You can produce the best instrumentals that ever existed.
But when your vocals sound bad, you won't get the expected results.
If you follow the next steps, your vocal production will get on a new level!
Table of Contents:
Before we get started, I want to mention that steps like EQing and compressing always depend on the voice of the singer, the recording, and the mic that was used to record the vocal.
I want to make it clear that you should listen to your vocal carefully and not just copy all the settings that I use in this guide! You can't fix a bad recording by mixing.
So, at first, make sure you record more than one take and use at least an okay mic. And of course, the room should be good for recording!
Step 1: Balance
Before we get into the effect chain, you should balance the vocal. Set up a gain automation and try to get everything around the same level.
This doesn't have to be on point, it's more about preparing the vocal for the compressor.
Balancing the vocal before using compression will help the compressor to work more naturally.
Step 2: Low End and Tuning
Before we get into the tuning, it's always great to cut out the rumbling sub frequencies first.
So just take an EQ of your choice and cut away everything below 80Hz using a high pass filter. Again, this might depend on the place you recorded the vocals in, so you might have to cut more or less.
Now it's time for some Auto Tuning.
If you prefer pitch correcting everything on your own, that's not a problem. Do what you like more!
How much autotune you want is up to your taste and the genre. Just do what sounds good in combination with the instrumental!
Step 3: Harsh Frequencies
Having harsh frequencies is awful, so we have to remove those.
That's exactly what we will do in this step.
Take an EQ of your choice and go over the frequency spectrum with a high Q bell. Listen carefully. As soon as you find harsh sounds, cut them down.
You will probably find more than one unwanted frequency. It's not a problem to cut them out but it's also important that you don't overdo it. Otherwise, the vocal will sound flat.
Step 4: De-Essing
When there's words with the S and the T in it, the sound can end up being harsh to the ear.
So, let's use a de-esser!
Again, this is up to you as a small tip. I can say you should try to keep it subtle.
If you start hearing a lisp, you've gone too far.
Step 5: Compression
We already did the basic balancing in the first step by automating the gain.
To balance it even more we will now add a small amount of compression. Compression also helps to bring the vocal more upfront in the mix.
A new blog post about how to compress vocals will be up next week. In the meantime, you can check out last week's post about how to use compression.
Step 6: Warmth
Now that everything is clean, balanced, and upfront you can start adding some warmth. For this, we mainly use EQ.
We'll work in the top end for the most part, and less in the mids.
I highly recommend using an analog-modeled EQ for this.
They have their own touch and make your vocals sound way more professional.
You don't have to spend thousands of dollars. Just google "Analog Obsession", these guys do a crazy good job in modeling analog gear and it's all for free!
I like to add some small boosts in the upper mid frequencies. This section is important for clarity in the vocals.
You can also add some boosts in the highs for more clarity and crunchiness. Putting down the mids to avoid muddiness can also help. This depends on the vocal again, so make sure that the vocal doesn't end up sounding flat!
Step 7: Reverb & Delay
Let's talk about reverb!
Reverb is a tool that has been used a bit less in the past few years, since the trend has moved to more clean and upfront vocals.
Anyways, reverb is still important to make your vocals sound great!
It's super important to not just throw a random reverb on the vocal.
Create a new aux, add your favorite reverb plugin, and send the vocal signal to this aux track. Now the main vocal doesn't get touched and you still have the clarity.
On the reverb channel:
Bring up the reverb wet knob to 100%.
Play around with the reverb till everything sounds natural.
Load up an EQ and cut the low frequencies to around 200 Hz and a bit of the high frequencies.
Now it's time to turn down the volume from the reverb channel until the reverb fits perfectly in the mix!
You can use the same technique to achieve a clean delay sound!
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