How to Make Space for Vocals

How to Make Space for Vocals


When making space for your vocals, almost everything you do will need to affect 250Hz, and more importantly 2-5kHz.  We’ll want to amplify 2-5kHz on the vocal while attenuating 250Hz and 2-5kHz on competing signals – EQ and multiband compression work well for this.

The Most Important Vocal Frequencies

The chapters in this video are in no particular order.

When it comes to creating space for your vocal, some frequencies are more important than others – mainly 250Hz, and 2kHz to 5kHz.  2-5kHz is where our ears are most sensitive, and if boosted, helps a vocal cut through – if we attenuate it on an instrument, we create vocal space.

250Hz masks or covers up 2-5kHz, so if a vocal or instrument has too much of this frequency, it’ll be harder to hear the vocal. 

Let’s listen to a vocal and instrumental, and then cut 250Hz, and 2-5kHz on the instrumental – and notice how the vocal has more room.

Remove Vocal Harmonics from Instruments Pt.1

This trick is a little complex so let’s break it into 2 steps – what I’m going to do is isolate the saturation that I want to use on the vocal, and then use it as the external side chain for Soothe 2 on the instrument.  First, let’s duplicate the vocal.

Then, we’ll saturate both instances with the same settings, and invert the phase of the duplicate.  When played back at the same time, everything that’s identical between the 2 will cancel out – this is the signal we’ll use as the external side-chain. 

Let’s take a listen to what the saturation is adding to the vocal, and then proceed with the technique in the next chapter.

Remove Vocal Harmonics from Instruments Pt.2

After isolating the saturation, I’m going to export the isolated signal and import it back into the session as an audio file and mute it – then I’ll delete the duplicate while leaving the saturation on the main vocal.  Lastly, I’ll insert Soothe 2 on the instrumental or a competing signal.

Using the isolated saturation as the external side chain, I’ll now attenuate all of the harmonics that the saturator added to the vocal, but on the instrument.  As a result, the harmonics that amplify the vocal are now even more apparent, and the vocal is given more space.

Let’s take a listen, and let me know if you end up trying out this technique.

Attenuate Vocal Resonances from Instruments

Let’s use soothe 2 on the instrumental again, but this time keep things simple and use the vocal track as the external side chain.  This way, the vocal’s frequencies dynamically attenuate the instrumental, subsequently creating space for the vocal to occupy – we’ll keep the effect subtle to avoid huge changes.

Let’s take a listen and notice how the vocal has more room when this technique.

Use Side-chain MB Compressor

Let’s use what we learned in chapter 1 and affect 250Hz, and 2-5kHz, but this time with a multi-band dynamics processor.  I’ll place this plugin on the instrumental or competing signal, and create compression bands at these 2 frequency ranges – then I’ll side chain the vocal.

Lastly, I’ll ensure that the bands are triggered by the external side chain, and adjust the threshold, range, and ratio to achieve a few dB of compression.

Let’s take a listen to how this gives the vocal more space.

Use Side-chain MB Expander

Let’s do the same thing we did in the last chapter, but this time, place the processor on the vocal and side-chain the instrumental.  Additionally, we’ll change our band at 2-5kHz to an expansion setting with a positive range, while keeping the 250Hz band as a compressor.

This should help the vocal stick out, and achieves something similar to the last chapter, albeit with a slightly different sound.

Let’s take a listen.

Try Transient Suppression and Expansion

I’m going to use a multi-band transient expander to amplify transients on the vocal while attenuating the same ranges on the instrumental.  Alternatively, we could insert the plugin only on the instrumental and side-chain the vocal so that it triggers the transient suppression.

Let’s try the latter example and notice how suppressing the transients on the instrumental gives the vocal space.

Enhance Vocals with Mid-Side EQ

If you’re working on a master or stereo mix, and you don’t have access to individual instruments or stems, try this trick.  On the full stereo signal, insert a mid/side EQ and subtly amplify 2- 5kHz on the mid image, while attenuating the range on the side image.

The majority of the vocal won’t be in the range on the side image, meaning we can clear some space for the vocal, even though we can’t separate it from the rest of the mix.

Let’s take a listen.

Dip 2-5kHz on Vocal Reverb

Reverb is definitely a great effect to use on vocals, but if the reflections occupy too much of 250Hz or 2-5kHz the vocal can be washed out.  So let’s attenuate reflections at the frequency ranges to give the dry vocal more space and help it sit in the mix.

If you don’t have a reverb that lets you EQ the reflections, you can also use a send for your reverb and insert an EQ after it.

Let’s take a listen.

Try This Parallel Frequency Trick

This is another example of how to clear space for your vocal, but this one gives a distinct sound so I think it’s worth mentioning.  In short, I’ll use a send, and on the aux track insert a linear phase EQ that isolates 2-5kHz.

I’ll follow this with an upward compressor like the MV2, to amplify quieter parts of the signal.

Let’s take a listen to how this makes it easier to hear, and builds space for the vocal.

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