How To Easily Make Vocals Cut Through Your Mix [Video]


Getting a vocal to cut through a mix can be incredibly difficult. But what if I told you that there was a commonly overlooked parameter on almost every reverb plugin that you can use to bring your vocals right to the front of any mix?

Hey, my name is Jason Moss from the BehindTheSpeakers.com, and today I’m going to show you what this parameter is, as well as how you can use it to add clarity and intelligibility to any vocal.

So, on most vocals, you’re usually going to end up adding some form of reverb to them, right? But the problem with reverb is that it tends to push tracks back in a mix—it makes them feel further away from us. We like the space and depth that reverb provides, but often this kind of pushing-back effect can be detrimental—especially on vocals, where you really want the vocal right, you know, in front and center of the mix. So, what do you do in this situation?

The solution is a parameter called pre-delay.

This is something that you’re going to find on most reverb plugins or hardware units. It allows you to add a short delay between the dry vocal and the sound of the reverb.

So, in effect, it’s nothing more than the delay, really. So even if you don’t have the pre-delay parameter on your reverb, you can just add the delay right before the reverb and it’s going to do essentially the same exact thing.

Now what this does is it separates the dry vocal from the reverb. If there’s a enough of a separation, our ear actually perceives them as two separate sounds. Instead of the reverb being fused to the vocal and then pulling the vocal back in the mix, the reverb and vocal separate and the reverb gets pushed back in the mix but the vocal remains up-front. So we hear the vocal sound and we also hear the space and depth and width of that reverb, but they are two separate sounds in the mix. So, the reverb doesn’t pull the vocal back. The vocal remains up-front and we hear that wash of reverb too. It really is the best of both worlds, because you get the space and the depth and the width without pulling the vocal back with it.

So, let me show you exactly how I use pre-delay in the mixing process.

This is a track called “Joshua” Leah Capelle. Let me play you a little bit of the bridge.

Cool. So, you can hear it’s kind of an ethereal, breakdown section and I wanted the vocal to be drowned in reverb. I wanted it to feel like we were ascending into heaven, but what I found was when I added that much reverb, the vocal just kept getting pulled back in the soundstage and it just felt like it was sitting behind the other instruments.

So what I ended up doing, you can see, I’m going to pull up the reverb that I used. All I did, there’s a parameter on this UAD EMT 140 reverb pre-delay and I just dialed in a little bit of that pre-delay so it’s probably around, you know, 30 milliseconds or so. The exact number doesn’t matter so much, but essentially, this allowed me to keep the vocal up-front in the mix while adding a lot of reverb, so I got the benefit of both.

Now, what I want to do is compare the sound of this reverb with the pre-delay and without the pre-delay. So, I’ve gone ahead and duplicated this plugin and the only thing that I’ve done, I haven’t changed any of the other settings except pulled down this pre-delay back to zero, where it is by default when you pull up the plugin. So, this is going to allow us to compare the reverb, both with and without pre-delay.

First I want to play it with pre-delay and I want you to listen to where the vocal is sitting in the soundstage. So, almost close your eyes and imagine, you know, whether the vocal is sitting right in front of you or maybe a couple feet back or far back in the mix. Just try to place that vocal in space.

Let me play you with the pre-delay first.

And now I’m going to play without the predelay.

Again with pre-delay.

And without pre-delay.

That’s a really subtle change, so it might be a little bit difficult to hear, but to me, the vocal sounds like it takes a step back without the pre-delay. It almost feels like it just gets pushed a foot back in the mix.

This might be okay, I mean it’s not always a bad thing, but in this circumstance, since I really want that vocal to be front and center, the pre-delay allows me to just bring the vocal forward a little bit.

So it’s a subtle shift and if you’re listening on headphones, you might not get that sense of switch because headphones are not going to give you that same representation of the soundstage, so I would recommend listening to this on speakers if you can.

Go ahead and go back and play this again and just listen for the difference and try to place the vocal on space. You’ll find that with that pre-delay engaged, the vocal takes a step forward in the mix. It sounds like it’s just a little bit closer to us.

This is something that can make a big impact—particularly if you’re working with a mix that’s really busy, where there are a lot of tracks competing for space. This can just allow you to move the vocal forward and just make it cut through just a little bit more in the mixing process.

So, I hope you found that helpful. If you want to go further, I put together a free PDF with five of my favorite vocal mixing tutorials. These are some of my favorite tutorials—not just stuff that I’ve done but, you know, other great mixers who have put together these videos. I think these are some of the best videos out there on vocal mixing. If you want to take your vocals from good to great and really learn how to mix vocals like a pro, this PDF is going to help you get there.

So, to download the free PDF, click the link below in the description or in the video and again, you’re going to get free instant access to this PDF. Hope you found this video helpful and check out more mixing tips at BehindTheSpeakers.com. Thanks so much.

Video features music by Leah Capelle.