sound is because a bunch of the stuff that we read online concerning mixing years ago, unfortunately, they do not work in this modern production era anymore. 

You have to understand that the modern production era requires a lot of processing for you to be able to compete with what is  going on out there. When you listen to your favorite songs on the radio, Spotify and iTunes, you realize that your mixes always never come close. 


Why? Because 1. the record labels hire the best of the best.   2. A seasoned engineer understands that he has to compete with a degraded mp3 version quality and his mixes are being played on crappy iPhone speakers and laptops. 

He knows that even though all the recording and production were done with a lot of high-end equipment like a $10,000 Sony C-800 microphone, into  a $10,000 Neve preamp, into a  $3,000 Tube-tech Compressor, then mixed with an SSL 4000G,  $50,000 console mixing board (and you don't really need that anymore these days).  


He  understands that the end product is going to be converted to an MP3, and played out of the worst Android phone speakers.  Imagine from high pristine 192kHz / 96kHz quality audio convert down  to 44.1kHz then to 256Kbps degraded MP3 version.  

This is why you have to go the extra mile. You have to over process your audio.  You have to process more and use a lot of compression and a lot of saturation. 

Alright let's Dive In.  Here Comes The Gold.


Now the fun stuff:  


WHAT EQ  FREQUENCY IS VOCAL

Let’s discuss where on the human hearing frequency threshold are the human voices.

Male vocal fundamental  frequency 85Hz - 180Hz

Female vocal fundamental frequency  165Hz- 225Hz 

With both male and female  having their harmonics and overtones  extend up to 8kHz.


In both Step 1 and Step 3, you will see the exact frequencies I cut out to clean vocals, and the exact frequencies I boost to enhance it.  Notice how these frequencies fall within the range of 85Hz - 8kHz or a little higher. 



 VOCAL MIXING CHAINS

 VOCAL MIXING TECHNIQUES



Step 1 - corrective eq.png

STEP 1 - CORRECTIVE  EQ 

Remove annoying frequencies.

 

The first plug-in in the chain is a corrective EQ, and what we’re  doing here is to remove any frequency that might be bugging us in the vocal.

And, also we  are rolling off the low bottom frequency around 80Hz -150Hz, depending on the vocal, also depending on the gender.  Once we are done, we will move up to the next octave up. I will give you some pointers and some frequencies to look for. Always check around 200Hz -  400Hz area, that’s where the boxiness lives.

And around 1kHz - 4KHz area for harsh and honky frequencies. I would generally do a sweep around these spots to find  any annoying frequencies that need to be taken out. 

I would recommend: Be very gentle when you remove these  frequencies. The tighter the Q, the better. Use a very narrow bandwidth, cut between 2db  to 6db depending on the vocal.


My Recommendations:

Remove plosives  and rumbles: Low Cut / HP Pass Filter 85Hz - 150Hz (depending on the gender) 

Reduce  woof-ness and boxiness : 200Hz - 400Hz 

Reduce Honk and Harshness 900Hz - 4kHz





Step 2 - dynamic-peak compression.png

STEP 2 - DYNAMIC COMPRESSION

tame unruly peaks for more consistent vocal.


 This is where I would shave off the peaks of the vocal performance  and tame its dynamics. I would assume that you guys already know what a dynamic compression does but however, I will give you my recommendations. 

To be able to grab the transients  in a vocal recording especially rap vocals, or  singing vocals with a lot of energy in a fast-paced song, you would want to use a very fast attack. 

Now I recommend an attack time between 3ms, 5ms or 7ms. 

Couple that with a  medium too fast release.  Release settings are usually based on the speed of the audio signal and the tempo of the song. My recommendations is anything between 100ms - 300ms range. And like I said, depending on the tempo of the song.

My recommendations:

Ratio : 3: 1 / 4: 1

Threshold:  -20db - - 29db

Attack time: 3ms - 7ms

Release time:  100ms - 200ms (based on the song BPM)



Step 3 - Tonal shaping EQ.png
Step 3 -Tonal shaping EQb.png

STEP 3 - TONAL SHAPING EQ 

bring out presence, midrange power, and air 

Tonal shaping EQ.  What I usually do at this stage is, sweep around  to find a sweet spot in the vocal recording. I will try to give you some frequencies to look out for. 

Check anywhere between 1500Hz  all the way to 10KHz. Between 1.5kHz to  2.5kHz is good for a midrange boost. Also anything between 3.5kHz to 10KHz is good for presence and air boost. 

My recommendations: 

1.5kHz - 2.5kHz for midrange and power 

3.5kHz - 7kHz for presence 

9kHz - 12kHz for air , sheen

Use your ears to find a sweet spot for your specific vocal.

Step 4 -De-esser.png


STEP 4 - DE-ESSER

reduce and tame sibilance or harshness

 De-essing  it's a pretty simple process. You may check this link on my blog about de-essing.

De-essing is a process that gets  rid of the "s"s. It uses a classic compressor to process out the sibilance. There are quite a few different techniques to try, and several ways to go about de-essing, so we'll tackle them one by one. 

My recommendations:

For de-essing, I would check out frequencies in the range  between 3.5 K all the way to 7K, sometimes 10K. But the usual culprits  are usually around 3.5kHz to 7kHz.  (try both split and wide-band mode)

Step 5 - Tonal Density Compression:RMS compression.png

STEP 5  TONAL DENSITY COMPRESSION

create a more compactness in sound quality

Tonal Density. The definition according to the Oxford Dictionary:

 is the quality of a sound associated with the perceived tightness or compactness of a tone, greater density. 

This is exactly what we 're trying to achieve in a vocal production. In order to achieve  this type of quality, we have to set up our compressor in a different way other than the last.  

My recommendations:   

Ratio: 2:1 ratio 

Attack time: medium slow attack around 20-40ms, 

Release time: medium  fast release around 50ms - 150ms (based on the tempo of the song like the last time).   

Threshold settings:  Pull the threshold all the way down. -30db  / -40db. (we need to grab all the nuances of the vocal)


Step 6 Volume .png

STEP 6 -  VOLUME 

add gain and volume

This is simple.Turn up the volume with any gain or volume control you have. 

We added 8db of vocal in this example.




Step 7 Saturation.png

STEP  7 - SATURATION

warm up the sound and increase pleasant harmonics

Saturation is adding slight form of distortion which creates pleasant-sounding harmonics. In this case, we are using Ableton Live Saturation plugin in analog mode.

You may use tape saturation plugins, or transformer or  tube saturation whichever you have available is fine. 

Plugins recommendations: Waves Kramer tape, Waves J37 Tape, Decapitator, Fabfilter Saturn. iZotope Exciter, UAD Suder


BONUS STEP:

After, you have done all these steps, if you listen and think your vocal still don’t sound professional, I’ ll recommend: 

  1. Double up on 1 or 2  of the steps above for more hyper processed sound, but use them in parallel to retain some dynamics.

  2. Request a new vocal recording with a better performance.

  3. Hire an expert Mix Engineer - CLICK HERE


DOWNLOAD THESE VOCAL MIXING CHAIN IN A PRETTY EASY TO FOLLOW LOOKING PDF:

DOWNLOAD HERE



WATCH ME USE THIS VOCAL MIXING CHAIN AND TECHNIQUES IN A VIDEO:

PS:

I JUST DID A VIDEO ON USING MODERN REVERBS ON VOCALS on my youtube channel. 

We will discuss using reverb next time. 

Happy Mixing.



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