Ever tried to mix vocals and ended up with a sound that’s more garage band than Grammy winner? You’re not alone.

Imagine being able to transform raw vocal tracks into polished, professiona-sounding vocals like you hear on the radio.

We’ve all been there – fiddling aimlessly with EQ and compression ratios or trying out different reverb types…only for the final result to still fall flat.

Well, ear not! This post is here to demystify the art of mixing vocals.

Ready for some practical tips that’ll have your vocal tracks sounding pro-level good? Keep reading!

Table Of Contents:

Understanding the Basics of Mixing Vocals

Ever wonder why your favorite singer’s voice sounds so crisp and clear on their tracks? That’s thanks to one crucial step in music production — mixing. Let’s peel back the curtain to reveal what happens inn this seemingly dark art.

The Vocal Mix – What Is It?

Vocal mixing is about giving vocals that golden touch to shine through a song without overpowering other elements. This balancing act ensures every part gets its moment under the spotlight.

You could think of it as arranging pieces on a chessboard – each piece has its role, but they all work together to give us checkmate. Just like our friend chess, there are rules to follow and strategies to learn in vocal mixing.

The Importance of Recording Quality

We have several tools at our disposal for a great vocal mix, though if you start with low-quality recordings, you’ll end up wrestling more with issues rather than actually enhancing your vocals. “What goes in is what comes out” is a saying that holds true here.

In music production, we’re always after that crisp and clear sound to please our listeners’ ears. It starts at recording – if your vocals are top-notch from the get-go, you’ll have less work down the line when mixing and mastering come into play.

Recording Equipment Matters

You don’t need an expensive studio setup for great recordings but investing in good gear is essential. A decent microphone (check some options here) and audio interface can make all the difference.

Some of my favorite vocal microphones include:

  • Shure SM7B
  • Neumann U87
  • AKG C414

Some of my favorite audio interfaces include:

  • Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII
  • Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
  • Presonus Studio 24c

Your room acoustics also matter. Even small changes like adding some acoustic panels or positioning your mic differently can help reduce unwanted noise and echo.

Tips for High-Quality Vocal Recordings

  • Mic Positioning: Where you place your mic impacts how it picks up sound. Aim for 6-12 inches away from the singer’s mouth; too close could lead to distortion or boomy low-end (known as proximity effect), while being too far may capture more room noise than desired.
  • Pop Filter: Plosive sounds (like ‘P’ or ‘B’) create sudden air pressure causing pops on mics – not cool. Using a pop filter helps prevent this problem.
  • Vocal Warm-Up: Just as athletes warm-up before hitting their stride, singers should warm up their vocal cords before recording. This helps ensure the best performance and prevents straining.

The Payoff of Quality Recordings

So why does this matter? 

A high-quality recording is easier to mix, leading to a more professional end product. You’ll save yourself a bunch of time by avoiding having to fix problems that could have been prevented in the recording process.

great moments, rather than trying to make something out of nothing. Trust me, it’s a far more rewarding use of your time and energy.

Key Takeaway: 

Quality matters when it comes to vocal recordings – clear sound from the start saves you time in mixing and mastering. Invest in good gear, pay attention to room acoustics, and position your mic well for top-notch results. Also, don’t forget warm-ups before recording for a more professional end product.

Vocal Editing and Tuning

Picture this: You’ve recorded a killer vocal track. It’s got soul, it’s got emotion… but it also has some unwanted noise, breaths, and pops. Let’s fix that.

Cleaning up your vocals is like tidying up your room before guests arrive; you want to make the best impression possible. With a noise reduction plugin, such as the Audio Editor in FL Studio, we can eliminate those pesky sounds that aren’t part of our star performance.

The Art of Breath Control

With that said, breaths give life to vocal performances, so we don’t want to get rid of them completely.

However, they can sometimes be intrusive if too loud or misplaced. Don’t panic. A simple solution is using volume automation or gain automation to manually reduce the level of distracting breaths on vocal clips.

