How To Mix Vocals To Sit Perfectly In Your Tracks [Video]


Are you struggling to get your vocals to sit right in the mix? If so, keep watching for five simple tips that will help you craft vocals that sound clear, upfront and balanced.

Hey, this is Jason Moss from BehindTheSpeakers.com. And today we’re gonna talk all about vocal mixing. So I’m gonna give you a couple tips that I think are really gonna help you craft vocals that sound great.

Tip number one is to process the vocals in context.

Often times, you’re gonna have to make decisions to a vocal that might not sound so good in solo, but will help that track fit together with the rest of your mix. You might have to add a ton of top end or upper midrange to make that vocal cut through a busy mix. And if you solo that track, it might not sound very good on its own, but that doesn’t matter. All you’re really trying to do is make that vocal fit together and sound good with the rest of your mix.

Avoid the solo button, and always listen to your vocals in context with the rest of the tracks playing, or when you’re tweaking EQ or compression, or adding effects, and I promise you, if you can do this, your vocals are gonna sound a whole lot better.

Tip number two is to slow down the attack time on your vocal compressor.

Now the attack time on a compressor controls how much of the transients get let through the compressor, and the transients on a vocal are really where all that energy and the life is, the consonants, plosives, the blasts of energy at the beginning of the words and so if you have an attack time that’s too fast, you’ll end up cutting off and kind of removing a lot of that energy.

When we take the transients out, the vocal ends up sinking back into the mix. And so if we’re trying to craft a vocal sound that’s upfront where we can really hear every word and it sounds like it cuts through the mix, a fast attack time is actually gonna give us the opposite.

Now before we move on, I wanna show you exactly how the attack time affects a vocal in the mix. Let’s take a listen.

OK, so I have a song here by Clean Green Music Machine called Better Way, and I wanna show you how different attack times on a vocal compressor can affect the way that vocal sits in the mix. So let’s take a listen to the mix first with the final settings that I used in the mix.

♫ The sun that shines, the moon, the wind that blows ♫ The trees, the waves that through the sea ♫ Have so much energy ♫

All right, so let’s pull up the vocal compressor on that lead vocal. And you can see here the attack time is set fairly slow. Now this is the 1176 compressor, which is a fairly common vocal compressor. And the attack knob actually is backwards from the way that most compressors work. So the slowest setting is all the way to the left, and the fastest setting is all the way to the right. So, something that’s worth noting.

So what I did is I went ahead and duplicated this compressor. And, all I did was turn the attack time all the way to its fastest setting. And I also adjusted the output gains so that there was no difference in level between these two versions of the compression. And this way we can compare the same compression just with a fast attack and a fairly slow attack, and you can hear the difference within the mix.

So first let’s listen again to the slow attack compression, and I want you to listen to how the vocal is sitting in the mix. Does it feel like it’s close to you? Does it feel kinda far away? And so we’ll do that first, and then I’m gonna flip back and forth between the fast attack and the slow attack and just kinda compare the two.

So first, this is the vocal with the slow attack compression.

♫ The sun that shines, the moon, the wind that blows ♫ The trees, the waves that through the sea ♫ Have so much energy ♫

And this is fast attack.

♫ The sun that shines, the moon, the wind that blows ♫ The trees, the waves that through the sea ♫ Have so much energy ♫

So slow attack again.

♫ The sun that shines, the moon, the wind that blows ♫ The trees, the waves that through the sea ♫ Have so much energy ♫

And fast attack.

♫ The sun that shines, the moon, the wind that blows ♫ The trees, the waves that through the sea ♫ Have so much energy ♫

So to my ears, with the fast attack compression, the vocal sounds like it takes a step or two back in the mix. It doesn’t sound as punchy. It doesn’t have as much impact. It feels like it’s kind of sitting behind the other instruments in the track.

