The Vocal Mixing Trick For A Clear, Up-Front Sound (Fast!)

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In this video, you’ll discover a powerful vocal mixing trick that will make your vocals sound clearer and more up-front.

Hey—this is Jason from Behind The Speakers, and if you’re like most of my students, you probably struggle to make your vocals cut through the mix. You’re not alone. This is one of the most challenging parts of the mixing process. And this trick that I’m gonna share with you today is gonna help make things easier for you. But before we dive in and I show you the actual trick, I just want to give you some context on why this whole thing actually works.

Now, the key to making vocals cut through the mix is actually all about the consonants. The “k,” “p,” “b”—those percussive, transient sounds in a vocal performance. Those transients, those consonants, actually allow the vocal to be heard clearly in the mix. They’re what our ear uses to identify the vocals in a busy mix. So the key to making the vocals cut through actually lies in enhancing and manipulating those transients, those consonants. So if we can bring things out a little bit, then we can add more clarity and presence to the vocal.

So, I have a vocal track here from a song called “Pinky Malinky” by Megan Cavallari, and I wanna show you exactly how to go about doing this within the mix, so that you can add more clarity and intelligibility to your vocals. But first, let’s just take a listen to what we started with. So this is the raw vocal track in the mix. These are the tracks that were sent to me to mix. So, other than my EQ and processing, I haven’t applied the trick that I’m about to show you. So let’s talk a listen.

♪ Pinky! ♪

♪ Clap your hands and stamp your feet ♪

♪ Pinky Malinky, Pinky Malinky ♪

♪ Come with us and you will meet ♪

♪ Pinky Malinky, Pinky Malinky ♪

♪ Full of joy and ♪

So it’s not terrible. The lead vocal sounds clear. I mean, we can hear the words. But there’s just, for me, something missing. There’s a bit of clarity and intelligibility that is somewhat lost. I can’t quite understand the words as clearly as I would like.

So what I did—and I’m gonna flip over to my alternate playlist here in Pro Tools—is I actually went through the vocal, and whenever there was a consonant, so a “k” or a “b” or a “p” sound right at the beginning of a note or a word, I just separated it and I turned it up here. And I’m being quite aggressive. So you can see here, the average level of this vocal is around 5 dB, +5 dB, and I’ve cut this consonant up and turned it up to 14 dB. So that’s like a 9 dB increase.

So I’ve just gone through the entire performance and just turned things up whenever there’s a consonant. Now I wanna play this track again with the consonants turned up, and then we can flip back and forth between the two and I want you to listen for the clarity and the intelligibility of the vocal in the mix. So let’s take a listen.

♪ Pinky! Pinky! ♪

♪ Clap your hands and stamp your feet ♪

♪ Pinky Malinky, Pinky Malinky ♪

♪ Come with us and you will meet ♪

♪ Pinky Malinky, Pinky Malinky ♪

♪ Full ♪

So, to me, I really hear it clearly on these “p’s” in “Pinky Malinky.” So let’s take a listen and I’m gonna flip back and forth between the version of the vocal with the clip gain, so with those consonants boosted, and then without the boost, and you can really hear the difference. So we’ll start with the boost.

♪ Pinky Malinky, Pinky Malinky ♪

♪ Come with ♪

♪ Pinky Malinky, Pinky Malinky ♪

♪ Come with ♪

♪ Pinky Malinky, Pinky Malinky ♪

♪ Come with ♪

♪ Pinky Malinky, Pinky Malinky ♪

♪ Come with ♪

♪ Pinky Malinky, Pinky Malinky ♪

♪ Come with ♪

♪ Pinky Malinky, Pinky Malinky ♪

♪ Come with ♪

♪ Pinky Malinky, Pinky Malinky ♪

♪ Come with ♪

♪ Pinky Malinky, Pinky Malinky ♪

♪ Come with ♪

So, to me, it’s a pretty significant difference. And this is one of those details that, when you really can approach this in the mixing process—going through that vocal and making sure that all those consonants are heard clearly—it’s just gonna add a lot of clarity and presence to the vocal in your mixes.

Now the key thing I just want to point out here is that when I’m going through and doing this, I’m listening to the vocal in context with the rest of the mix. So I’m not soloing the vocal and making these decisions in isolation. I’m listening to how the vocal is sitting in the track. And often times, if you do that, if you avoid the solo button, you find that you often need to be a little bit more aggressive. So you’ll find yourself boosting a little bit more than you would if you solo’d the track. But that’s okay, because the only thing that matters is how this vocal fits with everything else. And so in this case, I found that by being significantly aggressive on those boosts, it gave me the sound and the clarity that I was looking for.

Now if you enjoyed learning about this trick and you wanna dive deeper, I recommend that you download my free Vocal Mixing Cheatsheet, which is packed with a lot more tips and tricks just like this one that will help make your vocals sound more professional. Now if you wanna download this, just click the link in the video above or in the description below and you’ll get free instant access.

Now before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know—how do you get your vocals to sound clear and up-front? I’d love to hear any tips or tricks that you’ve found useful, so leave your answer in the comments section below. I read every one and reply to as many as I can.

And if you want more videos like these, you can check out my YouTube channel right here, or my website at BehindTheSpeakers.com.

About Jason Moss

Jason is an LA-based mixer and the founder of Behind The Speakers. He's a graduate of New York University's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. His how-to articles have been featured in leading industry publications by Berklee, TuneCore, SonicScoop, The Pro Audio Files, and Disc Makers.