Since vocals are usually the most important part to a song, they are obviously the most frustrating tracks to mix because you do not want to fall short on quality. You can spend a long time fixing and mixing and just not getting the sound that you really want. Here are 10 tips that might help make your life a little easier when recording and mixing vocals.
1. Boosting the EQ around the upper mid range (around 3-4 kHz) can add some more explosiveness, but be modest as this can go a long way.
2. This is the easiest way to help your vocals out. Place the vocalist in the right place. Unlike an instrument, instead of moving the mic around, you can just have the vocalist move forward, backward and side-to-side. Have them lay down some sample tracks with them positioned differently and use the position that sounds best. This is an easy process for getting great vocals. The better the initial recorded sound, the less effects will have to be applied later.
3. When deciding if you need to use a hard knee or a soft knee compressor, you really need to listen to how the singer is singing. If the singer is really powerful on the mic, you want to use a hard knee so that the vocal can be compressed right away. If the vocalist is a little less explosive, by all means use the soft knee to let the vocalist’s vocals build up before it is compressed.
5. Check out your gain reduction meter. By almost all accounts, you do not want more than -6 db of reduction on the vocals. If there is more than -6 db of gain reduction, change some of the other parameters to help you get closer to this target number.
6. Unnatural sounding vocals can be caused by too much compression. If this is the case, what you want to do is to lower the compression ratio to (1.2:1 to 3:1).
7. Here is another great way to try to do some tricky stuff. Doubling up on vocals is a great way to bring some debt to the track, but what if the vocalist is not there? You can make a duplicate track and use a pitch shift plug-in. About a -15 to -30 percent pitch shift mixed properly with the main vocal could give you that fat vocal sound you are looking for.
8. If you are looking to clamp down on the peaks of the vocals, but you’re not really looking to affect the rest of the vocal dynamics, here are some compression parameters you should go with. Choose a high ratio, something close to 10:1 or higher and a somewhat high threshold, somewhere around -1 to -6 db. This should help you clamp any peaks, but it should be high enough not to affect the average level of the vocals and dynamics.
9. If you have a noise problem due to a noises pre-amp, which can happen, try this little trick to help prevent it. Try using a gate program with a fast attack and a modest decay. But you do not want too much or this for it can cause an unnatural sound to the vocals, you want just enough to keep the buzz away when there is not a lot going on in the mix. And you want to make sure you use the bypass function to make sure you’re not affecting the vocals in any way.
10. One last thing a lot of engineers may have to ponder: Should they use a popper in front of the mic? There is only one way to answer this question and that is simply just listen to the artist perform and make a decision from there, if you need it, you need it, if you don’t, even better.
Using effects to help make vocals sound better is a great way to help an engineer get a great sounding vocal for their clients. But remember, when it comes to compression, reverb, delay, etc., it can make a vocal sound great or it can squeeze the life out of it, and there is nothing worse than an uneventful sounding vocal.