Pops – The Unwanted Guests

We’ve all experienced plosives (or ‘pops’), those annoying bursts of air hitting the microphone when pronouncing words with ‘P’ or ‘B’. Rather than letting them crash your mix party, use a high-pass filter at around 100Hz on an equalizer to show them out gently without disturbing other elements in your song.

Tuning Up To Tune In

Now let’s talk pitch correction: less autotune T-Pain style and more subtle sweetening. Programs like Melodyne allow you to perform small pitch adjustments so off-notes don’t stick out like sore thumbs in an otherwise smooth performance. 

However, if you only want to use stock plugins, check out our video, How to Tune Vocals Like a Pro.

Let’s Get In Sync

Timing is everything, especially in music. Vocals need to be rhythmically aligned with the instrumental track for that tight, professional sound. You can achieve this through quantization or manual editing.

PRO TIP: Recording multiple takes and piecing the best parts of those takes together using vocal comping can help you get the best lead vocal sound.

Key Takeaway: 

Master the Mix: Imagine recording a killer vocal track. It’s got heart, it’s packed with feeling… but it also has unwanted noise and pops. Don’t worry. Tidy up your vocals like you would before guests arrive – use noise reduction plugins to clean out those unwelcome sounds.

Breathe Easy

Let’s talk about how we can all take a deep breath and relax. It’s easier said than done, right? But with the right techniques and some practice, you’ll be able to master it in no time. So why wait? Start now.

Utilizing Equalization (EQ) Effectively

The heart of mixing vocals lies in the artful use of EQ. You’re like a sculptor, but your clay is the frequency spectrum. And your tool? That’s EQ.

I like to think of EQ in two steps:

  • Subtractive EQ – Getting rid of frequencies I don’t like
  • Tonal EQ – Adding frequencies that sound good

Finding the Vocal Sweet Spot

To make vocals shine, you need to find their sweet spot within the frequency spectrum. This area typically sits between 1 kHz and 4 kHz – it’s where human ears are most sensitive to sounds.

Sweep around with a narrow boost on a spectrum analyzer until you find frequencies that bring out character and clarity in your vocal sound. Once found, apply moderate boosts here.

Cutting Muddy Frequencies

Muddiness often lurks below 300 Hz, obscuring our golden tones from shining through. So let’s get rid of it. Use a high-pass filter (HPF) set at around 100 Hz or even higher if necessary to remove these unwanted low-end elements.

This technique not only clears up muddiness but also makes more room for other mix elements like kick drums and basslines which generally live down there too.

Taming Harshness

A vocal can be harsh if certain frequencies become overly dominant – usually somewhere between 2 kHz and 6 kHz. To tame this beast without losing detail or presence, try some surgical cutting using an equalizer with narrow Q settings.

You might think we’ve just reversed what we did when finding our sweet spot earlier – But trust me: each song has its own unique demands so sometimes tough decisions have to be made.

Boosting Airy Highs

For a polished, professional sound, consider applying a gentle high-shelf boost above 10 kHz. This gives your vocals an airy and bright feel – like the difference between stale bread and a fresh baguette straight from the oven.

Key Takeaway: 

Getting a handle on EQ is key to mixing vocals like an expert. Look for the sweet spot in your vocals, often found between 1 kHz and 4 kHz, to bring out their true character and clarity. Combat muddiness by reducing frequencies below 300 Hz using a high-pass filter. You can control harshness within the range of 2kHz-6kHz with an equalizer set at narrow Q settings.

Harnessing the Power of Compression

Imagine your vocals as a rambunctious kid. Sometimes they’re too loud, sometimes too quiet. That’s where compression steps in. It can help tame those wild peaks and boost softer parts to make sure your vocals sit perfectly in the mix, after proper gain staging.

Understanding Vocal Compression

Vocal compression isn’t about squashing your sound until it gasps for breath; rather, it helps control dynamic range – the difference between the loudest and softest parts of a track. Too much variation can leave listeners straining their ears one moment and wincing the next.

Sound on Sound’s easy guide to understanding compression is an excellent resource if you need more details.

