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How to Mix Vocal Effects

When mixing vocal effects, be sure to understand the routing of your signal from plugin to plugin, and how this routing can be utilized to achieve certain effects. Additionally, if the plugin you’re using has a wet/dry dial, this can help blend in just the right about of processing.


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Vocal Chain Routing

The most important aspect of mixing vocal effects (in my opinion) is to understand the routing, or how one effect is going to be fed into the next. Conveniently, most DAWs organize the signal flow in a top-down manner - meaning the first insert is first, and so on.

After the inserts, the signal is routed to any sends, then to the panning, and last, the channel fader to control the volume.

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How to Blend in Effects

Blending in your vocal effects has become easier recently, since more and more plugins are offering wet/dry or mix dials, with which you can blend your dry or unprocessed signal, with the processed signal. This can be helpful if you really only want a small amount of the effect.

For example, if I want reverb but I don’t want to set up a send to blend it in, I’ll use the wet/dry dial and introduce it subtly.

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Distorting Specific Frequencies

Keeping our routing in mind, we can purposefully cause certain frequencies to be processed more - I’ll use an equalizer with a couple boosts in specific frequencies, maybe 500Hz and 2.5kHz. Then I’ll distort the vocal, or compress it, depending on what's needed - lastly, follow it with equal and opposite EQ curves.

So the first eq amplifies certain frequencies, causing them to be distorted or compressed more - then the second eq balances out the spectrum.

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Dialing in Compression

Vocal compression is a difficult thing to dial in the way you want - I typically start with a 3:1 ratio then try to accomplish a few dB of compression. I’ll use a quicker attack and moderate release to capture a fair amount of the vocal but compress it quickly.

This way compression affects the majority of the signal, causing balanced dynamics. If you’re having trouble getting your compressor to affect the signal in the way you wan t, see if you can find a wet/dry or mix function to blend in the effect.

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Gate, Upward, then Downward Compression

Speaking of compression, here’s a great way to control your vocal’s dynamics - first use a gate to cut out any noise when the vocal is quiet. Next, use an upward compressor to control dynamics from the noise floor up - followed by downward compression to control from the peaks down.

This way we first, cut out noise, and then control the vocal from both directions - resulting in a full but controlled vocal.

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Choosing Delay Types

When mixing vocals, the delay times you choose will depend on what you’re trying to accomplish - if you want a full or dense sound, use a quick delay. If you want a stylized effect, use a delay time greater than 130ms - since the listener will perceive these delays as separate signals.

Use your delay as a send, or find one with a wet/dry dial. Odds are the full amount will be too aggressive.

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Choosing Reverb Types

The reverb you choose for your vocal will also depend on your intention - a short ambient or room reverb is great for making the vocal sound full. A reverb that’s medium in length and affects the mids will help the vocal blend into the sounding instrumentation.

For reverb that’s impressive of makes your vocal stick out -try a longer more aggressive effect and boost the high frequencies of the reverb to emphasize the vocal’s intelligibility.

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Automating with Latch Function

An advanced way to mix in your vocal effects comes from utilizing automation - I enjoy using the latch function to automate data as the vocal and track are playing. This makes the automation more like a performance and really improves the complexity and nuance of the vocal.

To do this, enable Latch, open the automation section, then play the track while affecting the function you want to automate. Your plugin’s mix function is a good one to automate.

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Controlling Overall Dynamics

When you’ve finished working on all of your effects and you’re content with the sound of your vocal, blend in the vocal with the rest of the mix. I like doing this with the latch function as well, but this time I’ll automate the channel fader.

This lets me decide how prevalent I want the lead vocal to be, letting me match the emotionality of the song with the presence of the vocal.

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