How To Mix VOCALS: 7 Simple Steps-by-Step Guide
How To Mix Vocals
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 in 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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
warm up the sound and increase pleasant harmonics
You may use tape saturation plugins, or transformer or tube saturation whichever you have available is fine.
After, you have done all these steps, if you listen and think your vocal still don’t sound professional, I’ ll recommend:
Double up on 1 or 2 of the steps above for more hyper processed sound, but use them in parallel to retain some dynamics.
Request a new vocal recording with a better performance.
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GSol Production Team