12 Essential Steps to Mixing Vocals

Follow these 12 steps to make your original dry sound more lustrous and textured. Make sure you don’t miss any steps in the vocal mixing process, from editing, EQ, compression, and more.

Step 1: comping and editing
The first step in vocal mixing isn’t mixing at all – it’s editing. It is up to you to help the singer create the best possible vocal part (picking out the best parts of the vocal track and sorting them out), a process called “compositing Comping”. Pick the best lines from many tracks and put them together. (It is to extract the best parts of each track and organize them together to make the voice sound better.)

In addition to synthesizing, other editing tasks might be cutting out parts of a vocal track that aren’t singing or correcting breath sounds in a vocal. The amount of breath you adjust depends on the style of the song, sometimes you want it and sometimes you want to get rid of it. But anyway, it’s easy to edit breath with a plugin like DeBreath.

When you’re done compositing and editing, it’s time to take a break. Relaxation is great for maintaining sharp hearing and clear thinking.

Step 2: Tuning
Vocals always have places where their pitch is out of tune. Such problems can be solved by using pitch correction software, such as Waves Tune (press: There are hundreds of pitch correction software, please use what you are used to) to adjust the sound in question. After the pitch-corrected vocal, the sound is exported to a new audio frequency to save the processing performance of the computer and use it in the subsequent mixing work.

Step 3: gain staging
The vocal is probably the most dynamic instrument in the mix, and as the most important part of the song, it should need good control.

In the process of controlling dynamics, in order to avoid the pumping effect caused by excessive compression, the first step should be to reduce the gain to a reasonable range. You can also manually adjust the dynamics of each audio output directly or Use a plugin like Vocal Rider.

Step 4: Subtractive EQ
After the previous basic work is completed, it is time to pay attention to the sound quality of the sound~ and the first step to improve is to clean up the problematic frequencies. Include excessive low frequency parts and any harsh frequencies.

The best part to deal with at the beginning is the low frequency part. Since the human voice will not extend below 80-10Hz, we usually use a high-pass filter (commonly known as low-cut) to remove frequencies below 80-100Hz.

For other unpleasant frequencies, you can try sweeping:

Increase the Q value of a certain frequency band to minimize the range that the EQ can affect, increase the EQ gain (GAIN), and slowly sweep the frequency that the EQ can affect (press: usually 0-20KHz ), stop sweeping when you hear a special or unpleasant resonance (very annoying sound), try to attenuate this frequency, and reduce the Q value to find the best effect.

Remember one of the golden rules of EQ: narrow and wide. Use a higher Q value when using subtractive EQ and a lower Q value when using additive EQ.

At the same time, Dynamic EQ is a very useful tool for vocals, because the frequency of vocals changes over time. This type of EQ usually acts when a certain frequency exceeds a certain volume, so that certain frequencies can only be affected when needed. You can use the F6 Dynamic EQ to reduce annoying sounds without sacrificing overall performance.

Step 5: Additive EQ
After removing the problematic frequencies of the vocals, it’s time to add some sonic character. For example, hip-hop vocals add power to the low frequencies, rock concerts add mids to accentuate the vocals in a dense mix, and pop vocals add high frequencies for more presence. But pay attention to the frequency of 2-5KHz, increasing it casually will bring annoying screeching sound.

Signal processing flow
Some mixers prefer to use compression before EQ, others prefer to do EQ first and then add compression at various stages. Different processing sequences will also produce different sounds, so try to find out what works best for your current situation.

Step 6: De-Essing
If vocals are harsh, people often turn to the DeEsser to fix the problem. Deesser is a compressor for a specific range of frequencies, often used to remove harsh sounds caused by “S hiss” and “T”.

Using the monitoring function in the DeEsser, after you find those annoying frequencies, adjust the threshold (threshold), and let the DeEsser act when the sound starts to become irritating. This is the general operation method of the DeEsser.

