Mixing vocals is perhaps the most important task for a mixing engineer. Regardless of the genre, the majority of listeners will focus on the lead vocal. Listeners may be able to tolerate a bad acoustic guitar sound. If the vocal sound is lacking, they will notice immediately.
Many beginner engineers struggle to get a good vocal sound. This can lead to countless hours spent mixing only to produce poor results.
Here are some tips for mixing vocals:
Tip #1: Microphone Selection and EQ
When recording a vocalist, it is important to chose the appropriate microphone. Place Reveal on your DAW’s master bus and enable Critical Listening mode. Now try a few mics and listen for which one sounds best. This will allow you to focus on the audio core and choose the best microphone for any voice.
Here is an example of a vocal recorded with no processing……
EQ can alter the tone of a vocal. If you find that your vocal sounds harsh, use some EQ. Try cutting some frequencies between 2kHz – 5kHz. This will help to reduce the harshness of the vocal.
If you find that your vocal has too much low end, use some EQ. Try a Hi-pass filter with a cutoff between 80Hz – 150Hz. This will reduce some unnatural low end.
Here is what the example sounds like with a bit of EQ……
Tip #2: Eliminate Sibilance
Sibilance is the sound created by sharp consonants such as “s” and “t”. These consonant sounds can result in harsh peaks. For issues of sibilance, a de-esser is the most effective tool.
A de-esser will compress the audio signal when the center frequency passes the threshold. The result is controlled sibilance in a transparent way. If you find that your vocal recording has unpleasant sibilance, use a de-esser.
Place Reveal on your DAW’s master bus and enable Harshness Listening mode. In this context, set the threshold and center frequency of your de-esser to reduce sibilance.
Here is what the example sounds like with some de-essing……
Tip #3: Use Compression
The lead vocal is the loudest and most forward element in most mixes. Vocal performances often have a large dynamic range, which may make it difficult to maintain appropriate levels. Compression can reduce the dynamic range of a vocal performance. If you find that your vocal levels change from phrase to phrase, use a compressor.
Try a ratio of between 3:1 and 4:1 with a long attack time and short release time. Gain reduction of between 3dB – 6dB is common.
Here is what the example sounds like with a bit of compression……
Tip #4: Use Saturation
Saturation is often used to add character or emotion to a vocal. For classical and jazz oriented styles of music, saturation may not be needed.
When applying saturation, use Soundways’ Reveal plug-in. Place Reveal on your DAW’s master bus and engage Critical Listening mode. In this context, adjust the amount of saturation to the desired effect.
Tip #5: Use Reverb
Reverb can add a sense of emotion and realism of a vocal performance. Reverb can also help a singer to feel as if they are in a large space. If your vocal lacks depth, use some reverb.
Place Reveal on your master bus and enable Critical Listening mode. Now apply your reverb and adjust the settings to the desired level.
If you find that your reverb is competing with the vocal, use some EQ. Cut out some frequencies between 2kHz – 5kHz from the reverb send. This will clear some space for the lead vocal.
Here is what the example sounds like with some reverb……
Core Production Workflow
The Core Production Workflow optimizes mix translation to all playback systems. It works by allowing engineers to focus on the most important area of a mix, the audio core. In the past, engineers have used small speakers, like NS-10’s, to listen to the core. While these speakers may work for some mixing applications, they introduce a variety of distortions.
Using Reveal to listen to the audio core is the most refined way possible.
Place Reveal on your DAW’s master bus. While making level and EQ adjustments, turn on Critical Listening mode. Working in this way ensures that your mix will translate across all playback systems.