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Setting up the vocal FX returns

From: Mixing a Hip-Hop and R&B Song in Pro Tools

Video: Setting up the vocal FX returns

So now that I have a great sound going on from my Rap Lead and Double, now is a good time to start thinking about my vocal effects returns that I am going use both on the Rap vocals as well as later on the Hook vocals and the Background vocals. And what I'll start out with is using some of my Long Verb that I already created for my drums, let's go ahead and listen to that. (music playing) Just a little bit of that, I just want to add a little bit of that long space to help tie that vocal back to some of that percussion.

Setting up the vocal FX returns

So now that I have a great sound going on from my Rap Lead and Double, now is a good time to start thinking about my vocal effects returns that I am going use both on the Rap vocals as well as later on the Hook vocals and the Background vocals. And what I'll start out with is using some of my Long Verb that I already created for my drums, let's go ahead and listen to that. (music playing) Just a little bit of that, I just want to add a little bit of that long space to help tie that vocal back to some of that percussion.

I don't want to really drill it up too far otherwise the vocal is going to get lost and start to sound muddy. We're actually going to give the vocal that sense of specialness using delays and harmonizers and pitch effects. So I am going to leave that down say right around -19, that's a good starting point, we might adjust that later in our mix. And I'll just go ahead and copy that over to the Double, and we'll see how that sounds as we add our other returns.

Now for the next set of returns I am actually going to have to build those now and so I am going to start by adding a new Send Stereo, and we are going to call this Vox Space. And instead of just having a Long Verb I also like to have something that's kind of a very close ambient space for the vocal so that it takes it out of that very dry room that the vocal was recorded in and gives it kind of a nice sense of space and texture so it's not so bare, helps it sit in the track a little bit.

Now what I am going to use for this is a TrueVerb, and I've got a little Preset called Vox Space that I made, and what it is it's just, it's a shorter reverb with some more stereo characteristics, and we can just go ahead and listen to that. Let me Solo Safe. (music playing) Let's mute that Long Verb so you can just hear that Space.

(music playing) And that's just going to give it a nice little sense of space, kind of make it seem as if the vocal was more in the room without washing it out so much. Then we'll add back that out Long Verb. Remember that Long Verb we used a pre-delay of around 30 milliseconds to make sure that the tail was separated from the initial dry sound so that it didn't get lost or sound like it was in the back of the room.

Now I want to add a few more return tracks, I am going to add a Slap delay so we will call this Slap delay, and this going to be a very short delay. I really like the EchoBoy delay because it allows me to choose so many different styles of delay, and for this one specifically I like the texture of a Space Echo. When you think about delays a lot times you think about your basic delays built into Pro Tools and those are really just digital delays, you're getting a tap that sounds pretty much identical to the original sound.

You might be able to EQ it or modulate it a little bit, but it doesn't have any feedback degradation like you would find in a traditional Tape delay where as it regenerates back in the feedback loop it starts picking up artifacts so the pitch starts changing or modulating and the frequency of the signal changes. And so these styles here simulate different types of analog and digital delays, regeneration artifacts, and I really like the Space Echo that's a classic delay, and it works really well for a slap-back style delay.

So as far as the timing of our delay, I am going to go with a 30 second note, I want to make sure switch this to all the way wet because we do have it on a send in return. Now I don't really need any feedback, so just go ahead and listen to what that sounds like, Solo Safe that. (music playing) And I think I just want remove some of the low frequencies from that so it doesn't get too muddy.

So I have a LowCut in here. I could use an additional EQ which I'll do a lot of times on my delay, but I find that this LowCut built into the delay works just fine. (music playing) Let's just do a little cleanup, we're going to move these here real quick. Then I might copy some of these settings over.

I might not copy everything over, in fact I might remove this Long Verb now from the Double so that things don't get too washy. Now another vocal effect that I usually have in my templates is some sort of harmonizer or pitch effect for the vocals so we'll call this Harm. And what I am going to use here, kind of simulating an old even tide H3000 harmonizer effect is go here to Pitch Shift, and it will bring up the Doubler.

