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How To Mix Vocals Like A Pro (From Start To Finish)

Click Here To Download Your Free Vocal Mixing Cheatsheet
In this video, you’ll learn how to turn this –

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey -“ ♪

– into this –

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey -“ ♪

Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers. And before we dive in, make sure you download my free vocal mixing cheatsheet. It’s packed with more tips and tricks that will help you make your vocals sound more professional today. Click the link above or in the description below to download this cheatsheet now.

Now in this video I’m going to show you how to mix vocals from start to finish. We’re going to walk through the entire process step-by-step. But I just want to be clear before we begin that in the actual mixing process, vocal mixing doesn’t really happen like this. The truth is mixing is circular, right? We’re constantly going back within the mix and revisiting old decisions that we made, and refining things and changing things. It’s not this linear thing where we pull up a track and mix it, and then it’s done and we never come back to it. So I just want to be clear that even though you’re seeing these steps in a linear process in this video, if you were to actually look at this in a real life mix, you’d find that I would be constantly coming back to these steps and refining my plug-ins and processing as I move through the mixing process.

Okay, so the first part of the vocal mixing process is clean up. And basically what we’re doing here is we’re getting rid of anything that doesn’t contribute musically to the sound of the vocal itself, and that way we’re starting with the best raw ingredient possible moving into the mix. Now typically this is something I’ll do within the prep process before I even start mixing, but in this case we have a mix that’s already in progress so we’re just going to kind of pretend that this is part of the prep process.

So I have this vocal right here, and the first thing I’m going to do is solo this vocal. Now if you watched any of my other videos where I talk about this, you know I’m not a big fan of the solo button. Because the truth is, whenever we’re mixing, the goal is to try to make all the different tracks in our mix fit together as one single unit. And whenever we solo things, whenever we listen to a track in isolation, we’re no longer hearing how that track relates to all the others in our mix. And so it becomes really difficult to make decisions that help that track fit with everything else. So in practice, making decisions in solo – EQ’ing and compressing, and doing lots of processing in solo – can often lead you in the wrong direction. You can end up with a track that actually sounds worse when you put it back in context with everything else.

Now in this case, the clean up process is really the only part of the process where I do use the solo button. Because in this part of the process we’re not so much concerned with how the vocal sounds with everything else, we’re just trying to get rid of the junk on the vocal. So really I would avoid the solo button within the mix and just really use, if you’re going to use it, within this clean up part of the process.

So the first thing I’m going to do here is add an EQ to this vocal. I like the FabFilter Pro Q2. You can use pretty much any EQ, but this one’s one of my favorites. And before I start adding EQ and high-passing and doing lots of stuff, I’m just going to listen to the raw sound of the vocal. And this is very important because you want to make sure that you’re guided by what the vocal actually needs. So if you’re not hearing a problem, then there’s no reason to fix it by – let’s say – adding high-pass filters or EQ’ing things, right? Start by listening, and then let the sound of the vocal guide the decisions that you make. So let’s take a listen to the raw vocal. This is without any EQ.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ You say “you wanna play games ♪

♪ I’m going to the Soho ♪

♪ Take me to the roof ♪

♪ We’ll get high on the low low” ♪

Okay, so in general I think the vocal sounds pretty good. There’s a couple of specific issues I hear. Sounds like there was a little bit of a bad edit somewhere around here. Let’s take a listen.

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

See that kind of little click sound on the beginning of going?

♪ – taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

That can happen sometimes with pitch correction, or just a bad edit. It may not be something we can solve here in the mix, but just be careful when you’re comping together your vocal takes to make sure that you’re not getting issues like that. The other thing that I hear is that there are a couple of moments where there’s some low end rumble on the bottom of the track. So I hear it kind of right around here.

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ You say “you – ♪

Hear that kind of thing going on right here? Take a listen again.

♪ – you got a name?“ ♪

♪ You say “you – ♪

Now if you’re listening on laptop speakers or headphones you may not hear that, but it sounds like the singer maybe kicked the mic stand or there was just some kind of low end rumble. So this is something that commonly pops up in the vocal mixing process. You’ll hear a lot of that low end junk, and one of the best ways to get rid of that is with a high-pass filter.

