Saturday, November 19, 2011

HOW TO MIX VOCALS (free Vst Plugins inside)

In this tutorial I'm going to explain my way to mix vocals.
I'm not saying it's the best method, it's just the one I have chosen after severeal experiments, but I'd LOVE to hear comments, feedback and opinions from you!
First off we need to import the recorded tracks on our DAW, or to record them (CLICK HERE FOR A TUTORIAL ON HOW TO RECORD VOCALS)

Once you have the vocal tracks recorded at the right level (the signal must not be too low nor too loud to minimize data loss), and the proper Editing and Autotuning (if needed) is done, the first vst to put on the insert chain (or bus, according to the number of vocal tracks you have and how fast is your computer's cpu) is a DE ESSER, a plugin to remove the "hiss" frequencies from your vocal track (Click Here for an article about Deesser). This plugin is needed if there is a sibilance problem, that cannot be solved by  changing mic or moving the singer sliglhy back from the mic.
After you've found the right frequencies to remove, it's time to insert a COMPRESSOR, and there are many free HERE, so just try some and choose, the functionality are basically the same for all of them.
If you want to use the KJAERHUS compressor we've already seen, for example, you could set a 5:1 ratio (adjustable from 4:1 to 8:1), a fast attack (often as fast as possible), a medium release (around 0,5 seconds) and then adjust the treshold in order to activate it at the right time, like in this picture:

After the compression you'll need an EQUALIZER (for example the NYQUISTEQ), and luckily most of DAWS have one, so you can retouch some frequencies, but this is really variable according to the kind of vocals, so it's hard to suggest the right frequencies to modify.
First off remember that subtractive eq is always better than additive eq, anyway you might want to filter off some of the useless frequencies below 80/100hz, reduce a few db (like -2,5) around 200hz, and boost a little (+2,5db) around 2500hz, which is the main frequency area the human ear captures, and it helps to put the vocals even more at the centre of attention.
If you feel that the signal is too weak (because of the poor microphone, or of the lacking of a decent preamplifier), this is the place where to add a TAPE SATURATOR, like the JSMAGNETO, to thicken the sound a little bit before passing to the effect phase.
Talking about effects, someone uses delay and reverb, some just one of them, personally I prefer to use just the DELAY (click here for a dedicated article with free plugins).
The ideal would be to create an FX BUSS where to put the delay and then to send it to the various vocal tracks, so you can adjust the right dry/wet signal ratio for every track, but this time we're just going to add it to the vocal insert chain (click here to see a dedicated article on how to use an FX Buss), and set it with a short delay (100ms) and a short feedback, in order to make it sound more like a reverb, but without that "ambient" feel.

In order to give the vocals a bit more "room", to make them sit better in the mix, we can also add a short REVERB, to give them a less "in your face" position, possibly on a FX channel track to make it less "Cpu Hungry", but this choice is optional. The reverb recommended setting is with a decay time of around 3 seconds and a Pre Delay of 50ms.

The last thing to do is to CLEAN UP your sound of breath and other various noises recorded before the beginning and after the end of each take, and you can just cut them away, or make those takes to fade in and fade out.

So, basically my chain is: DE ESSER->COMPRESSOR->EQ/FILTER->TAPE SATURATOR (if needed)->DELAY->REVERB (if needed). and then I clean up the tracks.

Sometimes it's also a good idea to put a LIMITER at the end of the chain, not to squeeze the sound (for this task we have already used a Compressor) but just to set a threshold, to make sure the vocals will stay on their place and will not consume headroom later, on the Mixing and the Mastering phase.

Once our track is ready there are chances that it will still not sit perfectly in the mix (either because it's too loud, or because in some parts it gets covered by the other instruments), click here for an article about how to make our vocals sit better in the mix.

Additional awesomeness:

If you want to add an interesting effect that thickens up your vocals and gives them a cool "chorus" effect without using an actual chorus, just copy the vocal take into a new track, apply the same effect chain and then add a pitch shifter at the end of the second track. Put "semitones" to zero and change the variable "cents" to -20, to create a track just slighly different, and mix between the two tracks to give your vocals a cool effect that works really well with clean singing.

Finally, another (more natural) way to thicken up a vocal track is to blend together two takes at the same time (click here for a dedicated article).

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  1. Ciao Ato, sono euga di gt . é molto interessante questo tuo Blog! Cosa ne pensi Dell filtro passa alti sulla voce? Qualche linea guida per settarlo?
    Vorrei rendere una voce più intelleggibile quando va sulle note basse, qualche idea? Più compressione? Multiband compression?

  2. ciao!! allora, il microfono conta tantissimo, perchè spesso fa dei tagli di frequenze da sè. un beta58 ad esempio rende la voce bella rotonda, mentre un beta57 tende a schiarirla. ovviamente un condensatore buono in un ambiente ben isolato permette di prendere tutte le frequenze. In questo articolo consiglio un filtro passa alto per togliere le frequenze dagli 80 circa in giù (poi dipede dalla voce). Per la compressione, se vuoi intervenire in un area precisa delle frequenze andrebbe usato un multibanda, per il quale farò un articolo a parte. se hai qualche articolo-saggio da pubblicare sarei ben lieto di metterlo online, su qualunque argomento!

  3. bene! seguirò volentieri l'articolo sul multibanda! articoli da pubblicare magari! più che altro ho da imparare!
    mi servirebbe una bella guida sui monitor per home studio, magari divisa per fasce di prezzo, hai idee?

  4. purtroppo no, mi piacerebbe fare una comparazione ma al momento ho solo un paio di monitor. su guitartribe un utente l'ha fatta e ha convenuto però che il miglior rapporto qualità-prezzo per un home studio sono le samson resolv a5.
    per gli articoli intendo che potresti anche solo postare qualche preset per pedaliera o di vst, o recensioni di effetti, o ampli, o chitarre. parlare di qualsiasi cosa insomma.

  5. thank you so are absolutely fantastic