7 Pro Vocal Mixing Techniques From 7 Pro Engineers

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  • Learn 7 pro vocal mixing techniques from 7 professional recording engineers.
  • Hone in on how to get the best vocal sound so you can get your music release-ready.

Your ability to carve out a compelling vocal mix is what separates the good producers, from the great producers. With the wealth of information available online, we’ve compiled a list of our 7 top favourite tips from some of our favourite mixing engineers.

7 Vocal Mixing Techniques From The Most Respected In The Industry

1. Tom Elmhirst, from Sound on Sound’s ‘Secrets Of The Mix Engineers

It’s about manoeuvrability. I recently received a multitrack with 120 tracks, and I just can’t mix with that. There’s too much information. So if there are eight tracks of backing vocals, I’ll bounce them to a stereo track. I don’t really want to use the [Pro Tools] Mix window, I use the Edit page, and I want to bring everything down to a size that’s workable for me.

2. Dave Pensado, from Sound on Sound’s ‘Secrets Of The Mix Engineers

“I used these three plug-ins (Waves Supertap delay into Waves Doubler into Sound Toys Pitch Blender) on Nicole’s vocals because I wanted to give it width, as well as a mechanical quality. Whenever I hear really tight delays on vocals, I always think of tape slap. The delays on Supertap are all very short, and what it also allowed me to do is spread the vocal wide across the stereo spectrum. In other words, instead of occupying a small spot in the middle of the mix, I could fill the whole spectrum between the speakers. The 149, 298 and 587 ms are 16th, eighth and half-note delays, and they spread and get louder from left to right. Supertap allowed me to run the vocal half a dB lower than would otherwise be required, which gave me the benefit of making the track sound more powerful without overpowering her”

3. Young Guru, from Sound on Sound’s ‘Secrets Of The Mix Engineers

“With regard to recording Jay‑Z at Roc The Mic, Young Guru relates, “My signal chain is normally a Neumann 87 or 67 going into an Avalon 737. I love the way the Avalon preamp sounds with his voice. It’s a perfect match. I use the 737 compressor as well as the preamp. I recorded Kanye’s vocal with a Neumann 67 going into a Neve 1073 and then an [Urei] LA2A. From there I go straight into input 1 of Pro Tools, at 24/44.1. I am not a big fan of super‑high sample rates. One, the files gets too big, and two, I don’t hear enough difference to make higher sampling rates worthwhile for what we do. The music itself is often coming from a 16‑bit sampler, so arguing about bit depth is not going to make a big difference. Also, I have to go down to 44.1/16‑bit at the end of the day, which makes higher resolutions even less relevant.”

4. Warren Huart, from Produce Like A Pro

“Okay, so here’s a tip that I do all of the time. This one, mastering engineers do this when they’re mastering tracks. You boost the high end, then control it with de-essers. So here’s my main vocal sub that I’ve highlighted. I’ve got a de-esser. This is barely doing anything on this section, because she’s not wailing. It’s set very subtly. Then I’ve got an EQ. I’ve got a low pass. But here’s the secret. I’ve got some high boost EQ going on. See, the de-esser is coming in there. I’ve got an R-EQ, an EQ, going into a de-esser. So I’m brightening the whole vocal, but then I’m de-essing it so that it doesn’t just exaggerate the esses, because of course, there’s certain sounds like, and consonants are going to be really exaggerated by brightening that. So it’s a great way to take a vocal, brighten it, then control it with de-essing. I do it all the time. And like I said, mastering engineers do it a lot, but they do it in gradual amounts.”

5. Ian Vargo, from The Pro Audio Files

“A secret weapon that I’ve been using a lot recently to tame harshness in hyper-processed vocals is Soothe by oeksound, which functions similarly to a de-esser in that it adapts to the program material and attenuates unwanted frequencies only when they are detected. I’ve had great success using Soothe at the very end of my vocal chain. This acute attention to detail and dedication to the removal of any “flaws” definitely detracts from the rawness of a given performance, but will usually leave clients who going for that pop sound with the polished product they desire.”

6. Steven Slate, from The Pro Audio Files

“Split your lead vocals into 3 Copies: 1 Natural, 1 Bright and Compressed, 1 Grainy. Automate the 3 throughout the mix to make it POP!”

7. Jason Moss, from SoundBetter

“If you wanna add reverb to a vocal, but you still want that vocal to remain front and center, by adding a little pre-delay to that reverb, the dry vocal separates from the reverb, and so your brain no longer perceives them as one single sound. The reverb gets pushed back in the mix, but the vocal remains up front. It’s a great way to keep your vocals front and center, but still get all the benefits of the sound of the reverb in your mixes.”

8. Matthew Weiss, on ModernMixing

“Following those ideas of EQ and compression, we can start thinking about concept of enhancement.  Not only can we use these tools in the way that they were originally designed (cleaning and controlling dynamics), we can also use them in creative ways to make a vocal sound bigger than it naturally would in real life.  That can often mean exaggerating either the low end or the presence of a vocal using EQ.  It could also mean making the vocal sound like it has more body and fullness by increasing the amount of sustain in the words using either compression in a serial way or a parallel way (which I prefer for rap).  You end up getting a vocal that sounds a bit more magical then it would if it was heard naturally.”