So because I’m hearing a problem on this vocal, because I’m hearing that low end rumble, I’m going to add a high-pass filter, or a low-cut. And basically the idea is that this filter is going to remove that energy down at the bottom end of the frequency spectrum. So really with this filter we’re not trying to affect the sound of the vocal itself, we’re just trying to get rid of that low end boominess, those kind of moments where there are mic stand kicks or whatever, stuff that’s getting in the way that doesn’t really contribute to the sound of the vocal itself.

So I’m going to go ahead and listen to the vocal. I’m just going to loop that section, and try to set this high-pass filter so that we’re not hearing the vocal start to thin out, but we’re just getting rid of that low end junk on the bottom end of the vocal.

♪ – you got a name?“ ♪

♪ – you got a name?“ ♪

♪ – you got a name?“ ♪

♪ – you got a name?“ ♪

♪ – you got a name?“ ♪

♪ – you got a name?“ ♪

Okay, so that sounds pretty good to me. Take a listen to this before and after this high-pass filter, and I want you to listen to that low end kind of boominess on the bottom. And notice with the high-pass filter engaged, it disappears. So take a listen. This is before the high-pass filter.

♪ – you got a name?“ ♪

♪ – you got a name?“ ♪

♪ – you got a name?“ ♪

♪ – you got a name?“ ♪

♪ – you got a name?“ ♪

So we still hear a little bit of something, but a lot of that energy is taken out. So it certainly sounds a lot better. And chances are, there are lots more of these moments throughout the whole course of the vocal track. So we’ve cleaned up that problem, and I’m not hearing that the vocal sounds very thin. So I think we’ve found a good spot where we’re taking out some of that low end that’s getting in the way, but we’re not thinning out the vocal. And that’s something you want to be careful of. If you set this too high, you’ll find that the vocal starts to sound thin. So take a listen now.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey -“ ♪

See how the vocal thins out. So you want to be careful of not setting the high-pass filter too high where you’re really getting in the way. You’re taking out some of the good stuff on the vocal.

Okay, so the next thing I’m going to do is a technique I call sweep and destroy. And the idea is that on some vocals, especially vocals that were recorded in a less-than-ideal space – maybe a bedroom or basement or something like that – oftentimes you’ll get resonances, which are buildups of energy in certain areas of the frequency spectrum. And sometimes those resonances can be caused by room acoustics or poor equipment, but the idea here is that we’re trying to kind of find these resonances and get rid of them so that the whole vocal sound kind of opens up and sounds a little bit cleaner.

So the way we go about doing this is we add a bell to our EQ. We set the Q to 8, the gain to plus 18. Now these are just starting points, these are numbers that I’ve found to work well. You can experiment and see what works best for you. And we move this down to the bottom of the frequency spectrum, and we listen to the sound of the track and roll the frequency knob up. And basically what I’m listening out for are areas on the vocal that just sound really ugly and aggressive, and don’t really go away. So they’re consistently a problem throughout the entire course, or the majority of the performance. So let’s take a listen.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey -“ ♪

So see there’s a little bit of a bump here, but it actually comes and goes. So it only appears on certain notes. Take a listen.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

So that’s an example of a problem that you actually don’t want to fix. It’s actually not a problem at all, because on certain notes when the singer sings certain notes, there are frequencies that will be brought out that correspond with those notes. So we don’t want to take out a problem like that. What I’m really listening for are areas that sound like that, but don’t go away. We hear it on almost every note in the performance.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

Okay, so in this case I’m not hearing any problems. I’m not hearing any resonances that remain throughout the entire performance, or the majority of the performance. So I’m not going to take anything out. So in this case the clean up process was very simple, right? All we needed was a high-pass filter. In some vocals, you might find that there’s a resonance or two that you need to take out, but the idea here is we’re not doing anything by default, right? We’re listening to the sound of the vocal and letting the vocal track itself guide the decisions that we make.