Step 7: Compression
Once you’ve got the pitch of the vocals processed, the next step is to compress the dynamics of the vocals a bit more so that the vocals can stand out more in the mix. There are quite a few compressors on the market now, and compressors are also commonly used for vocals, and these compressors have slight differences in tonal characteristics and dynamic processing.
Usually we will press the sound between 3-6db, commonly used is a limiter type compressor, such as CLA-76 or SSL-E or G Channel. The compressor only adjusts the maximum peak of the sound (the loudest part of the chorus), so generally the compressor will not affect the entire sound.

The next step is to set the compressor’s attack and release times. Here’s an easy way to find the best settings:

Start with the longest (slow) attack time and the shortest (fast) release time. Slowly reduce the attack time until it feels like it’s pressing down on the beginning of the sound, then go back a bit. Next, slowly increase the release time until you feel the compressor working just right in the song.
Usually when compressing a sound, it is good to show a gain reduction of 3-6 dB during the loudest peak, and then the next peak is compressed again before it returns to 0.

Step 8: More Compression
Many engineers like to cascade compression, that is, use multiple compressors but each compressor works a little first. Typically, you start with a fast peak-limiting compressor, then use a slower compressor to “squeeze” the vocals and help balance the dynamics.

One of the most well-known of these slower compressors is the CLA-2A optical compressor, but other similar compressors like PuigChild or Kramer PIE work well. This series of compressors uses the concept of using a first compressor to quickly limit peaks and a second, slower compressor to shape the vocals and maintain the dynamics of the sound.

Step 9: Even more(parallel) Compression
If you want a modern, face-to-face vocal, parallel compression (parallel) is usually used. After importing the vocal into the auxiliary channel (aux channel), use a more aggressive compressor (such as CLA-76 or dbx 160) for processing, and adjust it to an appropriate amount.

With this parallel compression process, try to use a high compression ratio, fast attack and release times, and a low threshold, and then add a little bit of this high compression sound to the original vocal (mixing a little highly compressed signal). This will help keep the vocals forward while still retaining the original natural dynamics.

Step 10: Saturation and Distortion
Adding a little saturation or distortion to a vocal can make it thicker, and adding overtones like this can make the vocal stand out in a tight mix.
Thankfully, modern plug-ins allow you to easily simulate these unique forms of saturated distortion in your DAW.

The preamp section of the Scheps 73 is particularly good at dealing with saturation, and of course the drive section of the NLS Channel mixer plug-in can also do a good job.

If you want some more power, try sending the vocals to the effects channel, add a little saturation and distortion, then mix it with the original vocals, remember, just add a little bit more That’s enough. Add parallel distortion to the lead vocals and subtly make them stand out.

Step 11: Reverb and delay
Now that you’ve got the dynamics and tone of the vocals well tuned, it’s time to add some space to the vocals. Reverb and delay for stereo effects add breadth (width) to a sound, while mono effects add thickness (depth).

Generally speaking, reverb and delay are designed to match the tempo of the rhythm in the track. Shorter effects can create a smaller sense of space, and vice versa can create a larger sense of space.

To avoid messing up the mix, let these effects fade before the next set of words is sung. The fade time depends on the rhythm of the vocals, usually 1/8, 1/4 or 1/ 2 notes.

The H-Delay plugin is great for adding delays or echoes to emphasize certain words and phrases. For this setup, a delay plug-in is usually inserted on the effects track, and the vocals are automatically sent to the effects track. Then, selectively send the words or phrases you want to repeat, and set the delay time, feedback and EQ filters.

Step 12: Automation
Automation is your final touch to your vocal processing. Throughout the song, changing the volume of the vocals is the best way to bring the voice to life and make it more realistic.

Similarly, automating reverb and delay or saturation changes very minutely to suit the development of the song can make the music more “emotional”. Experimenting with this technique can make the effects of your effects more felt, not just heard.

During the mixing process, certain steps can be skipped entirely. If you have an idea, do it! If you can perfectly imagine how EQ and compression should do when you open a project and hear the original track, go for it! Don’t let inspiration take a nap!

Likewise, if you’re confused about making tiny adjustments in your channel strip plug-ins, it’s time to jump to the more “mechanical” editing tasks that need to be done.