Mixing vocals is one of the most important aspects of creating a great song. It can be a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, you can achieve a polished, professional sound.
It’s an essential part of creating good mixes and many times overlooked part of music production.
Of course, you need a good singer to sing vocal parts but another important thing is having great recorded vocal takes.
After that, you can sit at your workstation and start mixing with specific tools and methods.
How To Mix Vocals In 7 Steps
In this post, you will learn every step that is required to mix vocals with great results. It starts with recording, then goes into gain staging and enhancing performance by using tools such as EQ, compressor, and effects.
1. Have Good Recording
The first thing to do before you start anything mixing-related is to have good recorded vocal tracks.
You might have a great recording studio and all the awesome mixing tools but if the vocal tracks are not recorded properly, you won’t create great-sounding songs.
Learn how to capture and record the best performance from the singers from my vocal recording guide which explains everything you need to know.
After you understand how vocal recording works, then you will be ready to start mixing any vocal tracks with more confidence.
2. Set The Optimal Volume
Setting the right vocal track volume is an important factor to consider during mixing and it’s the first step.
The overall mix should be balanced, and the vocal track must sit well in the mix. As such, it should be given special attention when setting the volume.
When setting the vocal track volume, there are a few key factors to consider:
- Balance in the mix – Vocal tracks should be loud enough to be heard clearly and to stand out from the mix because if the vocal track is too quiet, it may get lost in the mix. On the other hand, if the vocal track is too loud, it may sound distorted or bad in general.
- Voice of the singer – Depending on the singer, you might approach mixing differently and use different plugins, set the volume in a different way, and so on.
- Music genre – It is important to consider the genre of the song and the overall mix. For example, a rock song may require a louder vocal track than a chill-out track.
So, this first stage which is about balancing the mix called gain staging and is a very important stage in mixing.
Perhaps the gain staging is the most important step because if the mix is not balanced, no plugin or trick will save it.
But it’s not only for vocals but for any track in your mix. Gain staging creates balance between every track and the mix as a whole will sound much better.
So, this is the first step to mixing vocals. Make sure the whole mix is balanced, every track is bearable and there are no too loud or quiet tracks.
3. Clean Up Vocal Tracks
The next step in mixing vocals is to clean all the tracks of any unwanted noise or sound that may conflict with the singer’s performance.
This can include background noises, breath sounds, clicks, and pops, or hums and buzzes. The goal of this process is to create a clean, professional-sounding track with no distracting elements.
There are a few different techniques that can be used to clean up vocal tracks. Great plugins that can help you with that are de-esser and noise gates.
De-esser helps you to reduce the sibilance and harsh high-frequency sounds. In simple words, it compresses or mellows sounds that come from letters such as F, S, X, SH, and so on.
On the other hand, the noise gate plugin will help you to remove or reduce the sound that is very quiet like hum or noise. You might not hear it but removing these noises will clean up the vocal tracks.
Using a microphone pop filter will help you to reduce the unwanted sound but you will still need these tools to clean it completely.
Also, there are many different vocal plugins that can help you to clean, edit, or modify your vocal tracks.
4. Use Autotune (Optional)
One thing you can do after recording vocals and before mixing is to use Autotune which totally optional.
As you might already know, Autotune helps you to correct the pitch of a vocal performance to make it better.
So, if a vocalist’s performance is not perfect and there are some incorrect notes, you can easily fix them, but be careful because too much use of Autotune will make the performance unnatural.
If you have to use it, make sure the singer performs at his/her best and then fix incorrect notes subtly. Also, you can use Autotune as a vocal effect.
5. EQ Vocal Tracks
EQing vocal is a critical part of mixing vocals, as it allows for proper balance and clarity in the finished product. It’s all about emphasizing the desired frequencies and de-emphasizing the undesired frequencies.
When applying EQ to vocal tracks, it’s important to think about the overall sound of the track and what you’re trying to achieve. Are you looking for a bright, crisp sound? Or perhaps a darker, warmer sound?
Once you’ve determined what kind of sound you’re trying to achieve, you can start adjusting the EQ accordingly.
There are hundreds of great EQ plugins you can use to mix vocals with. Use any EQ plugin you are used to because it will make your job easier.
First, start by removing unnecessary low and high frequencies with EQ pass filters. This will make vocals more hearable and cleaner.
But don’t overdo it because too much use of HPF and LPF may remove good frequencies and it will make the sound thin and lifeless.
After that, you need to find bad frequencies and cut them but boost good-sounding frequencies.
Try to not make drastic changes because it might make sound bad. The goal is to make good sounds more prominent and reduce bad-sounding frequencies.
It will make the vocal sound better, and cleaner, and it will sit in the mix better.
You can use different EQ bands during vocal track mixing but in general, do wide bands when boosting and narrow bands for cutting.
6. Use Compression
After the EQing is done, it’s time to use another powerful and important mixing tool – a compressor.
Adding a compressor to vocal tracks is a great way to enhance the sound and make sure that the vocal is heard clearly and accurately.
A compressor can be used to reduce the dynamic range of the vocal track, making sure that the loudest parts of the vocal track are not overpowering the quieter parts.
This will help create a more consistent vocal track that can be easily heard in the mix.
There are no particular compressor plugins or specific settings for vocals because it depends on the style of music, performance, etc.
Just listen to the tracks carefully to know how it sounds and where it needs improvements.
Then add your favorite compressor plugin and start tweaking settings. Set the threshold and ratio and with attack and release, you can control transients and length of compression.
The goal is to create a consistent vocal performance that is balanced and sits well in the mix.
And what plugin or setting you use is up to you. It’s your mix and you know the best what you need it to be.
7. Add Effects
Finally, after you clean vocal tracks and add EQ and compressor, it’s time to add effects.
Of course, you can use any effect you want but in most cases, reverb and delay are the most used effects on vocals.
With reverb, you can add depth and life to the vocal tracks and delay can make it longer which can be a good effect in most cases.
However, you can use any effect with any settings. It depends on what you want to achieve.
For example, some mixing engineers use auto-tune as an effect and not a pitch correction. Sometimes it works but sometimes it’s not.
So, you have the freedom to use any tool to create any effect you want. But the important thing is to add effects after EQ and compressor.
Also, for better vocal mixing, you can use the EQ cheat sheet for vocals as a guide.
Vocals are fun to mix and they are very different from instruments such as guitars or drums. Vocals are very dynamic and every singer has a distinct sound which sometimes makes it hard to mix but it’s a fun and a great way to gain experience and become a better mixing engineer.
So, to mix vocals properly, you need a good recording, clean vocal tracks, and various tools to edit, modify, and make them better.