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How to Mix Vocals With Free Plugins

When mixing a vocal with free plugins, you can use parametric EQs like the MEqualizer, one that’s semi-parametric like the SSQ, or a graphic EQ like the Overtone GEQ. When mixing the vocal with free plugins, MCompressor is an option, as is TDR Molotok for a unique timbre.

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Equalizing Vocals with MEqualizer

First things first, the plugins we’re covering here are from independent developers- they’re not stock plugins, so if you have a DAW you should be able to get these on your sessions.

Also, I’m not going to be making a vocal chain, but first, show your 3 great EQs, then 3 compressors, 3 saturators, and show how to use them on vocals.

Without wasting more of your time, let’s look at the first EQ.

MEqualizer is a 6 band parametric EQ, with a helpful interface, and some surprisingly advanced features. On this vocal, I’m going to cut the lows with a high pass, cut some of the fundamental to reduce muddiness, then boost 4kHz and add some air with a shelf.

I’ll change the bell filter to bell analog to make the Q values more indicative of analog equipment, and also introduce a little saturation to add even more clarity.

Let’s take a listen and notice how the vocal goes from kind of undefined, to sounding a lot clearer.

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Affecting Vocals with SSQ

If you prefer a semi-parametric eq of an analog emulated one, SSQ by Analog Obsession is a great free option - with it I do the same I did in the last chapter. I’ll use a high pass, dip some of the fundamental, add clarity with 4kHz, and some air.

The main difference we’ll notice is how the analog emulated curves create a slightly different frequency response - so let’s listen and note if we can hear a difference from chapter 1.

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Clarifying Vocals with Overtone GEQ

Overtone GEQ by Voxengo is a graphic EQ with mild harmonic distortion added to make them sound more complex. I’ll adjust the sliders and the frequencies above them to control what I attenuate and amplify - like before I dip the lows, and boost some highs.

We’ll notice with this EQ that the mild distortion and the fixed bandwidth of the bands give it a distinct sound. Let’s take a listen.

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Compressing Vocals with MCompressor

The MCompressor offers a lot of advantaged functionality like the MEqualizer - with it I’m going to select custom shape so that I can more precisely affect my ratio, knee, threshold, and pre-threshold ratio. I decided to set a short attack, short release, and maximize the low-level signal.

Let’s listen and notice how the low-level maximization is controlling the vocal's dynamics, even more so than the peak down compression. Also, for the next 6 chapter demonstrations, I’m going to keep our MEqualizer on to clean up the vocal prior to any additional processing.

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Optical Vocal Compression with LALA

If you want a classic compression sound, indicative of the LA2A, then Analog Obsession’s LALA is a good option. With it, I’ll leave the side-chain portion off, then increase the gain and the peak reduction until I get a few dB of program-dependent attenuation.

For an even more program-dependent sound, you can increase the peak reduction dial past 50, but I find this is too aggressive on vocals. Let’s listen and notice how this compressor smooths the vocals.

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Colorful Compression with TDR Molotok

I wanted to cover this one in case you’re looking to achieve a unique tone on your vocal - with the quick attack, quick release, and variable compression style, I can achieve a really unique tone on my vocal. I’ll compress more aggressively here just to achieve a unique timbre.

Let’s listen and note how this compressor can control dynamics like the other 2, but can also add a unique style to the vocal.

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Waveshaping Vocals with MSaturator

The MSaturator is going to have a similar effect to the maximization I did with the MCompressor in chapter 3, but, with even more control. For vocals, I recommend using a soft mode, and enabling the harmonics section but keeping the sliders at a low percentage.

A 2nd order harmonic will add some warmth to the vocal, and a 4th will add mids that are in key with the track. Let’s take a listen and notice how the vocal becomes fuller and more upfront.

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Transistor Distortion with PreFET

I wanted to include this one since it can create a great sound without much effort - in short, it’s a really realistic sounding transistor saturator that can add a really great tone and timbre to your vocal. All you need to do is increase the drive dial, and gain compensation.

There isn’t much more to it than that so let’s listen and notice how it provides unique sounding saturation.

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Tube Amp Saturation on Vocals

Voxengo’s tube amp is kind of a classic free plugin - it has a great sound and is easy to use. Simply increase the drive function, cycle between the 2 modes to find what you like, enable oversampling if you’re distorting heavily, and adjust the bias to change the timbre.

Let’s listen to the plugin and notice how it gives the vocal character, makes it fuller, and how cycling through some of these options gives us a lot to work with.

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Free Channel Strip for Vocals

For these last 2 chapters, I wanted to look at some unique vocal plugins that are still incredibly useful.

Channev by Analog Obsession gives us Neve 1073 preamp emulation, a de-esser, a semi-parametric EQ, compressor, limiter, and tape saturation. That said, I’m going to equalize as I did in the first 3 chapters, compress as I did earlier as well, and then add some tape and preamp saturation to achieve a unique tone.

I’ll use the de-esser too to control sibilance. If you use this plugin, know that everything works how you’d expect, and similar to how we covered in previous chapters.

Let’s listen and consider if you could use this plugin to replace other ones on your vocal.

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Transient Emphasis on Vocals

If you’re working on hip-hop, pop, or other genres in which vocal pronunciation and transient detail are important then I’d really recommend Diablo Lite by Cymatics. By increasing the punch function, and soft clipping, we can achieve a very aggressive sound that works surprisingly well on vocals.

The mix dial helps a lot when trying to find the right amount of the effect, so I’d recommend utilizing that.

And as an added bonus for those of you that stuck around to the end of the video, Cymatics makes another free plugin called Origin, which is great for achieving a Lo-Fi sound on your vocals.

So let’s listen to both and consider how the first works well for pop and hip hop, while the Origin plugin could be great for BGVs or Lo-Fi genres.

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