The fast attack compression is kind of shaving off those transients, the kind of punchy beginning of the notes that this vocalist is singing. And so that’s causing the vocal to kind of sound like it’s a little bit muted, it just sounds like it’s further back in the mix, whereas, when we listen to the slow attack compression, those punchy transients poke through a lot more, and this brings the vocal forward, and so it feels like it’s upfront and close in the track.

Take a listen one more time. This is the original with slow attack compression.

♫ The sun that shines, the moon, the wind that blows ♫ The trees, the waves that through the sea ♫ Have so much energy ♫

And this is with the fast attack again.

♫ The sun that shines, the moon, the wind that blows ♫ The trees, the waves that through the sea ♫ Have so much energy ♫

To my ears, I really prefer the sound of that slow attack compression. The vocal feels like it’s more upfront in the mix, we can hear it and understand it much more clearly. And again, a slower attack time is usually gonna give you better results on vocals.

Tip number three is to listen at low levels when you’re mixing vocals.

We actually hear differently at different volumes. So when you turn the speakers up and listen really loud, your ears are much more sensitive to the low end and high end, but when you turn the speakers down and listen at very low levels, you don’t hear as much of that low end and high end, and what’s left, really is the midrange. So we become much more sensitive to the midrange frequencies.

The midrange is actually right where the vocals lie. So that’s where the heart and soul of the vocal is. By turning your speakers down, it’s almost like holding up a magnifying glass to the vocals in your mix. It’ll make it easier to do volume rides and automation on the vocal. It’s just super useful, and so, I recommend that when you’re mixing vocals, specifically towards the end of the mix when you’re really trying to dial in your automation and volume rides and things like that, turn your speakers down and listen at low levels. It really helps.

Tip number four is don’t overdo the effects.

Now specifically I’m talking about reverb and delay here, things that add space and depth to the vocal. When you use this stuff right it can really enhance a vocal and make it sound larger than life, but it’s really easy to go overboard. Too much of that stuff will pull the vocal back in the mix. It’ll make it sound like it’s further away from us.

A good rule of thumb that I like to use is turn up the effects until you start to hear them, and then turn them back a little bit. You really wanna feel the reverb and delay more than you hear it. And if you really hear it as a deliberate effect, often times, that’s too much. Sometimes it can be what you’re looking for if you’re doing like a Lana Del Rey or something that’s really kind of washed down in reverb. But for the most part, this is a good approach, just turning the effects up until you start to hear them, and then turning them back a little bit. And that’s gonna give you a vocal that sounds big and has that space and dimension, but doesn’t kind of wash the vocal out and make it sound like it’s just super far away in the mix.

And tip number five is to automate, automate and automate.

Now automation is a crucial part of a great vocal sound. And if you’re trying to get 100% of the way with compression alone, you’re often gonna fall flat.

I like to get 80% of the way there with compression. The vocals should sit well without any automation, but then towards the end of the mix I’ll turn the speakers down and listen at really low levels, and go through the mix 10 or 15 seconds at a time and ride up all the words and phrases that get lost, really do a ton of little micro rides on the vocal.

By using compression in conjunction with automation, you can craft a vocal that sits really evenly in the mix so you can hear every word clearly, but it’s not gonna sound over compressed. So it’s really gonna give you that pro sound.

So I just wanted to show you how much automation I really do on a typical vocal in the mix. So you can see here there’s tons of little micro rides on that vocal, and this is really what takes that vocal from good to great and really brings it to life.

So I hope you found these five tips helpful, and if you can implement them into your mixing workflow, your vocals are gonna sound a whole lot better.

If you’re looking to dive deeper, I put together a free PDF guide to vocal compression. So if you’re struggling with vocal compression, this guide is gonna give you the clarity and confidence to compress vocals like a pro.

Click the link in the description below, or in the video, and you’ll get free instant access.

Thanks so much for watching. You can check out more mixing tips at BehindTheSpeakers.com.

Video features music by Clean Green Music Machine.