And I kind of like some of these Dave Pensado presets, we'll just go with out Pensado Vocal here. Notice the Direct has been turned off because I don't want that direct signal, I am not using it as an Insert effect, I am using it as a return. But I do have my Voices here, and you can see that they're panned left and right, there's a bit of detuning on there so that what's actually going on is there is a little bit of delay for these signals, it's repeating those signals with a bit of delay and then it's detuning them up and down a bit.

So I kind of get this widening and chorusing effect. Now I don't want that to mess with my original signal, so I am going to go ahead take an EQ, and I'm going to aggressively filter out those low frequencies. You know anything right around 250-300 is going to work. Let's just listen to that now. (music playing) Cool. And that just gives a nice little texture to the vocal, helps it connect with the rest of the mix, kind of mix it sound special.

Now I like to at the end of this chain, so after my EQ here I like to add an insert to widen that a little bit more, so I am going to go into my Sound Field and pull up that Center plug-in, and I am just going to go ahead and pull up a little preset. It's basically just the Sides. What this is doing is it's leaving the Sides up and turning the Center channel down and so what that sounds like is. (music playing) Just a little extra width. (music playing) And what you'll notice in the way that I treat a lot of the vocal effects in terms of the amount that I'm blending in is I'll kind of push it up until I can hear them and then bring them back a little bit, because I'm not looking for something that's super overt, I'm just kind of looking to spice it up just a bit.

Now sometimes with certain parts of the song or certain vocals I do want to play it up a lot so you can really hear the effect. But with lead vocals, a lot of time I find less is more and just a subtle sort of subconscious amount of a delay or a harmonizer or reverb is just enough to tie it to the track while still making the vocal sound special. Now I also want to add a longer delay so I have a slap-delay, but I want to add a longer delay here so I am going to add a new return, I am going to call this Long delay.

And again I am going to use the EchoBoy so I could just copy this over, Option-drag or Alt-drag on the PC. And I do like that Space Echo, but what I am going to do here since I already have Tempo tied in, I'm going to do something let's say a quarter note delay so it's a longer delay, and let's go ahead and listen to what that sounds like, so we'll Solo Safe that, bring up that Long delay return. (music playing) Now this actually does need an EQ in this situation because what I want to do is I want to make sure that I'm not muddying up that vocal track with delay taps that are a quarter note.

So just like a reverb any time that I'm using a very long delay quarter note, half note, I tend to aggressively filter that so that it doesn't get caught up in the rest of the track or muddy up the vocal that's happening right at that moment. Because if you think about a delay, it's actually extending that word later into time, and we don't want what's delaying to mask what's actually happening in the vocal at that moment. What I'll do is generally do some kind of telephone shape here and really all that means is just kind of aggressively band-pass filter and getting rid of all the lows as well as a lot of the highs and what that sounds like is this.

(music playing) And the other thing that I like to do with my long delays is process them through a little bit of reverb so I'll just use a D-Verb in this case and so we'll actually have a delay going into a reverb. And I'll just use something like a LARGE HALL, bring that gain up. Now I'm not going to do 100% Wet here, I am actually looking for just about 30%.

And we'll shorten this up a bit so it's not super long. And that's going to really extend that delay and push it even further back in the room, so it's going to kind of darken it up, wash it up a bit, and really create that sense of depth with our vocal. With my Lead vocals what I want to do is I want to send them to the back of the room without actually putting the initial vocal at the back of the room, so as opposed to putting the singer all the way at the back of the room in a wash of reverb and delay what I want to do is have them up front but I want to cast that local all the way to the back end of the mix, so it really creates this nice sense of depth in the vocal that ties it all the way back to all of the instruments, really makes the lead vocals sound special. Check this out.

(music playing) And what I might do is just copy that same Center process over where I was actually removing the Center information and playing up the Sides just to kind of get some extra width on my return.

All right, so just to recap what we did. We created a few returns of Vox Space, a slap delay or a short delay, the harmonizer effect and a longer delay, and we're actually going to reuse those when we get to our other vocals, the adlibs, the hooks, the background vocals and the bridge vocals, so we'll be able to reuse these send effects later in our mix. And it's actually a good idea to put stuff like this into a template that you can import into your session time and time again, and that really saves you time when starting a new mix.

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Mixing a Hip-Hop and R&B Song in Pro Tools

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Brian Lee White
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