You don’t need to be an expert to make your vocal sound professional.
In fact, if you’re playing heavy EQ you’re mixing vocals all wrong.
Want your vocals to sound like this?
Keep watching because mixing vocals that sound radio ready is easy when you avoid these 5 big mistakes.
After working with hundreds of home studio owners on a personal one-to-one basis I’ve seen that everyone makes these mistakes at some point.
Now, if you want to get the vocals right every single time, be sure to grab the free vocal mixing cheat sheet as well.
There is a link on screen now.
So, let’s dive right in with mistake number 1 which is fast attack times, because when you use the fast attack time it has two effects. First of all, it’s going to make the vocal sound thicker, heavier, duller because you’re basically shaving off the transients. The compressor is clamping down so quickly that you’re getting rid of the attack of the note.
Now, the other effect of that has besides making the vocalists sound like they’re not giving it as much.
It also puts vocals further back in the mix and anything with loud transients appears to be right at the beginning, whereas anything that’s duller appears to be at the back and we can use this to our advantage if you want to crate 3D mixes try and putting things further away by using fast attack times but something like the vocal we want up front and center, so we want to use slow attack times.
So, let’s load up the stock Logic compressor here and just take a listen to how much attack time can affect the sound.
So first of all, let’s dial-in some heavy compression.
So, slow attack time this is going to make it sound punchier and aggressive.
Sounds like the vocals are kind of being spat out more, whereas when we use a fast attack time…
Makes the vocal sound thicker and heavier, let’s compare those.
So, you can really hear the difference. There’s slight difference in volume as well, but regardless you can hear the difference and normally with vocals it’s rare that you’d want to use a fast attack time.
Backing vocals, yes, because it’s a great way to put them further back in the mix but with lead vocals we want to try and stay above 10 milliseconds so anywhere in this side of knob.
Mistake number 2 is not controlling the dynamics enough.
If you want a vocal to sound modern and radio ready you need to use automation in conjunction with compression to get the level of consistency that we expect to hear.
So, if you take a look at this vocal you can see the level of automation that we’re expecting.
This is just one verse and I’m turning up the quieter parts, turning down the louder parts by the word or by the phrase and this also makes easier for the compressor because the level going into the compressor is nice and consistent. So, we can actually dial the settings more easily.
Now, another way you can get that high level of dynamic consistency besides using automation is to use two compressors.
You don’t have to just use one. You can see on this vocal I’ve got compression here and then the other compressor here.
Using two compressors in a row like this will make each compressor’s job easier and the end result is going to be more musical and more consistent.
Mistake number 3 is automation after compression.
Because now that you understand the importance of combining automation with compression we need to think about which order we’re doing it.
So, let’s say we compressed first and then automate it.
What that means is the level going into the compressor is wild.
This needle is going to be moving all over the place and then we’re adding automation afterwards.
It’s not really going to work.
Instead you want to add automation first and then add compression, and the way we do this is by sending the signal from this channel to a new channel.
So, I’m adding automation here on the fader which will be here.
So, you could see that fader moving up and down, and then the output.
So, there’s no processing on here. The output is buss one and if we look buss one comes in here to the lead vocal buss and this is where all the processing is happening.
So, if we imagine signal flow is going down this channel. It’s been automated then it’s going out back to the top here and coming down here into the compression and the rest of the processing.
That’s the right way around to do it, because now the level going into the compression is consistent.
Mistake number 4 is too much EQ.
We hear voices all day every day.
We’re used to hearing voices sound natural.
So, as soon as you start applying radio aggressive EQ it’s going to start to sound weird.
So, you can see what I’m doing here is notching out some resonances and we can be a bit more aggressive with that because it’s a very narrow bandwidth.
Whereas, if this was a wide bandwidth that’s going to start to sound weird.
And then, on here I’m adding 3 dB at 1 kilohertz which is pretty aggressive and this is the upper range of where I’d go.
You generally with vocals 2-3 dB tops is enough on each band just to shape it.
You can see here I’m cutting 2 dB there and that’s it. This is all the EQ that’s going on in this channel.
You want to get a good sound at the source, because then you don’t need much EQ.
The reason I’ve got so much boosting at 1k is because I sing in a bass register so I need lots of high mids to bring my voice up.
But normally 1 or 2 dB is all you need to shape the tone.
If you feel like you need to do something aggressive then of course go for it and that’s what’s happened here but in general you don’t want to be much more aggressive than this.
Mistake number 5 is ignoring genre, because different genres have very different ways of processing vocals.
If you listen to a rock track there’s going to be way more energy in the upper mids like this around 1k to 5k around this area, Whereas, on a pop track we want loads of shimmer in the top-end.
So, this is more aggression in the upper-mids.
And this is more top-end that we might expect from pop.
So, you can hear the difference and obviously we’ve gone way over the top there.
But you need to consider this genre, because for a pop track or something we want to sound really modern we’d probably be boosting more around this area, whereas the rock track around this area.
How you use the compression is going to be completely different.
Again rock music, hardcore music you’re going to be more aggressive with compression.
Whereas, something like jazz you’re probably not going to be and pop somewhere in the middle where you’re controlling the dynamics but you don’t want to add too much aggression.
So, just make sure you actually consider the genre, because a lot of the advice you hear online is genre specific.
Finally, mistake number 6 is trying to fix it in the mix.
You’ve probably heard the before. You need to get it right at the source, but I can’t emphasize that enough.
Let me tell you a quick story. I was working with a student. Let’s say his name was Bob and he was spending so much time on the mix phase. He was doing over the top processing. Big curves like this. Boosting here, boosting here all this crazy stuff going on. Heavy compression and the vocals sucked. They sounded awful.
I asked them to send me the raw tracks. Took a listen and straight away it was clear what was going wrong.
He was using the mike completely wrong.
If you’re using a dynamic sure get close, but don’t eat the mike.
And if you’re using a condenser most of the time you want to be at least 5 inches away.
So, make sure you’re using the mike right and get it right at the source, because you can’t fix it in the mix phase and that’s mistake number 6.
So, those are 5 vocal mixing mistakes you definitely want to avoid.
But there’s a whole lot more to mixing vocals.
We haven’t gone too deep into EQ, compression, recommended starting settings.
So, if you want to get vocals right every time and want to produce vocals that sound professional be sure to grab the free vocal mixing cheat sheet.
It’s going to guide you through the whole vocal mixing process. Sit down and use it when you’re mixing and there’s also a link in the description below.
So, that’s all from me.
I’m Rob from musicianonamission.com. I’ll see you next time, and remember, Create Regardless.