Mixing vocals, completely new
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Old 16-10-2013, 03:28 AM   #1
Alarinth
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Mixing vocals, completely new

Hi forum.

And sorry if this has been brought up before, but I have some questions and want some general tips.

Setting up the project for mixing

I've been mixing a few of my own songs now and preparing them as best as possible for adding vox on top of it. I'm thinking I'm just gonna bounce the track and open a new project with the track as a .wav and just do the vox in that new project. I'll add that this is entirely midi-based, and all of the project is done in Massive and with samples. This is my current pros vs cons list;

+, I get to keep the exact same sound I had in the project without the vox.
+, less messy with 12-18 tracks instead of 82-88 tracks.

-, any changes I need to make in order to better facilitate the actual vox (eq synths or other parts of the track) I'm gonna have to do in a separate project.
-, ... ???

To me it seems like a no-brainer, but I'm pretty new to this.

Starting tips for mixing
I could use some tips to get me going. I've been doing instrumental mixes the past two years and I'm pretty pleased with my results and (objectively, don't point out that this is boasting) I've heard from other producers I'm at a semiokay level with that. However, I'm genuinely scared my knowledge of mixing vox will drag me way down.

I've heard advice like "use compression, de-essing, eq and reverb and you're golden", but that doesn't tell me a lot. This is what I think (haven't started yet, I have the tracks but kinda anxious to start as to not "go in blind");

I guess compression is used for lowering the peaks and buffing the lows to ensure the vox is within an adequate dynamic range (but not so much as to destroy the actual dynamic). Probably with a slow attack to make sure the transients give it a natural punch?

The EQ and de-essing I think touches on the same subject. I'd probably go about EQ'ing with a mindset of doing as little as possible, to make sure the vox sounds natural, but using it to reduce annoying frequencies. I'm kinda scared to start doing this, as I fear I'll grow accustomed to things that shouldn't really be there.

The reverb is the thing on vocals I've had the least luck with. I managed to get vocals EQ'ed okay before, but the reverb just plain broke it. I know very well how to make reverbs to synth leads, pads, snares, hats, cymbals etc but NO CLUE on how to approach it for vocals. In a lecture I attended the lecturer explained it with using two or three layers of reverb on the vox, one for the long tail and one for the 'room'-effect, and the third one I have forgotten.

Sorry for the wall of text and if a similar thread had existed, but I wanted to get some personalized pointers. I do my own research, but a lot of the tutorials, lectures etc I've been to have been too vague and general for my (slow^^) mind, hence the reason of posting a thread of my own here.

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Old 16-10-2013, 05:50 AM   #2
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Re: Mixing vocals, completely new

Recording - I'm guessing you got this part down as it's not mentioned in you post. Good condenser mic (or a nice SM7B dynamic/equivalent) is key, then pop filter it for the plosives, make sure the room is fairly dead, don't sing too close to the mic (proximity effect adds bass) and do lots of takes which can possibly lead to using some takes as your layers...and do harmonies of key parts, if you know how. Mic pre choice is also key.

Editing - always do this unless you're going for some oaky, organic woodsy type music. Grid up the vocals by syllable, cut out the noise between words and make sure no processing is applied before this step.

Leveling - usually done by automation, but can be done in the editing stage if you're like me. do it "the poor man's way" by actually volume editing the waveform of every syllable to be "normalized" meaning the peaks of the entire vocal waveform are at or near the same value. Means I don't have to actually automate anything unless it's purposely louder or quieter.

Saturation/tape effect - This is sort of a two part thing. I like to have a bit of tube distortion lightly roughing up the high end of the vocals, YMMV depending on the style and source. The tape effect is the very slight speed/pitch variation effect you might hear when listening to a cassette, really work well on vocals ime.

EQ - hipass and lopass first, I usually hipass around the 200hz area for males and the 230hz area for females. With my own vocals I always have to cut at 250hz since they make it woofy there. After that, a wide boost around 2500hz-3000hz depending on how bright your mic is. Some mics need zero boosting but I use a SM57 and it's always in need of a boost in the hi's. Don't overdo boosts really high up past 10kz, I'd say hi-mids are more important to vocals than the upper hi's. That leads me to de-essing. I don't fuck with it usually since it doesn't happen consistently and with a decent mic. If you're getting lots of S spikes, then you either need to move away from the mic or point it further away from your mouth (mics do best when they are positioned between your nostrils and your lips). If any S sounds still get through you can simply automate the EQ to pull down where the S frequency is spiking for any instances they occur.

Compression - I do this in stages, meaning I use more than one compressor to stage the compression out so that each one has to do less compressing thus keeping them from any ducking, pumping, or not catching peaks in time resulting from their own release settings. With my own cleanly sung vocals, I like to use fast attack settings under 20ms on the first compressor, and slower attack settings on the next compressors. I always use Auto-Release for vocals when the compressor has one on each compressor. You have to play with threshold/gain reduction - start with it cranked and back it off until it sounds good to you. I have been known to use a limiter at the end of the main vocal chain just in case anything tries to escape the compressors, but usually it does nothing since I've leveled everything already.

Reverb - I like a room reverb for the immediate reflections, but don't do too much as it'll start sounding like a slapback echo. When you add reverb make sure you have the pre-delay setting set so that the reverb doesn't start until the word is being said (30 ms or so) or it can cloud up the actual vocal track. Always use reverbs and delays on a send track of it's own as well, or multiple sends if you're using more than one type in a track at different times/differing amounts. Eq the reverb, cut below 300hz to get rid of the mud it causes (all on the send). For the reverb time, just play it by ear and keep in mind the tempo of the track as well as how dense you want the vocals to be, and when you add it in, start by having the fader at nill and bring it up rather than starting it at unity gain.

I just stream-of-consciousnessed this so let me know if you have any specific questions.

Last edited by Numerical; 16-10-2013 at 05:56 AM..
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Old 16-10-2013, 06:46 AM   #3
Alarinth
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Re: Mixing vocals, completely new

Thanks for the reply.

We're done with the recording process, and we used three different mics to avoid those problems. We used a SM57 for the lower range vocal parts, and a U87 and VM1 for the rest, and just cherrypicked the parts we liked the most from each respective mic. We recorded everything we did in 3 takes, so we had 18x3 takes at most.
Then we proceeded to clean it all up in Melodyne after reducing those 54 tracks down to something like 12-18.

We ran into a different problem though, even though we never used takes from the same recording (when we recorded, we did it 3 times so we had material to layer it with from different takes), I still struggle with phase cancellation. The vocalist phases herself out on different takes, any tips on how to deal with that? :p It's in a part where we're gonna run with 12 voxtracks (3 for each voice), and I can't have any phase issues.

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