Okay, so now that we’ve cleaned up the vocal, the second step – step number two – is to compress the vocal. And the idea behind compression on vocals is we’re really trying to do two things. The first is to control the dynamics of the vocal performance.

So vocals are a very dynamic instrument. There’s a big difference between the loudest parts of a vocal performance typically and the softest parts of a vocal performance. And this makes vocals really difficult to manage within the mix, because oftentimes we have a hard time setting a static fader position for that vocal so that we can hear all the words and phrases evenly. Either there are certain parts that dip too low in volume so they get kind of lost in the mix, we can’t hear them, or there are certain parts where the vocal is too loud and we feel like it’s overpowering the track.

So it’s pretty difficult without compression in most cases to find a fader position that works for the vocal in the mix. And that’s why we use compression, to even out those dynamics so that we can reduce the dynamic range between the loudest and the softest parts of the vocal, and bring everything together so that we can sit that vocal evenly in the mix. We can hear all the words and phrases at a fairly equal volume.

Now the second reason that we use compression is that if we use compression properly on a vocal, we can actually add energy and impact and urgency to the vocal performance. We can make the vocalist sound like they’re spitting out the words a little bit more aggressively, like they’re singing with more passion. So compression’s a tool that will actually allow us to shape the emotion of the vocal performance.

So the first thing I’m going to do here is un-solo the vocal. So this point forward we’re gong to listen to the vocal in context with the rest of the tracks in our mix. So let’s take a listen first dry to the vocal, just to hear how it’s related to everything else in our mix right now.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ You say “you wanna play games ♪

♪ I’m going to the Soho ♪

♪ Take me to the roof ♪

♪ We’ll get high on the low low” ♪

♪ I said “I’d be down for that” ♪

So in this case, I’m feeling like the words and phrases are sitting fairly evenly in volume. There’s not a huge dynamic range here. But I am feeling like the vocal could feel a little bit more urgent, like the vocals could sound like they’re just singing with a little bit more passion. So in this case I’m trying to use compression not so much for dynamic control, and moreso for that second reason – to actually add some impact and urgency to the performance.

So in this case, I’m going to pull up a compressor that I really like for this kind of second purpose, which is the CLA-76. This is an emulation of a classic compressor that’s used a lot on vocals, the 1176. And some of the settings that I like to use to add impact and urgency to a vocal in this case, a fast release time. Now on this compressor, the release and the attack knobs are actually opposite from the way you’ll find them on many other compressors. So the fastest release time is actually 7. It’s all the way to the right on this compressor.

And a fast release time is going to cause the compressor to bring up a lot of the low-level detail on the vocal performance – a lot of the ends of the words and phrases, the stuff that normally gets lost, the breaths. And that’s going to make the vocalist actually sound a little bit more urgent. So in this case, we don’t have a threshold control on this compressor. So the way that we apply more compression is we just crank the input knob, and then we back down on the output.

So I’m going to play this track, and just dial in the input and the output and try to get a level of compression that’s giving me a little bit more of that urgency.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ You say “you wanna play games ♪

♪ I’m going to the Soho ♪

♪ Take me to the roof ♪

♪ We’ll get high on the low low” ♪

♪ I said “I’d be down for that” ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ You say “you wanna play games ♪

♪ I’m going to the Soho ♪

♪ Take me to the roof ♪

♪ We’ll get high on the low low” ♪

So to my ears, that’s sounding pretty good. So let’s take a listen to this in and out of bypass, and the first thing i’m going to do is make sure that I’m level matched. So whenever you’re applying any sort of processing and you want to compare the version before and after the processing, you want to make sure that there’s no difference in level when you flip the plug-in in and out. Because if the plug-in is making things sound louder, then you’re much more likely to think that that plug-in is making things sound better, when in reality it might just be turning things up. So the first thing I’m going to do is just flip this in and out of bypass and adjust the output gain so that there’s no difference in level when I flip this plug-in in and out.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ You say “you wanna play games ♪

