Skilly Music's Blog

From behind the Mixing Console

How to improve your vocal mixing (Pt. I)

Jul 302018

“What can I do to make my vocals sound good?!” - You’ve probably asked yourself this question many times. If you are a singer or rapper, let me give you some quintessential advice that might help you.

First things first


Every voice is different. Settings that help the voice of the top-selling artist to be at the top of the charts, might do nothing to help your voice. In fact, such settings might even harm it. Keep that in mind as you read pieces of advice regarding frequency numbers, etc.
Your voice is unique. And what is unique, has to be treated as such. That’s why opinions about microphones vary so much. I will say this though – the better the vocal recordings, the easier it is to mix them properly.

Equipment


Let’s say you take a picture of a sunset over Paris with an old, two-megapixel camera. It’s going to be a great picture, nonetheless. But if you try to make a poster out of it, you’ll end up with a blurry, pixelated mess. What the pixels and camera quality are to your eyes, bits and studio equipment are to your ears.
Expensive, high-end studio equipment can indeed give you a sense of what makes it expensive, or to put it correctly, what makes it different. Using it is a good way to train your ears. But never suppose that quality lies in the price, because like I mentioned above, every voice is unique and just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it makes your voice sound better. With that said, if you ever have the chance to record with different studio equipment, different mics, different workstations etc., please do so! It will give you the opportunity to consider the best arrangement for your voice.

Environment


Keep recording sessions dry. You can add every reverb, and every room ambiance you can think of with just a few clicks, but it is almost impossible to remove recorded room ambiance from your signal. So, do everything possible to keep your room dry. If you have a booth, you are probably in a good situation. If you don’t have one, try to build one (it’s easier than you think—just google “vocal booth self-made” to get some inspiration). If you don’t have the time or the money for it (you don’t need a lot), at least try to separate your recording area from the rest of your room in some way. Beware though, dry does not mean dead! Don't overuse the all so trendy absorbers in your vocal booth as they will swallow the life out of your voice. They will kill the high mids and highs which will make your voice sound dull.

Panning and Track Numbers


Everybody has a different approach to panning and the number of vocal tracks that are necessary. I’ll just tell you my opinion.
The lead vocals for verses are usually placed in the center. If you want to give your listener a certain intimacy, it’s always better to use only one vocal track. It just keeps your mix clear and it makes the listening experience better. I’m not a fan of doubling the entire verse. With all the subtle differences between the two takes – including the consonants that never get matched up perfectly – it just makes your vocals sound messy. If you want a clear lead vocal, only use one track.
The next thing I would do is record two tracks in which you double certain parts of the verse. Pan them both in opposite directions (15 to 40), and reduce their volume. You have to hear a difference between the doubled part and the part without doubles, but don’t make it that obvious. Just so that it gives your vocals and the meaning of what is being said in certain parts more power. Doubling is more common in rap music. If you are singing, rather than rapping, be careful when doubling because it can make your vocals too artificial and too pop-ish. On the other hand, if you are going for that pop sound, doubling might be a great tool for you!

In the chorus, you can record two vocal tracks and pan them between 30 to 60 – one to the left, one to the right. Another option would be to record a third track, which is placed in the center, but not as loud as the lead vocals in your verses.
Some people record one lead track and double it (copy and paste it) and edit them differently (EQ, compressor, pitch, etc.) This can be another great tool to make your vocals sound different in certain parts of the song, just like the panning advice I mentioned above. Try it out and see how you like it.

See you in Part II!