Saturday, September 22, 2018

5 tips on how to make vocals sit better in the mix

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This article is intended to be an expansion on our general "how to mix vocals" article, and the purpose is to help, besides the in depth steps of the aforementioned page, the vocals to sit even better in the mix, because vocals, snare and the management of the low end are the tree core components of a mix in which home studios and amateur mix engineers struggles the most.

1) nail the recording: the vocals, as already mentioned in our "how to record vocals" article, needs to be recorded in a room without resonances, otherwise we will find ourselves with a boomy take that will be extremely hard to clean up. If the room is not ideal, consider using a vocal shield behind the microphone: it's better to have an extremely dry take than an oddly resonant one.

2) recording through a hardware compressor: this one is obviously doable only if you do actually have a hardware compressor (it doesn't matter if it's a 1000$ one or a cheap one), or if you are recording through a mixing board with an integrated comp. As we know vocals are one of the most dynamic instruments that can be recorded, and a touch of compression (for example with 2 or 3 db of gain reduction) can help to get "tame" the peaks and the quietest parts in the take at the source. This will simplify a lot our work when mixing.

3) high pass filter: assuming that the take is clean and that we don't have particular eq adjustments to do, the basic step to take is to clean up the low end rumble, which can be caused for example by the breathing, or by an accidental touch of the mic stand, especially when using a condenser microphone. A high pass filter set anywhere from 100 to 300hz down should clean up the vocal track of all the unwanted subsonics that could mess with the compressor.

4) parallel compression: once we have compressed our track normally, we may find ourselves in the common situation in which the vocals are still weak, thin, too dynamic, but that if we compress more, the take becomes dirty and we lose some transient: in this case we can use the New York trick: double the track, crank the compressor in the second track to squeeze it like crazy and put its volume fader to zero, then, while listening to the full mix, slowly and carefully raise the fader of this second track until the vocals are full and round, yet mantaining the transient of the original track unaltered.

5) fx track: instead of loading the effects directly on the vocals track, we can create an effect track, load a delay and a reverb on it, tune them in order to make them with a short and not too invasive tail, and then eq this track in order to make sure the effects will only work from around 1000hz up. This way, when we will send this fx track to the vocal ones, the reverb and the delay will add their magic only to the high end of our vocals, instead of affecting it all, because otherwise they can make the low end of certain types of voice resonate too much and become unpleasant and "dirty".

I hope this was helpful!

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  1. Here's a few more ideas that may be hlpful to assist vocals in sittting in a mix:

    1) Pick the correct mic for the voice - Some voices sound good with a Shure SM57, others with a Beyer M160, or an AKG414, or a cheap BSR Karaoke mic. You need to experiment to find the best mic to serve a particular voice in a particular mix of instruments. One mic does not serve all voices on all songs. If you get the choice of mic wrong, you will be battling with a bunch of other tricks to make the voice sit well in a mix.

    2) between 1 KHz to 3 KHz boost is your friend - sometimes a 3 to 6 dB boost in that range helps the voice cut through in a mix.

    3) comping the vocal - a common studio trick is record the vocal in multiple takes. Then take the best lines from the best takes and assemble one "best of" track to use in the mix.

    4) doubling the vocal in the chorus - having two vocal takes audible in the chorus of a song sometimes helps the vocal seem bigger. sometimes harmony arrangements made with multiple takes gives a bigger feel too, like Alice In Chains does.

    5) using a different vocal take to feed effects - sometimes having your main vocal dry but using a different vocal take for just feeding reverb or chorus with no dry signal will give the vocals more depth and layering without the listener realizing the vocal is doubled in a way.

    6) +5 cents on the left and -5 cents on the right pitch shift - using these pitch shift settings with a less than 15 ms delay on each side and varying the pan in the mix will help a vocal create its own space in a mix.

    7) Notch the vocal frequencies in the drums, bass, and guitar tracks - Sometimes you just need to create frequency space in a mix when instruments are tuned and arranged with no regards for a vocal needing to be heard. Sometimes the solution to fix the vocals is to make space for it on the other instrument tracks.

    I hope you find these tips helpful.

    1. This was written by Dr Bonkers before I signed in to Blogger.

  2. thank you man! these tips are great!