It might be difficult to achieve professional-sounding vocals when mixing. From where to begin to how to EQ harsh vocals, which FX to use, and which compressor to utilize!
We’ll break down the procedure into three easy-to-digest sections that walk you through the process of getting those vocals to sit in your mix. Here’s what you may expect:
- Getting your vocals ready for mixing | EQ Harsh & De-es a vocal.
- Compressing Vocals | How & When to use automation.
- Adding FX to your vocals | Using Reverb On Vocals | Vocal Delays & Throws.
So let’s get started…
Getting your vocals ready for mixing
Arranging and labeling your tracks
It is critical to be well-organized. When practical, I like to use the same labeling, coloring, and grouping approach.
Setting volumes with faders or clip gain.
Setting the basic levels and panning using the faders and clip gains is crucial and it should be done before we can even think about EQ or compression and as a general guideline, the primary vocal (and double) should be maintained in the middle of the mix and the harmonies paned on either side.
Removing breaths and noises.
The sound of 4+ breathes may be loud when you have multiple layers of vocals. Erase all the breaths except the principal vocal. It’s preferable to keep these in since it makes it feel more natural.
It’s ok to show all your colors.
Having a color-coded system that you stick to is necessary and the same goes for your other channels.
Grouping your vocals
Grouping your vocals gives you the ability to analyze them simultaneously and solo, mute, or adjust the volume of each one of them.
BASIC EQ CHOICES
When EQing a vocal, it’s common to go overboard, make an error, and end up with an undesirable result. Here’s a rundown of what to look for and how to get started:
- High Pass – any undesired low end noise should be removed. And this can be a rumble, the sound of a foot hitting a mic stand, or any sub frequencies.
- Keep an eye out for any stand frequencies or resonances. To uncover them, use a sweeping EQ with a tight Q and high gain. Once the unwanted frequency is located you can reverse the gain to erase that annoyance.
For starters, this EQ cheat sheet can be extremely helpful. However, it’s not always the same frequencies; use this more as a good starting point.
How To Eq Harsh Vocals
When it comes to harsh vocals, I find that a multilevel approach works best. We could have a lot of continuous higher end information, distortion, and resonant frequency peaks in addition to dealing with esses (noise from words with strong T’s and S’s). Some of the distortions could be caused by overloading the signal (playing it too loudly), using the incorrect microphone for the singer, or distorting the mic’s diaphragm. Here’s what to do:
It’s better to look for obvious resonant peaks in the top end frequencies. We can sweep through the sound using the method described above to see if there are any easy wins. To avoid losing too much information, use a tight Q setting.
DE-ESSING HARSH VOCALS:
A de-esser is essentially a dynamic EQ / multiband compressor. Its function is to identify top end or harsh frequencies. When a sound is played, if the frequency it is aimed at exceeds a certain threshold, the de-esser will reduce the volume of this band by a certain amount. This is commonly used to reduce the harsh notes and words referred to as ‘Sibilance.’
Tip: Avoid removing too many dBs with the de-esser as this can cause the vocals to sound strange, giving the impression of a lisp.
DYNAMIC EQ / MULTIBAND COMPRESSION
In a similar fashion to the de-esser, a multiband compressor can offer great assistance with controlling harsh frequencies. In the example below, the band is set to be focusing on the 3-10Khz range. The benefit of this over a de-esser is the level of control it offers. it’s possible to set the release time to work in tandem with the tempo of the song, or the speed of the vocal. You are also able to control the attack time to fit the song.
EMULATIONS A TAPE
So far, we’ve covered how to EQ harsh voices and how a De-Esser or Multiband may help, but we still need more. The basic tape machine plugin is a fantastic place to start. The ability of them to emulate the features of antique tape machines is fantastic. Transient control, a gentle high-frequency roll off, and adjust saturation can be really helpful in controlling harsh vocals.
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