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Making the lead vocal the star

From: Mixing a Rock Song in Pro Tools

Video: Making the lead vocal the star

So now that I've got a vibe going on between my drums and my bass, I like how my kick drum is sounding, and kind of get a punchy snare going on, I've got some reverb on the drums, I might add a little bit more plate to the snares as I start flashing out the song, but I have a solid foundation. And once I have a solid foundation with my rhythm section, I really want to move along to my vocal at this point because that's going to be a huge part of a pop tune. And I want to make sure that I'm making the right space for it before I add in any of the big guitars or things that are going to compete.

Making the lead vocal the star

So now that I've got a vibe going on between my drums and my bass, I like how my kick drum is sounding, and kind of get a punchy snare going on, I've got some reverb on the drums, I might add a little bit more plate to the snares as I start flashing out the song, but I have a solid foundation. And once I have a solid foundation with my rhythm section, I really want to move along to my vocal at this point because that's going to be a huge part of a pop tune. And I want to make sure that I'm making the right space for it before I add in any of the big guitars or things that are going to compete.

I'm going to come over here. And sometimes at this point, I'll just go ahead and solo-safe my vocal so that is always in the session whenever I'm adding EQ or making decisions. And that can be a bit difficult to get used to at first, but it really helps you focus on creating contrast and complementing the important part of your song. So let's take a listen here in this first verse. (music playing) And this guy is definitely going to need compression.

(music playing) Cool! So I'm going to go ahead and show my I/O view so I can work here from the Edit window for a bit, so I can really kind of make selections and see what's going on. I'm going to take and start with compression before EQ on the vocal because it's kind of wild and it's kind of going all over the place right now, and I really want to kind of get it firmed up before I try to place it in the mix.

I'm going to go with the Blue 1176 here. I like that for vocals. I'm going to speed up the release time just a bit, and we'll start with a ratio of 4:1. (music playing) Cool! So I'm getting some compression. It's sounding pretty good.

I'm going to go ahead and add some EQ to this. And you know what? When I'm doing my basic EQing tasks, call it lazy or just workflow habits, I'm always coming back to this DigiRack EQ because I can grab the little nodes. It's really fast, and sometimes other EQ plug-ins, for me at least, are just not as fast as this. And that's just something, an example of, sometimes as a stock plug-in just helps you work faster.

So in this case, I'm going to carve off a bit of the ultra-low lows. There's going to be some headphone bleed in this vocal if we listen in certain sections. (music playing) Let's see if we can find that there. (music playing) Yeah, so I'm cutting all that out. I don't want any of that headphone bleed or the ultra-low low mud from that. There's not much on his vocal below 80 hertz.

Then what I want to do is try to find some of these frequencies that are going to be masking the low mids, just maybe he got a little too close to the microphone. (music playing) Now I want to add a little bit of presence.

So instead of using the DigiRack EQ, I'm going to go grab my 1073 here. This is great for adding presence to a vocal. Let's see what 3.2 gives us. (music playing) A little bit of air. I'm going to clip. (music playing) (music playing) Cool! So the vocals sound pretty good, but it's going to need some effects; it's going to need something that's going to make it sound like a rock star.

So I'm going to go ahead and create a couple more sends and returns and actually, a quick way I can do this just by saying New Track here from the sends. I'm going to start with a shorter delay, and I want maybe a chorus, a longer delay, maybe a longer verb. So I'm building those returns right there.

I'll start with that short delay. I'm going to do something that's kind of a slap delay, so I'll set that to sync with my session. Hear what a sixteenth note sounds like. I don't like the Space Echo program there. I'm probably going to want to EQ on the back end of that. Before I even hear it, I know I'm going to want EQ that thing. Cool! So let's listen to that, solo-safe those.

(music playing) Cool! So I ended up with a thirty-second note. That sounds pretty good. And I usually want a longer delay in the session, so I'm just going to copy that EchoBoy over and I'm going to set it to something a bit longer.

So well start with a quarter note and see where that gets us. And generally, I'm going to EQ those a lot more aggressively, and you kind of get a little telephone effect going on. And a lot of times with those longer delays, I'll do kind of a ping-pong thing, so maybe a quarter note, eighth or a quarter note, half note. I'm just going to listen to that there, a little bit more feedback for some taps. (music playing) That's cool. I'm going to change the style here to the Telephone style. I like that.

