Mix Vocals Like the Pros

Mix Vocals Like the Pros by Brent McCollough

After you’ve gotten your recording sounding pretty nice, it’s time to make it sound even better. That’s where mixing comes in handy. All you’ll need is a simple EQ, a compressor, and some reverb.

1) Listen to the vocal.

  • This is important. Listen for what the raw vocal is lacking and try to get some ideas for what you want to enhance.
  • Are there any sort of unique characteristics that you’d like to bring out about the vocal track? (air, presence, crispness, etc.)

2) Add EQ

  • Based on what you decided the vocal needed, play around with the EQ and sweep until you find the good and bad frequencies.
  • On almost every vocal track I add about a 3 dB high shelf boost around 4 kHz and a High Pass Filter around 100 Hz. This is a great starting point and you will almost immediately find that the vocal sounds immediately more professional.

3) Add Compression

  • Add anywhere from 3-10 dB of gain reduction. If you’re mixing rock or pop, go with a little more aggressive compression settings. Fast attack, fast release, 5:1 ratio and bring the threshold down until it sounds nice and consistent or until you have anywhere from 2 to 10 dB of gain reduction. Just trust your ears for this.
  • The main objective to bring the loud phrases closer to the soft phrases in order to have the vocals sitting in the mix just right.
  • If it’s a ballad or softer song, you can normally use less compression or less aggressive compression settings. Try a 3:1 ratio with 2-3 dB of gain reduction.

4) Add a De-esser

  • Once you’ve got a nice compressed vocal, it’s good to add a bit of de-essing at the end of your chain to tame those “s” sounds and those harsh consonants.
  • Once again, you’ll want to use your ears.
  • Be careful not to de-ess too much of the vocal or it will start sounding dull again.
  • Too little and the consonants are harsh, too much and the vocal is too dull. Find a happy medium.

5) Add Reverb

  • Set up an aux bus and send your vocal track to it.
  • Put a nice sounding reverb set to 100% mix so that only the reverb signal is coming through the aux.
  • Set the reverb level to where you’d like it to be in the track.
  • For slower songs, you can try a longer reverb tail (2-3 seconds).
  • For faster songs, you can try a shorter reverb tail (1-2 seconds).
  • Play around with the pre-delay. The pre-delay delays the reverb signal by the amount you set it to. Longer pre-delays make the vocal seem closer to the listener, while shorter pre-delays can make the vocal sit more within the track.
  • It’s good to experiment with all of these settings to find out what you like better for each song.

I used this exact same vocal chain in my new cover of Clarity by Zedd on both of our vocal tracks and routed both of the vocal tracks to the same reverb to glue them together and put them in the same space.

If you’re wondering how I achieved the acoustic guitar sound, check out my other free article: Mix Acoustic Guitar Like the Pros.

Hope this helps! If you’re interested in investing in my Mix Like the Pros program where I show you how I mixed this session from start to finish, along with several other sessions, click here.

If you feel like you aren’t quite ready yet, scroll up to the top of the page to download my free eBook: An Introduction to Professional Home Recording and enjoy more useful tips on achieving a professional sound at home!

Can’t wait to see you on the other side!

-Brent McCollough

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