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How to Mix Vocals in 11 Steps

  • Start with RX De-Click
  • Use EQ for Low-Pass and Boost
  • Introducing Natural Tuning
  • The Most Transparent De-esser
  • 2nd Harmonic Saturation
  • Bringing Vocals Forward
  • Soothe 2 to Reduce Resonance
  • Send 1 & 2: Long/Short Delay
  • Send 3: Mix Glue Reverb
  • Layering Lead Vocal Melody
  • Vocal Bus Routing and EQ

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Start with RX De-Click

For this video I’m showing the mixing steps as a vocal chain - also, I’ll show plugins I personally like, but feel free to substitute them with ones you use.

One thing that’s almost always overlooked is removing vocal artifacts like mouth clicks and other unwanted sounds - removing these is pretty simple with RX De-click. I’ll set the algorithm to multi-band with random clicks, skew to high frequencies, and keep a lower sensitivity.

Since this plugin introduces significant latency, you’ll want to export the vocal with the effect on it, and use that as the base vocal for your processing.

Let’s take a listen, and note that I used a second-hand Stellar X2 microphone for this recording - so you should be able to achieve similar results with any entry-level condenser microphone.

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Use EQ for Low-Pass and Boost

The first insert I’ll use on my now de-clicked vocal track is an EQ with which I’ll attenuate low frequencies up to right before the vocals fundamental. Additionally, I’ll very subtly boost this fundamental to make it sound slightly more in-tune and rooted to the key.

Both of these filters are going to help me in the next chapter when I’m tuning by removing unhelpful signals for the tuner and augmenting the frequencies I want to be triggered by the tuner.

But first, let’s take a listen to the subtle clarifying effect of this EQ.

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Introducing Natural Tuning

I’ll use the MetaTune plugin for this track, and first disable any note that isn’t being sung, or at least isn’t being sung intentionally. Then I’ll reduce the speed and amount of tuning to create a more natural sound, free from artifacts - but do the opposite for an unnatural sound.

Let’s take a listen and notice how this subtle tuning helps the vocal sound more professional.

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The Most Transparent De-esser

My personal favorite de-esser to use on vocals is the Weiss De-ess digital mastering de-esser, which I find has the most transparent sound of any de-esser I’ve used. I typically use the high shelf, and attenuate by about 3 to 5dB, depending on the vocal.

I like to de-ess before saturation, more additive EQ, or any other additive processing since I want to control sibilance pretty early on. Let’s take a listen.

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2nd Harmonic Saturation

Up next, I’m going to saturate my vocal, and use a warm tube setting which regardless of the plugin you choose for this step will typically introduce a second-order harmonic. This makes the vocal warm, and more in-tune by amplifying in-key frequencies.

Notice that the vocal has frequencies below the fundamental again, which was likely introduced by a previous processor. To avoid forming my harmonics from these sub-frequencies, I’ve isolated the saturation to only the musical aspects of the vocal.

Let’s take a listen.

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Bringing Vocals Forward

More times than not producers want a forward-sounding vocal - which can typically be accomplished with these compressor settings. Start with a soft-knee and 4:1 ratio, followed by a quick attack, moderate release, a couple of milliseconds of lookahead, and automatic makeup gain.

If you use the Pro-C2, there’s a preset with these settings, which you can then tweak to better suit your vocal. Let’s take a listen and notice how the vocal moves forward and is easier to hear.

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Soothe 2 to Reduce Resonance

If you’re using an entry-level microphone, like the one used for this video’s demonstrations, you make want to consider using Soothe 2, which will reduce resonances that are more common in less-balanced mic capsules. Also, sometimes a singer's vocal just doesn’t pair well with a mic.

If that’s the case this plugin would come in handy as well. I use subtle settings with it, but I make sure to increase the quality to ultra to minimize unwanted phase cancellation.

Also, I keep the processing on nearly the full frequency spectrum to correct resonance in the mids and help with any extra sibilance in the highs.

Let’s take a listen.

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Send 1 & 2: Long/Short Delay

To keep my vocal processing sounding distinct, I’m going to use busses for my temporal processing like my reverb and delay. First, I’ll create 2 buses, on both of which I’ll insert Baby Audio’s Comeback Kid - which is a great and affordable delay plugin, that also has a free version.

On the first auxiliary track, I’m going to create a 1/4 note delay with mild feedback, a little bit of ducking, some distortion, modulation, and stereo widening. I’ll make sure to lower the dry output to zero since we’ll blend in the effect with the aux channel fader.

On the second aux track, I’ll create a 1/64 note delay and make sure to reduce feedback to 0 to avoid unnatural sounding phase interference.

The 1/4 note delay will be very stylistic and more creative, the whereas 1/64 note delay is going to thicken the vocal.

Let’s take a listen.

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Send 3: Mix Glue Reverb

For my reverb, I’ll use a bus send and auxiliary track again like I did in the last chapter - the Pro-R plugin has a great preset called vocal to mix glue, which isolates the reflections to the mids, uses darker reflections, and frequency modulation to blend the vocal in.

I like to adjust the settings to find what works best for the vocal and the mix, but the main concepts I just described still work great at blending a vocal. Let’s take a listen.

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Layering Lead Vocal Melody

With all of my temporal sends set up, I like to use this trick to support the vocal - I’ll use a piano or any instrument that blends well with the vocal, and record or program the vocal melody before sending the track to the vocal’s temporal processing.

The time-consuming part is making sure the notes match the vocal’s timing, but once that’s done this subtle instrument makes the vocal sound more powerful and in tune. Let’s take a listen.

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Vocal Bus Routing and EQ

Last up I’m going to change the output of my lead vocal, the supporting melody, and all of my temporal processing auxiliary tracks to a final vocal bus on which I’ll insert an EQ. With this EQ, I can now shape all of the processing that came before it.

I’ll cut the unwanted lows again, boost a little of the fundamental, attenuate what sounds a little boxy or unpleasant, boost some presence frequencies, and add air.

This will affect my lead and all of the reverb reflections and delay taps makes it a great way to get a cohesive vocal sound that fits the mix.

Let’s take a listen to the final vocal.

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