How to Make Balanced Vocals

How to Make Balanced Vocals


When balancing vocals, consider both dynamic balancing and the spectral or frequency response balancing to create a professional and controlled sounding vocal.  Dynamic EQ, multi-band compression, and multi-band saturation all affect both the dynamics and the frequency response, making them useful when balancing your vocals.

Dynamic EQ Attenuation

One of the best ways to balance a vocal is with dynamic EQ since it lets us control both the dynamics and the frequency response.  On this vocal, I’ll attenuate some of the sibilance in the higher frequencies with a sharper Q value, as well as the fundamental.

Lastly, I’ll find any mid frequencies that make the vocal sound boxy and attenuate those.

Let’s take a listen.

Combine Compression and Dynamic EQ

For even more control over your vocal try regular downward compression, and follow it with a dynamic EQ.  For the compressor I’ll use quick settings to capture the vocal quickly, then use auto-make-up gain; for the EQ I’ll use the same settings as the last chapter.

Let’s take a listen.

Combine Upward, and Downward Compression

Upward compression captures quieter details from the vocal and amplifies them to a level where they can be heard – downward compression will attenuate the signal from the peaks down.  When combined we squeeze the vocal’s signal into the middle so to speak, which gives up a very dense sound.

Be careful not to overdo this though, since it’ll make the vocal sound unbalanced.  Let’s take a listen.

When in Doubt, Use Soothe 2

If your vocal is sounding unbalanced and you can’t figure out what the issue is exactly, try using soothe 2 or a similar intelligent EQ.  This will create program-dependent dynamic bands to attenuate any unwanted resonances, in turn balancing the vocal in a way not possible with traditional effects.

Let’s take a listen, and note how achieving something like this with a regular EQ would be difficult to do.

How to Balance the Fundamental

The fundamental of a vocal is often the most powerful frequency – that said, it can make the vocal sound unbalanced if it isn’t controlled.  With an EQ, we can observe the frequency response of this range and attenuate the 4 or so frequencies that the fundamental occupies.

Let’s listen and notice how this cleans up the vocal’s low-frequency range and makes it more balanced.

MB Compression over Fundamental

If the last chapter seemed too time-consuming, use a multi-band compressor instead, and create a downward compression band over the vocal’s fundamental.  When doing this just be sure to avoid super short attack and release times, since this will distort the vocal’s lows.

Let’s take a listen.

Introduce Automated Parallel Compression

Parallel compression is a great way to control the dynamics of a vocal, but what’s even better is using volume automation on the parallel compression auxiliary track to augment certain song sections.  For example, if the chorus needs to cut through I could increase the level.

Let’s take a listen to this parallel signal being slowly introduced and notice how it makes the vocal more dynamically balanced.

Create Presence on Chorus

Similar to the last chapter, we can use automation to help with particular song sections – so say the vocal is getting buried during a chorus, we can use automation on an EQ band to amplify 2-5kHz to help the vocal sound balanced amongst the surrounding instrumentation.

Let’s listen and notice how the vocal becomes easier to hear.

Create Varying Timbres for Song Sections

Last up for automation tips, let’s try something unique and switch between compression algorithms to get unique vocal timbres.  I’ll use a plugin with an A-B function and set up different compression settings for each, but with the same amount of gain reduction to keep the dynamics balanced.

Then I can automate between my A and B settings when needed.  Let’s listen to how this creates a subtle but unique timbre for the vocal, all while keeping it dynamically balanced.

Try a Vocal Rider at Chain’s Start

If you’re interested in having super dynamically consistent vocals, a vocal rider is a great option.  I’ll use this one by Waves to keep my vocal’s amplitude within a certain range, in turn altering the dynamics of the vocal with the need for compression.

I’d recommend using this at the start of your vocal chain – this way you have balanced dynamics prior to any processing.

Let’s take a listen.

Use Hz. Specific Saturation

Last up let’s look at how saturation can act like a dynamic EQ – in short, by saturating specific frequencies we both reduce their dynamic range and amplify them.  If I want my vocal’s presence frequencies to be more controlled and amplified, I could isolate my saturation to 2-5kHz.

Or I could do this to the fundamental if I find it isn’t powerful enough.  Let’s take a listen and keep in mind how you could use this to balance both your vocal’s dynamics and frequency response.

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