♪ I’m going to the Soho ♪

♪ Take me to the roof ♪

Okay, so that’s pretty good. So take a listen to this in and out of bypass, and I want you to notice a few things. Number one, notice the aggression on the vocal. The actual tone on the vocal is a bit brighter with this compressor. And that’s because this compressor isn’t just shaping the dynamics of the sound, it’s actually adding its own kind of tonal curve too. So this is a very bright compressor, and it will actually make the vocal sound a little bit brighter. And the other thing I want you to listen to is just the overall feeling of urgency on the vocal itself. So notice the difference both before and after the compression. Let’s start with before.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

So to my ears, with the compression engaged I hear a few things. Number one, the vocal sounds brighter. Number two, I’m hearing a little bit more of that low-level detail, some of those quieter words come up a little bit. And I’m also feeling like the vocalist is just a little bit more urgent. There’s a kind of quality to the performance where it just feels like the vocalist is spitting out the words a little bit more than without the compressor. So I’m feeling like this is an improvement, and this is – you know – kind of what compression is about, right?

Number one, we’re trying to shape dynamics. We’re trying to control the dynamics so that all the words and phrases are sitting fairly evenly in most cases. And number two, we’re trying to actually add some energy and impact and urgency to the performance itself.

Okay, so now that we’ve compressed the vocal, step number three – the next step in this process – is to enhance it. And basically all we’re trying to do here is bring out or accentuate the pleasing parts of the vocal by using EQ. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to add an EQ plug-in after my compressor. You might be asking – well why EQ in two parts? Why do it with two separate plug-ins? Why not just do it all with one EQ? And the reason why I’m approaching EQ in this way is because I like to cut or remove problems before my compressor, and enhance or boost things after the compressor.

And the reason for this is because the compressor, when it’s listening to the sound of this vocal, it doesn’t know the difference between, let’s say between the vocal itself and the rumble that we took out in step one. So if we didn’t clean up that rumble before the compressor plug-in, then when the compressor’s listening to that track it’s going to go we need to turn down this whole track whenever that rumble gets too loud. So what’s going to happen is the compressor’s going to punch a bunch of holes in the vocal at really weird spots whenever that rumble appears.

So by cleaning out that problem, removing that rumble before the compressor, the compressor has a much cleaner signal to react to. And it’s going to respond much more musically, because now it’s only going to be reacting to the dynamics of the vocal performance itself, which is what we want. So that’s why I like removing problems before the compressor.

Now the reason why I like adding things or boosting things after the compressor is because once we’ve set up our compressor, I don’t really want to change the level of the signal going into that compressor. And whenever we boost things on a compressor, the signal gets louder, right? So if we were to add a bunch of EQ before the compressor, we’d probably have to go back to the compressor and adjust the threshold and ratio or the input or output gain to make the compressor respond and react in the way we had it set originally, because suddenly it’s going to sound like there’s too much compression happening because there’s so much more signal being pushed into that plug-in. So this way we can maintain the level of the signal going into that compressor, and approach this enhancement part of the process after the compressor.

So I’m going to listen to the sound of the vocal here in context with the rest of the mix, and I’m going to ask myself – what might this vocal be missing? What could really take it to the next level?

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

Okay, so to my ears the vocal sounds a little bit dull. It’s a little bit dark. It just sounds a little bit thick in the lower midrange. So I’m feeling like I could really use some top end to make this vocal sound a little bit brighter, just give it some air and some shine. Especially in a pop track like this, typically we want the vocals to sound very bright. So I’m going to add a high-end shelf on this EQ. And again, I’m going to listen to the track with everything else playing together at once, and try to dial in a setting that sounds good to my ears.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ You say “you wanna play games ♪

♪ I’m going to the Soho ♪

♪ Take me to the roof ♪

♪ We’ll get high on the low low” ♪

So a couple things I’m hearing I just want to share with you. The first is that whenever we boost a lot of top end, the S’s are really going to come up in a way that typically we don’t like. So I’m hearing a lot of S’s, and we’re actually going to address these S’s in the next step. So for now I’m just going to kind of table that.

