How to Make Vocals SIT in the Mix [Mixing Vocals]

This video is all about making your vocals sit properly in your mix. You’re about to learn 5 specific techniques for making your vocals sit better.

Get the vocals right and you’ll be well on your way to professional sounding mixes!

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This video is all about mixing vocals to sit properly in the mix.

You’re about to learn five specific techniques for making your vocals sit better.

Get the vocals right and your mixes will soon start to sound more professional, but first be sure to grab the free vocal mixing cheat sheet.

There is a link in the bio or on screen now.

There were numerous techniques to make the vocals sit properly in the mix to make them the focus of the track without making them sound odd or separate from the rest of the mix.

And the five things that you’ll learn to do in this video volume automation, serial compression, I’ve got a quick volume balancing trick for setting the right volume, an EQ technique with range allocation, and then we’ll cover reverb and delay too.

So, let’s dive right in with vocal automation. So, let’s start by having a listen to this track. The vocal hasn’t had any dynamic processing here. I’ve got some tonal EQ there to shape here and a bit of De-Sing, but dynamically it’s just the original performance.

So, that’ how it sounds with no automation and no compression.

Now, what I’m going to do is just automate this quickly using the Waves Vocal Rider plug-in.

So, we could start by reducing this S here. I struggle to set the De-Ser on this vocalist. They sign it kind of oddly, so we can just play with this automation and bring that down a bit.

I also think this whole phrase here could actually be a little bit louder to give it a bit more energy.

So, there we go just using any form of volume automation whether you use Vocal Rider or whether you do this manually and what I would do on this kind of vocal if it’s not a pop track then I’d probably do individual words.

So, I’d go through and manually turn down this word or turn out quieter words or you can go a level deeper and do it more like this where you’re doing a constant automation, You could record that in using a physical fader.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, but I find that some form of volume automation is absolutely essential if I want the vocal to sit right in the mix.

So, the next technique is serial compression and normal compression is when you use one compressor. Serial compression multiple think serial killer we use multiple compressors. It’s really that simple.

So, can start to play with different attack time and release times on each compressor, but what I’m going to do here is just keep it nice and simple.

I’m actually going to use the Waves RVOX, because I love how that sounds in these kinds of tracks and we’re doing it on the buss, so that the automation is going into the compressor rather than after it and I’m just going to dial in a few dB of gain reduction with this one, and then just do the same with the second plug-in.

So, now I’m just checking the gain to make sure it’s the same volume when I’ve got that bypass as engaged.

Cool, and then we can just duplicate. You can try using a fast compressor first, and then a slow compressor second. So, the first one trims the peaks and the second one is more constant, but for the sake of demonstration and I find myself doing this a lot, anyway just going to duplicate it.

So, this is we have no compression.

And this is with compression.

So, now we’ve got quite a lot compression going on, but because we’ve split it across two compressors sound more natural, more musical and we’re still focusing on the dynamics here because if you want the vocals to sit right in the mix it needs to be quite consistent.

So, it’s always in that perfect place on top of the mix but not poking out too much and not suddenly getting too quiet.

So, now that we’ve addressed the dynamics with some automation and some compression the next step is to set the level and this is actually much,, much harder than you would think.

Now, I’ve already balanced the volume here quite a lot, but after applying automation and compression the overall volume is going to be different, so what we need to do is just adjust this fader again until we’re happy with it.

Now, the trick I want to share with you now is to use the volume knob on your headphones or on your monitors as a tool to help you set the level of the vocal.

Now, this is going to be really hard for me to demonstrate here, but I’m going to do it on the master fader instead.

So, if you’re doing this at home just use the monitor control on your output or the headphone level, but for the sake of demonstration I’m just going to use the master fader.

And what we want to do is make sure that at low volume the vocal is the main thing we can hear, because that’s normally the case the vocal is the focal point especially in pop and mainstream something like this.

Maybe not so important but I still want the vocal to be at the forefront, and if we can hear the vocal more than anything else at low level that means it’s loud enough, and then when we turn the fader back up louder than you would normally listen what you should find is that the vocal instead starts to fit in with the track a bit more.

And when it’s really loud we can hear the bass, the kick, the snare, the guitars everything just as much as the vocal and generally that’s a good sweet spot for the level of the vocal.

So, let’s try that so we’re going to make the volume really low and I’m going to adjust this fader on the buss until the vocal a by far the most prominent thing.

So, yeah it passes that test. That is way louder than everything else and now when we bring it up to a normal volume, and in fact what I recommend to you here is turn up monitors louder than you would normally monitor up and we want to make sure the vocal doesn’t pop out too much in it. Sits in-line with everything else, and if anything starts to get drowned out by everything else.

