What You Need To Do To Make Your Vocals Pop

We all want vocals that stand out, but achieving this often eludes even the most seasoned of engineers.  Luckily, this one technique works in almost every application, and can be used in your mixes.  If you want your vocals to pop, keep reading, and use these steps in your next mix.

Part 1: Create a Parallel Vocal Track

Step 1: Send your vocal track to an aux or a bus.

Step 2: Set your send to unity, so that this parallel track is the same volume as your original vocal track.

Part 2: Compress the Vocal

Step 1: Heavily compress the aux track, using your go-to vocal compressor.  Set a low threshold, high ratio, as well as a quick attack and slow release.

Step 2: If your compressor has it, turn up the make up gain.  This way the quieter parts of your vocal recording will become more apparent.

Heavy Compression Should be Used on the Auxiliary Vocal
Heavy compression should be used on the auxiliary vocal

Part 3: Distort the Vocal

Step 1: Distort the aux track, using distortion that is noticeable, but not excessive.  Use tube distortion to make your 2nd harmonic more noticeable.  Use tape or overdrive distortion to emphasize the 3rd order, and 4th order harmonics. 

Step 2: Adjust to your personal taste.

Use FabFilter tube emulation to Achieve 2nd Order Harmonics
FabFilter tube emulation to achieve 2nd order harmonics

Part 4: Equalize the Mid Range of Your Vocal

Step 1: Place an equalizer on your aux track, and bump up the upper mid range frequencies.  These are typically 1kHz. to 3kHz. 

Step 2: Adjust the bell filter in frequency, amplitude and Q, until the vocal is present, but not harsh or unnatural sounding. 

FabFilter Pro with a high pass filter, and an amplified high mid-range
FabFilter Pro Q with a high pass filter, and an amplified high mid-range

Part 5: Blend the Aux Track

Step 1: Turn the aux track all the way down.  Listen to the full mix and slowly increase the amplitude of the aux track until it is blended in to your content.  It should be noticeable but not excessive, making the vocals pop, but not become unpleasant or harsh.

Step 2: With the track blended in, adjust any setting on your aux track you hear needs to be changed.

Blending in the auxiliary vocal track
Blending in the auxiliary vocal track

Conclusion:

Using this technique reasonably and responsibly will make your vocals cut through almost any mix. Experiment with the settings to make a sound that works best for your mixes.

What do you do to make your vocals pop?


Sage Audio Mastering

Nashville, TN

www.SageAudio.com