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Vocal Delay Trick: How To Make Your Vocals Sit In ANY Mix

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In this video, you’re going to discover a simple vocal delay trick that can make your vocals sit perfectly in any mix.

Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers, and in just a minute I’m going to jump into my DAW and show you how to apply this powerful vocal delay trick to make your vocals sound more professional. But before we dive in, I also put together a free vocal mixing cheatsheet that will help you mix vocals like a pro. Click the link in the description below or up there in the video to download this free cheatsheet right now, and supercharge the sound of your vocals today.

So one of the biggest challenges about mixing vocals is getting them to sit loud enough in the mix so that you can hear all the words and intricate details on the performance clearly, while still making them feel like they’re connected to the rest of the music and the rest of the tracks in your mix. So oftentimes when you turn the vocals up pretty loud so you can hear them clearly, suddenly they feel like they step in front of the rest of the music, and they’re not really a part of the rest of the track. And this is a real big challenge, right? Turning the vocals up loud enough so you can hear them clearly, but still making them feel connected to the rest of the music in your session.

So one potential solution to this problem is to use reverb, right? You can add reverb to the vocals and that’ll kind of push them back in the mix so that they’re a little bit more connected to the rest of the music. This certainly has some advantages, and I use reverb on vocals fairly often. But there are some drawbacks to this approach. The main one being that reverb takes up a lot of space in the mix, right? It’s just a very soundstage-intensive effect. It takes up a lot of room, and when you have a lot of tracks going on in your mix – maybe you’re working with a busy session where there’s tons of different instruments competing for space – oftentimes you find you don’t have enough room to add reverb without obscuring the clarity and intelligibility of all the other tracks in your session. So there’s just not enough space in the soundstage for that big, three-dimensional reverb.

The other main challenge or drawback with reverb is that oftentimes it can pull vocals back to the point where they feel like suddenly they’re sitting behind all the other tracks or instruments in your session. So they feel like they’re kind of far away, and this can again obscure clarity and intelligibility. So suddenly you might find you can’t really understand the words clearly of the vocal performance.

So when you’re in a situation like this where you’re trying to make the vocal feel more connected to the rest of the tracks in your mix, and reverb’s not really doing the job, this vocal delay trick is a perfect technique. It has a lot of the same advantages of using reverb, but it takes up a lot less space in the soundstage. So especially when you’re working on busy mixes where you have a ton of different tracks competing for space, it can do a similar job again as reverb but it’ll leave a lot more room left for all the different other tracks to be heard in your mix more clearly. So you’ll add more clarity, intelligibility to your mixes, and you’ll still get that benefit of the vocal feeling like it’s connected to the rest of the mix.

Next I want to jump into my DAW and show you how to apply this vocal delay trick to make your vocals sound more professional.

Okay so we’re here in Pro Tools, and I have a song called “Docs” by Leah Capelle, and I want to show you how I applied the vocal delay trick I’m about to show you in this mix to sink the lead vocal back into the mix and just make it feel a little bit more connected to the rest of the music.

So first let’s take a listen to this track. And this is without the vocal delay tricks, so the vocals are fairly dry, and I want you to pay close attention to the relationships spacially between the lead vocal and the rest of the music. So does the vocal feel like it’s sitting in front of the music? Does it feel like it’s kind of on the same plane as the music? Or does it feel like it’s behind the music? Try to identify which of those three apply to this specific mix. So let’s take a listen.

♪ Going through my closet, trying on my clothes ♪

♪ Thinking if I can find something stylish, I’ll feel better ♪

♪ I think I’ll get a haircut and find a fresh new look ♪

♪ Maybe if I just chop all my hair off, I’ll feel better ♪

So to me it sounds like the lead vocal is sitting in front of the rest of the music. It doesn’t really feel like it’s connected to the music itself. And in some genres this may be appropriate, but in something like rock music, you know, in particular, you really want that sense of connection between the lead vocal and the music. So the vocal needs to kind of feel like it’s sitting inside the rest of the music itself. So when you’re dealing with a situation like this where you have a lead vocal that feels like it’s kind of disconnected from the rest of the music, that’s a great situation for this vocal delay trick.

So I want to show you how I applied this trick and we’ll take a listen next to the impact that it has on this specific mix. So the way that I’ve set up these, the routing for this lead vocal is I have two tracks here, so there’s a lead vocal and a double. And both of them are being fed into this aux track labeled vox lead sub through a bus. So I have both of these – the lead vocal and the double – being routed into this one track. And then I’ve sent a piece of this to a vocal delay aux through a bus. So basically, I have both the lead vocal and the double being sent into this vocal delay.

So let’s pull this up. Now I’m using the EchoBoy plug-in, which is a great delay plug-in. Doesn’t really matter which delay you use. All of them work really well. You can use your stock plug-in, but a couple of rules of thumb for setting up this technique. First is you typically want to stick with short delay times for something like this. And the key here is we really don’t want to hear the individual echoes. It’s not one of those really long delay effects where we want to hear that kind of bounce. It’s more so that we’re just kind of looking for almost like a slapback type effect.