So, I actually think it could come down a touch and this is going to depend on the genre.

With this track I want it to have a bit more of a kind of consistent level between the different parts.

I don’t want the vocal to be super loud like we would have in a mainstream pop track, so I’m just going to bring it down a touch.

Let’s check it at low volume again.

It’s still the most prominent feature.

So, there we go a great trick for setting the level.

Now, technique number four is to use what I call range allocation to create a pocket for the vocal in the mix.

So, if I go into the vocal processing that I’ve already done with EQ using a new Waves Scheps Omni Channel which is an amazing plug-in if you just want kind of Swiss Army Knife of plug-ins this is great.

And what you see is on my EQ which is this one here I’ve got some gain in the upper mid range about 3.6 k, and then cutting a bit at 240 which is opening up that top-end even more and removing some of that body, so that the vocal comes out through the mix a little bit, and then I’m not boosting the top-end because I actually decided to use a vintage or a exciter here which is adding that top-end instead.

But the thing we want to pay attention to is this upper mid boost here that’s close to 3.7 k.

Now, range allocation is simply the act of allocating a range of the frequency spectrum to an important part.

So, for example here because I’ve boosted at 3.7 k by quite a bit, 2.4 is quite aggressive, the vocal obviously has a lot of energy now in that area and around that frequency.

So, I’m going to avoid boosting that frequency on the guitars, I’m going to avoid boosting that on the snare or anything else for that matter.

I’ve allocated this range to the vocal mentally or even you can write this down on a notepad while you’re mixing.

So, what I’m going to do now to create some space for that is cut that same frequency that I’ve allocated to the vocal in other instruments that are competing.

If you want to learn more about this technique you can checkout my video on range allocation, but what I’m going to do here is just have a listen and you can do this with me.

Listen out for any parts in the mix, it’s probably going to be the guitar or a snare that are competing with the vocal and we can try cutting that frequency in those to create more of a pocket in the mix or the vocal.

So, that guitar is really getting in the way more than anything. I think that’s the main thing.

So, let’s load up an EQ and we’re just going to go to a 3.7 k around there, and I’m actually going to make this a bit narrow so we can be a bit more aggressive with this.

And I am going to start dipping it until the guitar starts to sound odd and that’s the point we know we’re going too far, and then bring it back up until it feels like it’s getting out of the way of the vocal a bit.

It actually sounds fine with quite an aggressive cut there. I like what it’s doing to the guitar tonally as well.

I’m just going to adjust the bandwidth now, because it feels like we’re losing some of the aggression around 2 k and some of the sweetness around here, around 8 k, so that we’re getting the vocal more space in the mix but we’re not removing too much of that nice stuff in the guitar.

So, you can hear when I make this really wide.

Guitar starts to sound a bit too warm, whereas when I make this narrow.

We still got a lot of that aggression around 2 k, so let’s find the sweet spot in the context of the mix.

So, that creates a bit more space to the vocal in the mix. I’m going to play this again focus on how the vocal suddenly sounds like it has its own little pocket when I bring this in it, and it sounds clearer.

It’s easier to focus on the lead vocal.

So, if we could repeat this process on other competing instruments; we could do it on the drum buss and I’m going to try that just a really subtle cut in the drum buss to make it a bit more room there as well.

That sounds great too. So, you can experiment with that on different channels.

I tend to do it on group busses, so normally all the guitars would be getting in the way and it’s quicker just to do it on the group buss here.

Sometimes you want to do it on individual channels, but that’s a great technique.

And then finally, technique number 5 is to create a space around the vocal using reverb and delay.

It makes the vocal sit in the mix, but doesn’t make it standout too much because we want to find this balance, and if we use too much reverb and too much delay the vocal is going to sound like it’s really far away.

It’s not going to be the focal, forefront of the mix.

Whereas, If we don’t use enough reverb and delay the vocal might sound a bit unnatural and dry, and it’s not going to sound congruent and consistent with the rest of the mix. It’s going to sound too separate.

So, let’s start with reverb and then we’re going to move onto the delay after that.

So, again I’m going to do this on the buss instead of the channel itself, because that’s where all of our processing is.

I’ve already added a plate reverb with an EQ just in case I need it, but I’m not actually doing anything there, and then we’ve got the plate itself.

So, the reason I’m using the plate reverb is that it has a shorter decay time than a room reverb or even the hall or a chamber or anything like that, and that works really well on vocals because if we have a generic room reverb on the rest of the track that’s maybe 1, 2, 3, second decay time then we have a slightly shorter reverb on the lead vocal and that could be plate with 1 second like you see here. It could just be another room that’s 1 second.

Well, having that shorter decay time is going to make the vocal standout a bit more. It sounds like it’s a bit closer to the listener.

