When balancing a vocal and a beat, you can increase 3.5kHz on the vocal to make it stick out, or attenuate this range to blend the vocal in with the instrumental. Additionally, if you’re trying to balance your vocal and a beat, try side-chained compression.
These tips are in no particular order but feel free to combine a few of them if needed for your session.
Let’s first look at making a vocal blend into a beat by using EQ - using an EQ on the vocal, I'll subtly attenuate 2-5kHz. Then using an EQ on the beat I’ll amplify this same 2-5kHz range, as well a very small amount of 250Hz.
I’m going to use the Kirchoff EQ for this, and let me know if I’m saying that right in the comments because I think I’ve been saying it wrong.
This will cause the beat to mask the vocal slightly, making it sit back in the mix. Let’s take a listen.
Similar to last chapter, we can use an EQ to make the vocal stick out - this time I’ll boost 2-5kHz on the vocal, and dip it on the beat. Unlike last time, instead of boosting a small amount of 250Hz, I’ll actually dip that on the vocal.
These settings are going to make the vocal stick out, and bring it forward.
Let’s take a listen.
If you plan on saturating your beat and vocal to create a fuller sound, you can use the same saturation type for both to help them blend, or use distinct saturation types to help keep them apart. Using the PSP Saturator, we get distinct harmonics for each setting.
So for example, we could increase the warmth setting on the vocal to get a stronger second-order harmonic, and then use a sift clip setting on the beat to get some odd ordered harmonics.
Let’s take a listen to this saturator creating distinct harmonic formations for both the vocal and beat.
If we want our vocal to stick out or sit on top of the beat, we’ll first insert a compressor on the beat - then set the vocal as the external side chain. This means the compressor will measure the vocal’s level, but cause compression to the beat.
So whenever the vocal is present, the level of the beat will be reduced slightly. For this effect, I’ll use an attack of 20ms, and a release of at least 50ms to avoid distortion. Also, it’s best to avoid more than 2dB of attenuation.
Let’s listen and notice how the vocal now has more room in the mix.
To make a vocal sit back in a mix using compression, let’s insert the compressor on the vocal and side-chain the beat. Like the last chapter, this vocal will be attenuated whenever the beat is present, but let’s use some different settings than last time.
I’ll use a quicker attack and release, as well as a little lookahead. If I want to smooth out the vocal as well, I can use an optical compressor for this technique. Let’s listen to these settings and notice how the vocal is smoother and further back.
Some dynamic EQs and MB compressors let you use an external side chain which is really useful - I’ll put an EQ on my vocal, and use the same settings I used in chapter 2. This time, I’ll set the beat as the external side chain, and make the bands dynamic.
I’ll be sure to enable the external side chain as the trigger for my dynamic band. Now whenever the beat is loud enough, bands that make the vocal stick out will be amplified, causing dynamic presence for the vocal.
Let’s listen and consider how this compares to chapter 2.
This trick is a little complex, but really interesting nonetheless - I’ll use an EQ matching function to find what bands would make the vocal blend in with the beat, but then invert them to make the vocal stick out. First I’ll insert the EQ on the vocal.
Then I’ll make the beat the external side chain, before using the Match function and using the external side chain as the reference.
After the signals have been measured, I’ll match the vocal’s response to the beat’s response. I’ll delete very-low-frequency bands, and also any bands that are extreme.
Then I’ll highlight all of them, and with the gain dial, invert the gain of all of the bands that were created.
Let’s listen and notice how this separates the beat and vocal in a very specific and unique way.
For this trick, I’m going to combine what we did last chapter with the chapter on side-chained dynamic EQ. I’ll keep all of the bands we created from our last chapter, but highlight them, right-click, and make them dynamic, before adjusting their ranges and gain.
This is cool in and of itself, but we can cause these bands to be triggered by the beat. As a result, we get inverse, dynamic, and side-chain triggered EQ.
This makes the vocal stick out, and as you can imagine, if I want to blend the vocal instead, I could just invert the ranges.
Let’s take a listen to this, with the ranges set to make the vocal stick out.
We discussed earlier how 2-5kHz is an important range, but directly above this is another region where our ears are very sensitive. With that in mind, if we want the vocal to sit back in the mix, I could de-ess it, while boosting this range on the beat.
For example, if I de-ess 5 to 9kHz on the vocal, I could boost 5-9kHz on the beat. Although most of the steps we covered can be inverted to cause the opposite effect, I wouldn’t recommend amplifying your vocal’s sibilance to make it stick out.
Let’s take a listen with de-essing on the vocal, and amplification on the beat.
This last tip feels a bit like cheating, but intelligent EQs like Gullfoss kind of just take a lot of the work out of mixing. First I’ll insert the Gullfoss on the vocal, and then side-chain the beat - then I’ll increase recover or tame to affect the balance.
Increasing recover will make the vocal stick on top of the mix while increasing tame will make it sit back. I’ll also isolate this processing to the vocal’s mids.
Let’s take a listen.