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Hands down, mixing vocals is the most time consuming part of the mixing process, because it will require the most amount of automation, and on some level, the most amount of critical listening. We've touched upon automation a little bit in previous movies, but we will really dive into it full force when I show you what's involved with automating a lead vocal. But, before we dive into the automation process, let's take a look at the Channel Strip setting that I've set up for this vocal. Earlier on, I added reverb and delay, because I didn't want to work on the mix, with just a drive vocal.
But, now I've dialed it in a little bit more, and I pulled the returns down on both the reverb and delay as well as added a Phaser to the delay. And let's go ahead and take a listen to that. Now, I'm going to solo out the lead vocal and highlight our 24-bar section which is verse 1 and chorus 1 and I will solo both vocals. Down here is the Vocal Sample. (Music playing) You can hear that when I took the Phaser off the delay, it did change the way that the delay sounds.
I like to have shimmer on the delays. The Phaser rounds them off a little bit and they sort of have a sweeping sound as they are echoing. So that's a trademark of my vocal setup. I almost always put Phasers on delays, and the delays are at quarter notes on the left and quarter notes on the right. Now you'll notice that I slightly adjusted the groove on the right side. I purposefully did not, let the right side of the Stereo Delay be exactly the same as the left side, they are offset.
Here is what it sounds like if they're not offset. (Music playing) What's happening here is when the delays are ever so slightly offset, the delay is actually spread wider, and the difference between these two is so negligible that the right delay is not going to sound out of time.
When I put this back to 50%, the echo was very centered, and I actually prefer to have the delay spread a little bit. So that's why I pull it down to 49.666%. I've added an EQ and I've reduced 5.5 dB at a 156 Hz, which was giving me a little bit of a low sound in the voice that wasn't too crazy about. I'll put it back in so you can hear. (Music playing) Again, this is very subtle.
It might not catch your ears at first the difference between having this EQ in and out, but what's going on is that on some of her low notes throughout the song, if there is too much low mid, and I consider this to be a low mid frequency, 150 Hz, it starts to get woofy sounding, and it gets in the way and it sounds muddy and the lyrics are not audible. So that's the way I've set the EQ. I didn't feel the need to pop anything on the high end, and I've left it flat, and just only reduced some of the low mid frequencies. The Compressor is set very conservatively.
Let's take a look at it. (Music playing) It's only compressing several dB. This vocal was actually sent to me with some EQ and compression already on it. So I don't want to over- compress by adding my own compressor. So I just want a little bit here to grab some of the higher transients. Now, let's move on to the automation process. I will unsolo the vocals, and they will be in with the rest of the track and I hit the A key and that brings us back to the Automation screen and we're going to look at the Volume Parameters.
Again, you can choose Pan and all of the parameters for all of your plugins are automatable. But, for now, let's focus on volume. You can see, as I shrink the screen and show you the whole song, that there are quite a few bumps and ducks. I pop some words a few dB louder, and I pulled some things down a couple of dB here and there. When I am in the process of mixing vocals, it's very important to marry the vocals to the music. I've been told by many people over the years that the way that my remixes sound, it almost sounds as if the singer recorded their vocals to my mix.
So you really want to go after having your vocals sound like they belong with the music that's underneath them. So let's take a listen and I will go ahead and run this from Verse 1 and you can hear that even though these are just subtle moves, a push here, a duck here, it allows the vocal to sit very level. It's not too loud, it's not too soft, there is not a word or a syllable of a word that's jumping out too loud or there is not a syllable of a word that's buried. So let's take a listen to it from Verse 1.
(Music playing) I'll highlight this moment right here on the word you keep. I've raised this 1.7 dB on just this one word because I felt that it was getting lost. (Music playing) I'll Command+Z to bring it back.
Actually, I'll loop this section, so we can listen to this with the Automation off and on. (Music playing) Just the part on the word ya, it's brought up a little bit, and I'm not losing the lyric.
When I listen to the vocals in the mix, I don't want to struggle to hear the lyrics. It's very important. Vocals are actually the first thing I believe that people gravitate towards when they are listening to a full vocal record. If they can't hear the words, that's the first comments out of their mouth. No matter how great the rest of the track sounds, if you're struggling to understand what the singer is saying, then you've got problems, and you will be back at the drawing board revising your mix. So let's move on to later in the song where I've really had to push several dB of automation here.
(Music playing) Let me roll this section again, turning the Automation off, so that no automation data will be read, and you can hear what it sounds like without automation, and just how buried this section is. (Music playing) Let's take a listen to this passage again with the automation data being read.
(Music playing) So this is the part of the song where Iyeoka is singing at the top of her range. It's a very special moment in the vocal performance, and I certainly want to make sure that it's highlighted. That gives you an idea of sometimes how much automation need to apply. 3 dB may not sound like a lot, but it's definitely the difference between a vocal sounding buried and a vocal sounding upfront.
Now we're fortunate enough in this mix that we're only dealing with one lead vocal. But, think about if you had a lead and maybe some stereo background vocals and some harmonies on the verses. You really have to create a sonic space for your vocals, and it takes the most amount of time of the mixing process because you're dealing with a human performance, and I don't think I've ever worked on a remix where I haven't had to do some amount of automation on the vocals. You can see how involved automating the vocals are, and it's important to take frequent breaks to keep your ears fresh.
It's very easy to fatigue your ears resulting in vocals that are too loud or not loud enough. I find that I actually put the vocals up too loud the more that I listen to something over and over. So I frequently take breaks every 20 minutes to walk around the room and clear my head. Remember, this is the part of the process where you really have to keep your perspective. It's very easy to think that after I've listened to something 25-30 times, oh I can hear it, I know the song, I know the lyrics, and you have to remember that when someone has heard your mix for the first time, they are not going to have that advantage.
So it's important that all the elements of the mix whether you are listening to it at a loud volume or a soft volume come through. We don't want to have any one element popping out or being buried when listening to the mix at different volumes. I hope this gives you some insight as to how to approach mixing a lead vocal. For those of you who are doing this for the first time, I encourage you to be extremely patient. This is not a skill that happens overnight. You will need to do many, many, many mixes to really dial this in, and I'm not saying that to be discouraging, this is really the part of the mixing process that requires the most amount of hours log.
It took me years before I felt like I really, really had a handle on how to mix vocals. It's a craft and you need to approach it as such. So do not get frustrated. Make sure to step away from the computer, make sure to not burn out your ears, because this part of the process will fatigue your ears much faster than all the other parts of the remixing process.
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