So I’ve timed the delay to the tempo of the track here. So I’ve used a sixteenth note, and typically depending on the tempo a sixteenth note or a thirty-second note tends to work pretty well. And I’ve also turned the feedback down so it’s not completely at zero but it’s fairly minimal – meaning the delay is not going to reverberate over time. So it’s going to kind of just get out of the way very quickly.

The other thing here that’s really useful is this specific plug-in has a high cut control, meaning we’re rolling off some of the high end on the delay, and that can give you a little bit more of a natural sound, something that’s a little bit less obtrusive. It doesn’t so much draw attention to the sound of the delay. And it also emulates what happens in real life when you have sound bouncing off, let’s say the walls in the room, the high end typically gets absorbed by the air. So over time the actual sound gets duller, right? It loses that top end energy. So this is a great way to emulate what is actually really going on in nature. And if your delay plug-in doesn’t have this parameter, you can actually add an EQ after it and just roll off some of the top end, and that’s a great way to kind of emulate this setting. And other than that, I have this style control enabled for tube tape, which just gives it a little bit of character. For this specific track I wanted a little bit of distortion, just a little bit of a kind of grit on this, but certainly not necessary.

The key thing here is we’re looking to create what I call a back wall in the mix. And so it’s almost like this effect where we feel like the vocal, like if we were in a room and the vocal was kind of, you know, the vocalist was singing and we heard kind of this slapback off the back wall and suddenly we have this sense of space and depth in the mix, and that’s what we’re trying to create here. So we’re trying to really – you know – just use the minimal amount of processing and space necessary to create that effect so that’s why we have a really short delay time, and a very low feedback.

So I want to play this mix now and I’m going to crank this delay up so you can start to hear the impact that this is having. So I’m actually going to crank it up and I’m going to overdo it so you can just hear the effect, and I’m going to back it off to the point where to me it starts to sound like it’s at an appropriate level in the mix.

And the key here is you really don’t want to hear the effect so much as just feel it. And what I’m looking for is I’m actually more listening to spacially the way the vocal is kind of relating to the rest of the music. And I’m trying to push it back in the mix. So if you kind of imagine a picture of the mix in front of you, and maybe right now the vocal is sitting two or three feet in front of the music, my goal is I’m just trying to nudge the vocal back a little bit and make it feel like it’s more on the same plane as the rest of the music itself.

So let’s take a listen. Again I’m going to bump it up beyond what I would do so you can hear it, and then we’ll back it off a little bit to the point where I might feel like it was an appropriate for the mix.

♪ Going through my closet, trying on my clothes ♪

♪ Thinking if I can find something stylish, I’ll feel better ♪

♪ I think I’ll get a haircut and find a fresh new look ♪

♪ Maybe if I just chop all my hair off, I’ll feel better ♪

♪ Going through my closet, trying on my clothes ♪

♪ Thinking if I can find something stylish, – ♪

So to me that feels good. And you’ll notice we really don’t hear it. It’s more of something that you feel. And the key thing here is what I’m noticing is with that delay the vocal suddenly feels like it sits on the same plane as the rest of the music. So what I want to do now is I want to play this track and I’m going to mute and unmute the delay, and I want you to really pay attention to the spacial relationship again between the vocal and the rest of the mix. So take a listen.

♪ Going through my closet, trying on my clothes ♪

♪ Thinking if I can find something stylish, I’ll feel better ♪

♪ I think I’ll get a haircut and find a fresh new look ♪

♪ Maybe if I just chop all my hair off, I’ll feel better ♪

♪ Going through my closet, trying on my clothes ♪

♪ Thinking if I can find something stylish, I’ll feel better ♪

♪ I think I’ll get a haircut and find a fresh new look ♪

♪ Maybe if I just chop all my hair off, I’ll feel better ♪

So it’s subtle, but to me with the delay engaged it seems like the vocal takes a step or two back. And it feels much more like it’s a part of the rest of the mix. And again, going back to the advantages of using something like this versus a full-blown reverb or a longer delay – we’re creating this sense of space and depth but we’re also taking up very little of the sonic real estate in this mix.

So rather than using a stereo reverb where suddenly we have this big spacious effect that just clogs up a lot of the soundstage, and we have less room for other tracks in our mix and suddenly things start getting muddy and unclear because we have so much reverb swimming around the mix, we’ve created this sense of depth by using a very kind of minimal approach, and that gives us a lot of room to add other tracks and add other effects and things that can really take this mix to the next level while retaining as much of that clarity and intelligibility in the mix as possible. So this is a really great approach. Again, if you’re trying to just make the vocal feel more connected to the rest of the tracks in your mix it’s certainly a technique that I like to use pretty often to just take my vocals to the next level.

Now if you’re looking to dive deeper, I also put together that free vocal mixing cheatsheet that will help you mix vocals like a pro. Click the link in the description below or up there in the video to download this free cheatsheet right now and supercharge the sound of your vocals today.

Now before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – what’s your go-to vocal delay plug-in? I love to hear from you, I read every comment and reply to as many as I can. So please leave your response in the comments section below.

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