For this video, each chapter will be in sequential order.
Subtractive EQ is a good first step when making a vocal chain, so let’s use the Waves Q6 to dip parts of the vocal we don’t want to amplify with subsequent processing. I’ll use a high-pass filter at 80Hz, and dip around 300Hz, and dip around 1kHz.
These 3 filters reduce mic rumble, muddiness, or frequencies that mask higher ones, and nasal tones respectively. Lastly, I’ll dip some of the high frequencies to reduce sibilance.
Let’s listen and notice how the EQ balances the vocal slightly.
To my ear, this vocal had some out-of-the-box compression when being recorded, so I’m going to use very subtle compression to get about 1dB of attenuation. I’m going to use a 5:1 ratio with a high threshold, fast attack, and fast release to achieve quick compression.
You can use similar settings with a lower threshold if your vocal has less compression than this example.
Let’s listen and notice how this compressor very subtly controls the dynamics.
To control sibilance let’s use the Waves Deesser and subtly attenuate high frequencies. Since this is a female vocalist on the recording, I’ll use a higher frequency - unrelated to that I’ll also use split-band audio since it’s less noticeable than ‘Wide’, and affect the full high-frequency range.
Overall I’ll achieve about 3dB of attenuation, but you may need up to 6dB. Let’s listen and notice how the high end is controlled.
Now that we’ve attenuated what we don’t want in the last 3 chapters, let’s start adding signal to the vocal.
You may not need this if you’re recording a male vocalist, but I like to use Lo-Air to generate a sub-harmonic. Since female vocalists typically sing higher, this plugin lets me create some signal below their fundamental, in turn filling out the sound.
Let’s listen and notice how the vocal sounds slightly fuller.
Waves Doubler is great for filling out a lead - I’ll create 2 additional voices, each at roughly -30dB when compared to the lead, then I’ll pan them slightly, delay them a little, detune them by 6 cents in either direction and introduce some subtle and slow frequency modulation.
The variation these create blends in the original, making it sound more complex and fuller as a result. Let’s listen and notice how the lead sounds more impressive.
Next, I’m going to use MV2 to achieve low-level compression or compression from the noise floor up. This will amplify the additive processing that we made in the last 2 chapters, making that processing more noticeable - for this reason, you may want this plugin later in the chain.
Let’s listen and notice how this increases the quieter parts of the vocal and previous processing.
Delay can thicken a vocal, and add a creative quality to it - I’ll try to achieve both of those things with the H-Delay in this chapter. I’ll set a 1/16th delay with low feedback - introduce a LoFi setting to make it distinct, and blend it in with Wet/Dry.
I find these settings work well to subtly enhance a vocal and give it a distinct sound. Let’s listen and notice how the subtle delay augments the lead.
Like the Delay we used in the last chapter, reverb can be both pragmatic and creative. I’ll use a vocal plate setting that has dense early reflections to thicken the vocal, but a longer decay to give the vocal a distinct character or identity separate from the instrumental.
Let’s listen and notice how this reverb makes the vocal bigger and separates it from the instrumentation.
Last, in this chain, I’m going to use the same EQ from chapter 1, but now amplify all parts of the vocal I want more of. I boosted a little 500Hz to emphasize vowels, 2 and 4kHz to increase clarity, and used a shelf of about 8kHz to add some air.
Let’s listen and notice how this EQ puts the finishing touches on this chain.
When putting this Waves Vocal Chain together, I came across a plugin called GW VoiceCentric, which works really well as a stand-alone chain. I used a moderate intensity to cause some compression, introduced delay, a doubler, and some reverb to make the vocal sound distinct.
Although I usually don’t like these types of plugins, this one was flexible enough to achieve a good sound with very little effort. Let’s listen to the plugin without any other processing used.