The most important part of a mix by far is the vocal. And nothing can ruin a song more than an inconsistent vocal. We already know to compress our vocal and control the dynamics but is that enough? and is there more that we can do?
You bet! In fact there are a good amount of extra tools we have in our plugin arsenal that we can use. But we can also start by using the right microphone...
Because most of us are now recording in our homes, we are usually not tracking vocals in a nice sounding space. The rooms are not acoustically treated properly, and this allows for unwanted noise to bounce freely in our room.
This is why I highly recommend using a dynamic microphone instead of a condenser... While condenser microphones may look nice, they tend to pick up a lot of the room due to their high sensitivity. This leaves us with a lot of the room ambience in our recorded tracks. We are then stuck with this unwanted sound in our vocal tracks.
Dynamic microphones are also a lot more forgiving... And because we are usually working with amateur vocalists who lack control over their voice, these more forgiving dynamic microphones will actually help us during the mixing stage. A condenser microphone on the other hand, will just exaggerate the singers lack of control.
My go to vocal microphone is the Shure SM7b. This microphone has been a constant in the recording industry for a long time. And there is a reason for this! It is one of the most reliable vocal microphones in history. Michael Jackson actual used it on the whole Thriller album!
The low end of our singers voice is very important. Without it our singer would sound thin. But if this area lacks control, we would then have the bass frequencies of our singers voice popping out at us at certain points during his vocal performance.
To keep the low end of our singers voice in check we need to use some multi-band compression to only limit the bass frequencies of the vocalist.
This is done by...
1. Opening up a multi-band compressor and creating a band from 80Hz to 300Hz
2. Setting our ratio to 4:1
3. Setting our attack and release to a mildly fast setting
4. Taking down our threshold until we are getting some gain reduction
This may seem like a subtle move. But it is what the professionals are doing to get the best vocal sound sound they possibly can.
One last step that needs to be taken near the end of our vocal chain is to add a limiter. This is done by every professional mix engineer to "shave off" any peaks on the vocal. This ensures that no words will be sticking out of the mix at any point in the song.
To do this simply grab a limiter and take down both the threshold and outlet ceiling at the same time until you are getting a couple db's of gain reduction on the loudest notes that the singer is singing. We do not have to be aggressive here because our vocal should already be controlled nicely by the time it gets to this limiter.
Now you should already be sending all of your vocals to a single vocal bus so that you can make your final tweaks to your vocal sound as a whole. This is where we can use a multi-band compressor to sit our vocals in the mix properly. We may still have certain frequencies in our vocals that are popping out of the mix more than they should. This multi-band should help...
1. Open a multi-band compressor and create 2 bands. One should go from 150Hz to 4k and the other should span from 4k to 12k
2. Apply the same compression settings as in Tip #2
3. Take down the threshold on these bands until you are getting a little gain reduction
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