But one thing I just wanted to point out is that whenever you’re boosting top end, you want to be careful. Because when you come down too low into the frequency spectrum, sometimes you can get this edgy kind of harsh sound. And so I like typically trying to boost a little bit higher up the frequency spectrum, because that way we get a lot of nice air and presence on the vocal but we don’t get that kind of edginess going on.

So in this case I’ve found by rolling things up a little bit higher, I got the presence and the clarity that I wanted on the vocal, but things still sound smooth. They don’t sound edgy and bright. So let’s take a listen. Well actually, before we compare I want to make sure that the level is actually similar because we boosted a lot of EQ here, and we want to make sure that the level both before and after our processing is consistent. So I’m going to just flip this, and I’m going to bypass and adjust the output gain on this EQ so there’s no change in level.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you – ♪

It’s a little tricky, because it does sound a lot more present with that vocal EQ in. But to my ears, this is a great change. It sounds just clearer and has more impact. It really cuts through the mix more. So let’s take a listen before and after this EQ boost.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ You say “you wanna play games ♪

♪ I’m going to the Soho ♪

♪ Take me to the roof ♪

♪ We’ll get high on the low low” ♪

Cool. So I think that’s a great improvement.

Okay so step number four is to de-ess. Now in the last step in this process we heard that when we boosted the top end on our vocal, the S’s got brought out in a way we really didn’t like. So this part of the process is all about turning down the level of those S’s so that they sit appropriately within the track. Now let’s take a listen to this vocal first, and I want you to notice how prominent the S’s are right now.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you -“ ♪

So I hear a lot on this first word here, on the ‘tuh’ in diet.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping – ♪

So I’m going to go ahead and add a de-esser plug-in to this track. Now I’ve tried lots of different de-essers, and the truth is when it comes to de-essing, plug-in choice does matter. I’m not a big fan of saying you need this plug-in or that plug-in. The truth is, there are lots of great choices out there, but when it comes to de-essing, I really do think it matters which plug-in you choose.

So I’ve tried them all – or most of them – and this FabFilter Pro de-esser is, I think, one of the best tools out there. They’re not paying me to endorse them, I just think it’s a fantastic tool. So if you’re looking for a great de-esser or if you’re struggling with the current de-esser you have, I definitely recommend checking this de-esser out.

So the first thing we’re going to do is make sure that we’ve set the sidechain filter appropriately. Now the whole idea is that de-essers typically don’t listen to the full frequency spectrum on the vocal when they’re making decisions about when to de-ess. They just listen to a very small part of the vocal where the S’s are, and they use that information to make decisions about when to turn down the track. So you want to make sure that that sidechain is set appropriately so that the de-esser is hearing the part of the vocal where the S’s are. If you don’t take the time to set that, then the de-esser’s not going to be hearing the right information, which means it’s not going to be able to make very good decisions.

So what I’m going to do is just solo this vocal. I know I’m breaking my rule here, but the truth is this doesn’t really have any relationship to how the vocal sounds with the rest of the track – so another circumstance where I think it may be helpful to use the solo button on your vocal. And I’m going to turn on this audition button – which means we’re just listening to the sidechain – and I’m going to play the vocal track and adjust these high-pass and low-pass filters or knobs here so that I’m hearing as much of the S’s as possible, and as little of the good stuff on the vocal that I don’t want the de-esser to listen to and react to.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got – ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey -“ ♪

In this case, it’s already set to a place that’s pretty good to me. But notice when I pull this way down here –

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

See how we’re hearing a lot of the part of the vocal that we actually don’t want the de-esser to respond to? So that’s a case where the sidechain filter would be set incorrectly. So I’m going to bring it back to where it was, and I think that’s pretty good in this circumstance. But you want to take the time to set this appropriately for every vocal that you work with, because depending on the vocal, the place that the S’s appear can actually vary.