(music playing) Cool! I'm going to add a longer verb to my session. Go right here and use the Renaissance reverb. I like that. Let's go with a plate, see what their vocal plate sounds like. And again, I'm always adding EQ to all my FX returns so I can really shape that. And I immediately know I'm going to want to dig out some of the low frequencies. I'm probably going to want to tame out some of the high frequencies.

These guys have EQs in them, and that's great. I typically just want more control. I'm going to dip out some of the 500 and it's going to get a little bit muddy with the vocal. Take a listen to what that sounds like. (music playing) Cool! Let's see what that chorus sounds like.

(music playing) Get a little bit wider. I like that. (music playing) That delay is getting a little wild, a little too many taps. So I am going to take in--I am going to back that feedback down. And since I changed it to telephone, it's really kind of got enough telephone effect going on there. (music playing) And ultimately, I might end up automating something like this, and in the chorus sections where it's not as obvious, it's not as sparse.

Let's come back to some of this vocal EQ, and I just want to see if I can make any improvements now that I kind of have a vocal sound going on. (music playing) And he is getting a little bit crispy on some of those S's and so what I am going to is I am going to use a de-esser.

You're going to use that on most vocals. Sometimes you can get away without using one depending on your mic selection. I really like using high-frequency-only de-essers on vocals because I think they tend to take on a lisp if you start digging in too deep. Let's set that range down there, take a listen. (music playing) Cool! (music playing) Now, with these background vocals, generally, I will either get to the background vocals at this part of the mixing process or I will save them for later; it really just depends on how big a part of a song they are.

Mixing some songs that have 40, 50, 60 tracks of vocals, because it's all about the vocal stacks in R&B, especially, say, hip-hop songs where you've got three artists plus another artist singing a hook, so most of your mixing process, the bulk of the time spent mixing is just going to be scoring through and starting to manage those vocals. This isn't one of those sessions. So what I am going to do here is I am just going to submix them real quick to a new aux track, so I can treat them as one.

And I can just get a handle on what they're doing, maybe just give them a sound fairly quickly. (music playing) A little muddy, they're going to need some EQ. (music playing) And they're definitely going to need a little bit of compression.

(music playing) You see, I have got those panned pretty wide. They were actually recorded with panning them in mind so that we get a nice wide background vocal sound. Now to extend that, I am going to go ahead and send that to some of my effects. I am going to send that to my chorus.

Actually, label that chorus. Not that chorus, this chorus. And I have got some Long Delay, some Short Delay, and some Verb on there. (music playing) If I feel like they need to be a little bit wider, I might use a little Stereo Widening, maybe throw a little center on there, kick up the sides and the center down a bit.

They're sounding pretty good here. I might create some special effects for the lead vocals just depending on what I want to do. Now, with the lead vocal, a lot of times what I will do is I will add in a duplicate lead vocal track that I actually process in a different way. So go ahead and save some of these inserts for now, but I am probably going to get rid of the EQ and the effects. Let's just bypass them for now. So what I am going to do--I am going to move these out for a second.

What I am looking to do is kind of get a grittier sound and then blend that in to taste. I really like the CLA effects because it's got a bunch of cool effects that I can use to layer with my vocal. Let's go ahead and listen to that. (music playing) Now, I generally need to EQ this so it doesn't get in the way of the vocal.

(music playing) A lot of compression going on there. I am going to move that up a little bit. (music playing) Cut out some of the mids. (music playing) Yeah, like that. Top tops, I don't need those. (music playing) Depending on how aggressive I want to get with this, I can really automate that in and out. (music playing) Kind of my character fader right there.

(music playing) Cool! So I have got a pretty good lead vocal sound set up, and of course I am going to go back and make tweaks to my lead vocal effects, EQs, compression as I start working with my other instruments. I generally like to get that lead vocal in as quickly as possible and get it sounding like a star because that's what's going to motivate me and pull me through the mix. If the lead vocal is just kind of sounding dowdy and lame while I am working on my other stuff, I am not going to really be motivated and amped on the song.

So I like to start making that sound special as soon as I can, and then I will work my other tracks around that. And that not only motivates me to work through the song and live up to that lead vocal sound, but I can also shape things around that lead vocal. So now I am making space with those other instruments in contrast of a lead vocal sound that I've already created.

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Mixing a Rock Song in Pro Tools

9 video lessons · 5103 viewers

Brian Lee White
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