How to Mix Vocals Into a Beat

 
How to Mix Vocals into a Beat

 

When mixing vocals into a beat, be sure to reduce frequencies on the beat that would cause masking to the vocal.  We can use EQ, resonance reduction plugins, and ducking to give the vocal some room on top of the beat, before moving on to processing the vocal.



Use EQ to Reduce Masking

On my beat I’m going to insert Shade EQ and place a bell filter over 250Hz – then I’ll side-chain the vocal.  With a follower, I’ll use the side-chained vocal as my trigger, and then link this follower to the 250Hz band’s gain dial – with a negative value.

This means that whenever the vocal is present, 250Hz will be attenuated on my beat.  This reduces the beat’s masking effect on the vocal, resulting in a clearer overall sound.

This effect is going to be subtle, so let’s listen to the full before and after of our processing.

Side-chain Resonance Reduction

Again affecting the beat, I’m going to insert Soothe 2 and once again side-chain my vocal.  Then I’ll emphasize competing frequencies between the 2 signals – mainly 250Hz and 3kHz before reducing resonances on the beat; this will attenuate aggressive overlap between the 2 signals.

As a result, the vocal sits on top of the beat a little better, and the overall mix becomes more balanced.

Let’s take a listen.

Use Hz. Specific Ducking

Next, I’m going to insert this ShaperBox plugin from Cableguys on the beat, since it lets me perform frequency-specific ducking.  I’ll select their compression module, side chain the vocal, and then set its triggering to the higher, more clarifying frequencies – then I’ll ensure only the beat’s highs are being attenuated.

What I did here is cause the beat’s high frequencies to be attenuated whenever the vocal’s high frequencies are present.  Similar to last chapter, this causes the vocal to cut through a little more and balances the overall mix.

Let’s take a listen.

Balance Vocal with EQ

Let’s move on to the vocals for now and insert an EQ – I’m going to attenuate specific frequencies to make my vocal more balanced and sound clearer.  In this example, the mids are pretty nasally, so I cut those a good amount, as well as dipped the fundamental slightly.

Although each vocal is different, performing similar cuts should result in a similar, clear sound for whatever vocal you’re working on.

Let’s take a listen and notice how the vocal has a clearer sound.

Process and Center Vocal

Again on the vocal, I’m going to mildly process and then center the vocal using this Lifeline Expanse strip by Excite Audio.  With it, I introduced some tube distortion, very mild ramping, and slight signal degradation before putting all of that processing into the center.

As a result, info that would’ve been added to the side by these previous processors is instead made mono, making the vocal more powerful and sit in the middle of our stereo image.

Let’s listen to how this strip makes the vocal more powerful.

Bring Vocals Forward

After my vocals have some processing, I’m going to emphasize those added details with compression and make-up gain.  I’ll use softer-knee compression with lookahead, and again auto-makeup gain to attenuate peaks, but then bring quieter details forward by amplifying after the attenuation has occurred.

This will keep the vocals sounding uniform, and increase details we would’ve otherwise lost.

Let’s take a listen.

Use M/S EQ on Beat

Right now the beat is sounding a little boring so let’s add a mid-side EQ to emphasize parts that won’t interfere with the vocal, but still augment the beat.  On the mid image, I boosted the kick and sub around 40Hz, then dipped around 2.5kHz to reduce vocal masking.

On the side image, I amplified 300Hz to add width, and 2.5kHz on the side image to blend with the vocal’s presence but not overpower it, since they occupy different aspects of the image.

Lastly, I amplified the air of the beat on the side, to expand the stereo image and make the overall beat sound more impressive.

Let’s listen to how the beat becomes more impressive, but that these changes don’t clash with the vocals.

Saturate Vocal Mids and Highs

Although we’re getting closer to blending the 2 signals, the vocal is still sounding underdeveloped.  Let’s introduce some warm tape saturation to the mid frequencies and some clean tube saturation to the vocal highs to introduce harmonics and vary the frequency response – causing a more complex sound.

This should fill the vocal out, but also help it sit into the beat by adding frequencies that were missing from the mix overall.

Let’s take a listen.

Introduce Temporal Processing

Next, let’s add some temporal or time-based effects to the vocal – using sends I’ll introduce reverb that isolates the reflections to the mid-frequency range, letting it blend into the mix.  Then I’ll set up another send and introduce a 1/8th note delay with mild L/R variation.

This plugin also lets me set up delay ducking, so I’ll use this to help the vocal’s transient cut through.  One last thing I did was send a little of the reverb to this delay as well – this will help blend the vocal in the beat as well as create an interesting sound.

Let’s take a listen.

Quick Master Bus Processing

If we process the vocal and beat collectively, we’ll help tie their sound together – with that in mind, I inserted this M/S compressor on my stereo output.  It’ll dynamically widen the image by compressing the mid more than the side, as well as create cohesive dynamics between the 2 signals.

Then I brightened the full mix with this air EQ, before introducing some clipping to add high frequencies to my transients as well as louden the overall mix.

Let’s take a listen to how these 3 processors work well for a demo master and help tie everything together.



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