So the next thing I’m going to do is un-audition the sidechain filter. So now we’re just listening to the entire vocal track, and I’m going to un-solo the vocal so now we’re listening to the vocal in the mix. And I’m going to adjust the threshold and range control until those S’s feel like they’re sitting at an appropriate point or spot within the vocal itself.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

Sounds pretty good to me. Let’s take a listen before and after bypass. This is without the de-esser.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey -“ ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

Certainly much better. It’s a little bit difficult again because I’m on headphones, so I don’t know exactly how this would translate to speakers, which is where I normally mix, but to me the S’s feel like they’re pulled down. They sit at an appropriate level. They’re not taking the enamel off my teeth anymore. So I think this de-esser is certainly making this vocal sound a whole lot better.

Okay, so step number five is to add effects. Now at this point, the vocal sounds really good. It’s sitting well tonally, and dynamically it sounds great. And I just want to add some dimension and depth to the vocal, and make it sound a little bit more larger-than-life.

So what I’m going to do is I’m going to create a new aux track in this session. And instead of adding the reverb directly to the vocal track in the mix, I’m going to add it to this aux track. And the reason why is because I have lots of different vocal tracks in this session. So I have the lead vocal, harmonies, doubles, background vocals, and I’d rather have one global reverb that I can send all of the vocals to rather than having to add reverb plug-ins on each one of those individual vocal tracks. And this aux track will allow me to do that.

So I’m going to label this vocal reverb, and we’ll put a reverb plug-in on here. I’m going to try the EMT-140. There are lots of great vocal reverbs, this is just one that I really like. And I’m going to set the input of this track to bus 23-24, and the output to C Sub, which is where all of my vocals go. So now I’m going to send out on this vocal track bus 23-24, and basically we’re now sending a piece of this vocal through to this aux track so it’s getting sent to the reverb.

So what I’m going to do first is just send some level into this reverb, and just listen to what the reverb sounds like with the default preset pulled up.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said – ♪

Okay. So right off the bat, the vocal reverb sounds too long. I’m hearing that the reverb is kind of blurring the percussiveness of the performance, so I kind of want to shorten that up a little bit. I’m also feeling like the reverb is sounding very dark. It just sounds very thick and like it has a lot of low end energy. So those are really two things right off the bat I’m going to try to address on this reverb.

So what I’m going to do here is I know this plug-in really well, and it has three different plates that you can select. And the A one is actually the brightest one, so I’m going to switch over to the A one, and let’s take a listen now to how that’s sounding.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said – ♪

Okay, so already I’m feeling like that sounds a little bit better, and it’s a little bit brighter. It’s still too long to me. And really what I’m listening to is I want the reverb to cover up the space between the notes, but I want it to get out of the way before the next phrase or word hits. So I don’t want it to be ringing out so long that it’s blurring, it’s kind of continuing to ring out through the next word or the next phrase, because that’s just going to get kind of messy and muddy. So I’m going to use this control right here to shorten the decay time so the reverb gets out of the way more quickly.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got -“ ♪

Okay, so that sounds much better to my ears. So the last thing I’m going to do here is I’m going to turn down the level all the way back to zero, and then I’m going to listen to the sound of the vocal in the mix and bump up the level of the reverb until I start to hear it, and then I’m going to back off a little bit. So the idea here is you want in most cases reverb to be something that you feel rather than you hear. It shouldn’t be something you notice in most cases unless you’re going for a deliberate effect. But it should be something that if you mute it, you would go oh, that doesn’t sound as good.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

Okay, so that sounds good to me. So I bumped that up until I started to hear it, and then I backed it off a little bit. So let’s take a listen before and after the reverb. This is dry without reverb.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said – ♪

Cool, sounds pretty good to me. Now the last thing I’m hearing is that the S’s are getting a little bit caught on the vocal reverb. So I’m hearing the S’s kind of rattle around in the reverb a little bit, and it’s a little bit distracting to me. So I’m going to actually apply a de-esser before the vocal reverb on this aux track, and I’m just going to copy this one over here. And that way we’re de-essing the sound going into the vocal reverb. So let’s play this.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey -“ ♪

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going -“ ♪

Cool, that sounds good to my ears. So that way we’re bringing down those S’s going into the reverb and they don’t get caught on the reverb a little bit, because that can be distracting hearing all those S’s rattling around in the reverb. So I’m going to boost the reverb a little bit more now that those S’s are taken care of. I feel like we might be able to use a little bit more level.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got -“ ♪

Again, it’s a little bit difficult on headphones, but to me that sounds good to my ears. So we’re hearing a little bit of that dimension and depth, but we’re not really noticing the sound of the reverb itself.

