STEP 1 “FIX & REPAIR”
You know the phrase ‘We fix it in the mix!’? Let me tell you, it’s harder than you think. But it is possible. There are some tools you can use to repair your recordings. First of all, you wanna make sure that your recording is free from interfering frequencies, noise or any other sounds that don’t belong to the vocals. You can use plugins like iZotope RX for cleaning up your vocals. But those plugins cost and not everybody can spend loads of money for 3rd party plugins. So, another way to clean up is to do it manually. You can check if your DAW has a stock de-noising plugin and give it a try. Furthermore, you can manually edit the vocal by cutting out unnecessary stuff. It may sound time-consuming and it sure is, but the cleaner your vocals gets in the first place, the better your later processing will sound.
Speaking of later processing. One thing I would recommend you to always do is to low cut your vocals. Add an EQ on top of your processing chain and cut all low frequencies. You probably can cut up to a bit over 100Hz. If you want to know more about important vocal frequencies, you should check out our post about important vocal frequencies. Cutting the low-end will ensure that you don’t reverberate the lows, which will cause an annoying rumble later on. It will also give you more space in case of level.
STEP 2 “DYNAMICS”
After you cleaned up your vocals, you are ready to compress. In this step, it is the aim to make your vocal consistent and even. With even, I mean in form of an even level throughout the recording. In professional wording: reduce the dynamic of your recording.
Multiplier focusses mainly on using a compressor to make you level consistently. The other way is to use a so-called vocal-rider. There is one great plugin from Waves. What it does, is to adjust an extra volume level fader in real-time. If your vocal gets loud, the fader drops. If your vocal gets quite, the fader turns up. This will make an even level. Both ways are reasonable. And you can even combine both. First ride, then compress. Or compress first, then ride, and then compress. Whatever sounds good to you.
But lets get back to compressing your vocals. You wanna make sure, that you don’t compress your vocals to hard at once. Normally you wouldn’t use a higher ratio than 4.0:1 and your threshold will work fine at -24db. Don’t make your attack time too long and your release time too short. A soft knee also works very good.
Multiplier’s Pro tip:
JST Gain Reduction Deluxe
The plugin is very easy to use and cheap as well. It only cost 50 bugs and works very well for vocal compressing.
If you wanna do more fancy and advanced stuff, you will probably wanna try out the Manic compressor.
STEP 3 “MAKE IT EXCITING”
There needs to be a character in your vocal. Something to recognize later. This could be a certain artifact of the voice of the singer. A specific frequency range that is very charismatic. Lift up those frequencies and lower others that are interfering or causing a rumbling formant. There is a lot you can do with a simple EQ. Similar to a piano. The sound of a piano is mostly shaped by an EQ. There are specific frequency ranges that make a sound brighter or more fundamental. The important point here is to try out. Try different boosts and cuts. Listen to interfering frequencies. Then, you can go on.
Multiplier calls this step ‘Make it exciting’. And a good way to do so is to add FX. Any FX. Whatever sounds good or interesting. Be careful that the vocal doesn’t get annoying over time. A distorted vocal might sound cool and interesting, but it might not fit the whole track. Try using some effects only in some parts of your track.
Using Reverb is always a good idea. It needn’t even to be mentionable. It can slightly widen your vocal or make it gigantic and atmosperic.
At this point, most of your vocal chains come into place. Check them out!
Multiplier’s Pro tip:
This plugin is called a vocoder. You can definitely make your sound interesting. Might not fit into every genre, though.
Ceekae’s Pro tip:
CLA Vocal Chain
The Chris Lord-Alge Vocal Chain includes a Reverb, Quarter Delay, and Tape Delay.
iZotope Nectar 2
This plugin does everything you’d like to do. You could actually build the CLA Vocal Chain with it. And it has pretty neat presets too.
STEP 4 “MIXING”
So, let’s bring the vocals into the mix. What this means, is to integrate the vocals to the synths, drums and other sounds in your track. Especially vocals are hard to integrate because of their dynamics. Sometimes it fits during the verse and in the chorus or drop it completely goes under. So, one good step before mixing is to divide different parts and put them on different channels. For example:
Channel 1: M-Vox_Verse
Channel 2: M-Vox_Chorus
Channel 3: M-Vox_C-Part
Also, naming your vocal channels properly is very important for your workflow. It helps a lot for keeping an eye on everything at the first look. Here a short list of a naming example based on my opinion:
CEEKAE’S VOCAL NAMING
M-Vox (Main Vocal/Lead Vocal)
B-Vox (Backing Vocals)
(identical to M-Vox, but recorded separately, hardly de-essed and panned left/right)
H-Vox (Harmony Vocals)
(identical to B-Vox, but around 3/5/7 semitones manually pitch up/down with Melodyne or recorded separately)
S-Vox (Support Vocals)
S-Vox_Dist (distorted M-Vox)
S-Vox_Whisper (whispered vocal)
S-Vox_8vb (12 semitones down-pitched M-Vox)
After you ordered your vocals, you wanna start mixing them in. Start with your M-Vox. Use an EQ to boost or frequencies that interfere with frequencies in your mix. This usually happens in the mid range. You can also use sidechain. Sidechain the synths slightly with your M-Vox. Then, go on with the B-Vox, the H-Vox and the S-Vox. Use sends to apply reverb and delay. If you are a beginner, try creating the stereo width with a stereo imaging plugin instead of creating H-Vox, which can be difficult at the beginning and it takes some practice and knowledge in music theory. Keep in my: start simple and keep on practicing. It’s better to use less many vocals and process them good, than trying to do everything if you have not enough experience.
CREATIVITY & FEEL
For this part, I really would recommend you to watch Multiplier’s video.
It is important, that you like the way your vocals sound. If some tips don’t sound good, then do not use them! If a compressor chain of three compressors sounds good, then use it. You must feel our vocals. Eventually, record them again if you are not content with them. Vocals are at least the equal most important part of your track. So, put the most time into it.
Now, get to your track and make great sounding vocals.