When I started mixing some times ago, I tried to learn everything I could from the instrumental side of a mix, I always underrated vocals somehow, I was sure that vocals are just good as they are, that they don’t need anything in particular or any “fix” to sit right in the mix. Of course, I was wrong.
Lead vocals are the most important tracks of a song, they give character to the song, people usually listen just to vocals, sometimes they don’t even care the instrumental tracks, believe it or not, a song has its power in lead vocals.
I don’t think you can find some “know-it-all” guide about good vocals mixing, anyway I found some tips useful and I noticed I always apply this kind of “tricks” to my mixes. You don’t need any weird “fix-my-vocals” plugin, it’s just EQ and compression. As I always say, what matters before any mixing is that you have consistent tracks: vocals in tune, with no timing issues and a good performace 😉
- Always use an high pass filter to clean the track from the mudd: as you can find on my post on filters, the HPF can be your best friend during this phase of the work. Vocals aren’t an exception, filter everything until you start hearing the voice become thin, then back a little bit to give more body. That’s it, you don’t need hours and hours, it’s simple, but never forget to filter.
- Sometimes I hear an annoying nasal sound, especially on male vocals, around 1Khz. Find the frequency around there that doesn’t sound good and cut it by 2 or 3 dBs.
- Pick an high shelf on your EQ plugin and boost the high frequencies above 3 Khz by some dBs, this will give your vocals more air and it will make the voice pop out, do it as much as you think it’s good but don’t overdo!
- The gain on vocals track must be consistent. Human voice has a wide dynamic range, as an instrument it can change from soft parts to very high gain ones quickly, it can be a problem, you must even all parts. Use the tool you prefer: you can go manual on the track envelope and fix the gain by raising it in the quietest parts, or use an automation on volume, as you like, what you want is a consistent gain on all the track.
- Compression on vocals is important, is like the icing on the cake but you must apply it the right way. Instead of a single really “pushed” compressor, it’s a good idea to put more than one in series: try a 1176-type with fast attack to catch each “movement” of the part and then insert an LA-2A style to even and level the track and give it more gain if needed. Try different combination and see which one works better for you, uniform the track keeping it more natural you can.