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How to mix vocals

Vocal recording - How to mix vocals

Processing your vocals and getting them to sit tight in your mix for the first time is a big win.

There are a few simple mixing tips for setting up a basic FX chain that will take your vocal recordings to the next level. Even though you don’t have a $10.000 mic, you can make the best of what you have with these pointers.

Compressor

Discovering the magic a compressor can do to a voice is probably the biggest wow-moment you will have as a novice to mixing. The job of a compressor is to even out the volume of a sound recording.

  • No Compressor
  • Compressor

Here’s an example of an original recording versus a compressed version. You can see that the low parts have been boosted in volume and the peaks have been slightly lowered.

Being wowed by this can easily lead to overdoing it, don’t compress your vocals too much. You generally want to keep some dynamics and retain a somewhat natural sound for a professional sounding result. But of course, you can go all out and squash the sound into a square if that’s your artistic choice.

Check out our separate video covering the compressor for a deep dive into understanding the effect:

Vocal tuner

You may know of autotune from your favorite trap artist, but the fact is it’s not only used in full-on robot mode. Almost every commercial track you hear nowadays will have its vocals tuned to some degree.

A vocal tuner or autotune continuously analyses the pitch of an audio signal and snaps it into place according to a set key and scale, and you can typically decide how aggressively it should force the notes to be in tune.

  • Without Vocal tuner
  • With Vocal tuner

The order in which you put these FX does matter, that's why it’s important you listen closely and understand how each new effect affects the sound. The latest effect in the chain will process the signal from the previous effect. The vocal tuner will typically bite better if you place it after the compressor because the levels have already been evened out.

Man singing on stage

EQ

Every person’s voice is unique, every room is different and no microphone sounds exactly the same. For these reasons, there is no quick-fix EQ template that suits every recording. The best way to learn how to properly EQ is to put the hours in and explore the frequencies, learn how each frequency space sounds until you know it intuitively.

  • Without Equalizer
  • With Equalizer

There are however some basic guidelines for where certain types of sound live. Have a look at this cheat sheet:

Reverb

All the previous effects have been so-called insert effects, these are effects that are applied directly to the sound on the same track as the recording. There’s another category of effects we refer to as send effects. The way it works is you set up a separate track that only hosts the effect, and then you send a portion of the sound to the FX track.

There are several advantages to using send effects. For example, you can save a lot of processing power by sending multiple tracks to the same effect. You can also gain more control over the effect when you’re automating the send level of a track, very essential for delays. Check out our video on Delays for more details.

  • Without Reverb
  • With Reverb

The most common send effects are reverbs and delays. People who aren't familiar with sound terminology often refer to reverb as "echo", but that's actually a better description of a delay.

Reverb gives a different space and dimension to the vocals. You can either use it sparingly to help your vocals sit in the mix, or more dramatically for effect.

Read more about reverb here.

Man in vocal booth

With just these 4 effects in your vocal chain you will come a long way on your journey having a professional sounding mix. Most types of effects outside of these are more for special effects than utility, but don’t be afraid of experimenting!

Now start mixing your vocals in Soundation!

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