So, it doesn’t really matter what type of reverb you use. Here I’m using a plate, but we could solo this and I could use something like if I just load up the new Logic Reverb which is also great.

There’s no right answer. I can just go through some of these and see what sounds good in the context of this mix and use that.

There isn’t really a rule where you use a plate in this situation and use a room in this situation, and use a chamber in this situation just go through them see what sounds good in the context of the track.

So, let’s make it really loud and let’s see how some of these sound.

So, that sounds pretty cool. Let’s compare that to the plate that I already had going.

So, that’s a bit more subtle. In the context of the mix it’s nowhere near as noticeable but I like that. It’s adding some space to the vocal, but it’s not noticeable. It’s not making it sound like it’s further away.

So, just play around with whatever reverb you have.

See what works in the context of the track, and then if we want we can also add some shaping to this.

So, if we want to make the vocal sound brighter. Let’s say it was recorded with a more affordable microphone.

Affordable microphones tend to lack as much high-end, so if you find yourself boosting the high-end quite a lot when you’re shaping the tone of the vocal well try boosting the high-end on the reverb as well because that will have the effects of changing the tone of the vocal.

The tone of the reverb will influence the tone of the vocal.

If we have a dark warm reverb it’s going to make the vocal sound darker and warmer.

If we have a bright airy reverb it’s going to make the vocal sound airier and brighter. So, we can start to play around with that too.

You can hear how much that influences the tone of the vocal.

Now, tonally I’m quite happy with the way that vocal sounds and I like how this plate sounds, so today I’m going to leave it but just something to bear in mind.

And then the next step is to set the levels. So, I’m going to bring this up until I can distinctly hear the reverb and then I’m going to back it off a touch, because for me that’s often the sweet spot.

So, about there and now we can just mute this a few times just to check if it’s adding some space and making the vocal sit better in the mix, sound a bit more natural and congruent with the rest of the mix, but equally it’s not pushing the vocal too far away.

So, without that reverb it sounds a bit dry and unnatural. I’ll bring it back in.

Sits a little bit better and I haven’t actually gone through and added reverb to the other instruments yet.

Once I do that it’s going to sound even more cohesive.

Next step then is to delay, so I’m going to load up a new buss for this and the trick that I want to show you in particular now is what I call a Stereo Delay and technically the full term would be Stereo Slap Back Delay.

So, we’re just going to use stereo delay and to get a stereo spread we’re going to use a different time on the left and right.

Now, I find depending on the tempo of the track anywhere between 80 to 200 milliseconds works well here, and we just want to have a different time of the left and right to give the vocal a bit of the stereo spread.

And if we want to get rid of feedbacks we want it to be slap back and we want to make sure it’s set to 100% wet.

Okay, so it sounds weird. It sounds like the vocalist is like in a dream or something of a sudden.

So, let’s tweak the time of those delays in the context of the mix.

So, I think in this context it sounds better with a faster delay and 90 on the right – well 90ish or 110ish on the left gives us that stereo spread and again we just want to bring this up now until we notice it, and then back it off.

And now with that the whole space around it is starting to become a bit too much. I’m going to back off the reverb a bit and balance that with this delay.

So, let’s listen without either of those.

Dynamically and tonally the vocal is sitting well in the mix, but it sounds a bit dry and unnatural.

But when we bring those in.

So, we don’t want this to be too overpowering just enough to create that sense of space and make the vocal sit better in the mix.

So, there you go 5 techniques to make the vocal sit right in the mix.

Give each of those a try.

In most mixes I find myself using all 5, so feel free to do the same but make sure you have an intention and give these a try. But if it doesn’t work with your track then that’s fine you don’t have to do all 5.

So, now the next problem is well there’s so much more to vocal mixing I could talk about EQ a lot more, compression, and when we’re talking about reverb and delay we haven’t really covered mono delay and the different applications of reverb when it comes to vocals in particular.

There’s just so much that goes into getting a professional clean vocal sound that always sits well in the mix.

So, I put together a free vocal mixing cheat sheet that’ll walk you through loads more tricks, and tips, and techniques in addition to what you’ve learned here and if you download that use it when you’re mixing to make sure you get the vocals right every single time.

It’s completely free. There’s a link in the bio or there’s a link on the screen now just go that page enter your details to get that free PDF.

And then, I want to hear from you. Do you use automation and compression on vocals when you mix or do you find yourself using one or the other?

Leave a comment below saying both or compression or automation, and maybe tell us why you prefer one of those over the other because I think that plays a really big role in how the vocal sit in the mix.

So, that’s all from me. I’ll see you next week and remember Create Regardless.

UPDATE: We just released a great video on recording giant layered vocals:

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