Okay, so we’re finally at step number six, which is the last part of this process, and that’s to automate. Now if you really want that radio-ready vocal sound where you can hear all the subtle nuances in the performance clearly, the key often lies in this last step. And that’s because even the best compressor plug-in is not going to do the job 100% when it comes to bringing up all those subtle details in the performance. So oftentimes the key is to get 90% of the way there with compression, and then to use automation to bring up some of those low-level details that the compressor might have missed. And so using automation in conjunction with compression gives you that radio-ready larger-than-life sound.

So the way that I go about this is I typically wait to automate until the end of my mix. I try to get as far as I can with compression alone so the vocal’s already sounding really good. And then towards the end of the mixing process I’ll turn down the level of my speakers very quietly so that if somebody was typing, the sound of their fingers hitting the keys would be distracting, it would get in the way – so very, very quietly. And I’ll go through the track ten seconds at a time – I’ll loop ten seconds – and I will listen to the sound of the vocal and try to identify if there are any words or phrases, syllables, little moments that might be getting lost. And if they are getting lost, then I’ll bring them up by riding the fader, by drawing in automation, by doing whatever it takes to make those subtle details cut through the mix.

So that’s what I’m going to do right now. Let’s just take a listen to this vocal phrase right here. And I’m going to turn down the sound in my headphones so that things are very quiet, and we’ll see if there are any subtle details that are getting lost.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey -“ ♪

Okay, so there are a few little details I’m feeling like could come up a little bit. The first is these few words here.

♪ – can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

Flipping off. When he hits that word off, I feel like things kind of drop in volume a little bit. So I’m going to go ahead and draw that up a little bit.

♪ – can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

Cool, that sounds better to my ears now. And let’s take a listen over here.

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

When he hits that low note when you got into the backseat, I feel like that kind of drops out a little bit to me too. So I’m going to bring that up.

♪ – way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

♪ ” – got a name?“ ♪

Same thing here when he kind of trails off that on got. I feel like some of that detail can come up a little bit. So I’m going to draw up this little moment between these two words.

♪ “- got a name?“ ♪

♪ “- got a name?“ ♪

♪ “- got a name?“ ♪

♪ “- got a name?“ ♪

So that sounds better to my ears. Now it’s important that you listen to these things both at low volumes and at high volumes. Sometimes you need to kind of counter your moves a little bit or you can be a little bit too aggressive when you’re listening at such low levels. But the idea here is I’m going through this vocal one phrase at a time, and making sure that all these subtle details are coming up. And again, by doing this in conjunction with compression, that’s what’s really going to give you that radio-ready sound where you can hear all the subtle details on the vocal performance.

Okay so we’ve finished mixing the vocal, and the last thing I want to do is give you a before and after comparison. So first, let’s take a listen to the vocal dry before we added any of our processing.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

And now let’s take a listen after the processing that we added.

♪ Diet coke can ♪

♪ Flipping off a taxi ♪

♪ “you going my way?” ♪

♪ When you got into the backseat ♪

♪ I said, “hey, you got a name?“ ♪

So to my ears, obviously the vocal sounds much better with our processing. So hopefully this has been useful to you. And if you want to dive deeper, don’t forget to download my free vocal mixing cheatsheet, which is packed with tips that will make your vocals sound more professional today. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free cheatsheet now.

And before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – what’s your go-to plug-in chain for mixing vocals? I’d love to hear your replies, so leave your answer in the comments section below.

Thanks so much for watching, and you can check out more mixing tips like these right here on my YouTube channel or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.