The Magic Ratio: Attack and Release Settings

The attack setting controls how quickly the compressor responds when volume exceeds threshold level while release determines how soon after falling below this level that normal volume resumes. Think of them as ‘start’ and ‘stop’ buttons for controlling loudness.

This might feel akin to juggling chainsaws at first but don’t worry. Just remember these basic rules: fast attack times clamp down quickly on loud sounds (goodbye heavy plosives), while slower release times give a more natural sound by allowing some dynamics back into play.

Finding The Sweet Spot With Threshold And Ratio

Your compressor’s threshold sets off its action once signal surpasses this limit. Lower thresholds mean more compressions happening, hence quieter output overall whereas higher ones let louder signals pass through before clamping down – so more dynamic but less controlled.

Ratio is the severity of compression once threshold’s exceeded. A ratio of 3:1, for example, means that for every three decibels above the threshold only one gets out. It’s like having a strict teacher who won’t let you talk unless your comment is really worthwhile.

For a more in-depth look at compression, check out our article: How To Use a Compressor Like a Pro.

PRO TIP: Using volume automation before your compressor can smooth out the dynamics in your vocals so your compressor doesn’t have to work as hard.

Key Takeaway: 

Vocal compression is like an audio babysitter, it tames wild peaks and boosts softer parts to create the perfect mix. It’s not about squashing your sound; rather, it’s about controlling its dynamic range. Mastering attack and release settings can feel like juggling initially, but they are key in effectively managing loudness. Keep in mind that lower thresholds will result in quieter output while higher ones offer more volume.

Making Use of Reverb and Delay

When you’re mixing vocals, reverb and delay are your best friends. They add depth to the sound, creating a sense of space that makes the vocals feel part of the mix rather than sitting on top.

The Magic Behind Reverb

Reverb is like salt in cooking – it enhances flavor but can ruin everything if overused. It’s all about balance. You want just enough to give a sense of space without making your track sound like it was recorded in an empty cathedral (unless that’s what you’re going for).

To help with this balancing act, try using a pre-delay setting. This lets your vocal cut through before the reverb kicks in, giving clarity while still adding depth.

If reverb is salt, then delay is pepper – spicy yet delicate. Delay repeats certain parts of your vocal line at specific intervals, producing an echo effect. Used well, it gives life and energy to your tracks.

A handy trick here is to sync up the timing or tempo of your delays with the rhythm section—this keeps things coherent so they don’t descend into sonic chaos.

You might find this beginner’s guide helpful, which covers how different settings affect how these echoes behave.

Duo That Does Wonders: Combining Reverb and Delay

Using reverb and delay together can produce some pretty amazing results. Imagine a choir in a cathedral or the echoes of an intimate gig at your favorite small venue.

The trick is to use them sparingly and make sure they’re working towards the same goal – making those vocals shine.

Tailoring Your Sound with Plugins

Key Takeaway: 

Spice Up Your Vocals: Mix vocals with a pinch of reverb and delay. Reverb, like salt in cooking, adds depth without overpowering. Pre-delay helps balance it out. Delay is the spicy pepper – creating echoes that energize your tracks when synced to rhythm.

Magic Combo: Make sure to use this effectively.

Experimenting with Panning

Panning is like a secret sauce in the world of modern mixing. 

But what exactly is panning, you ask? 

Imagine standing in front of an orchestra and hearing different instruments coming from various directions – that’s essentially what panning does for your mix.

To put it simply, panning allows you to position sounds within the stereo field. You know how some songs seem to play guitar riffs right into one ear and drum beats into another? That’s good old-fashioned panning at work.

The Power of Panning: Balance and Space

In essence, experimenting with panning helps create balance across all channels. A well-panned track ensures no two elements are fighting for space or drowning each other out.

You’ve got control over where every sound originates – left speaker, right speaker or anywhere in between. The trick lies not just in understanding this power but also knowing when and how much to use it.

Tips for Effective Vocal Pans

  • Don’t be afraid. Experimentation leads to perfection so feel free to pan your vocals around until they sit perfectly with the rest of the track.
  • If you’re working on background vocals or harmonies, try pushing them further out towards the sides. This gives room for lead vocals smack dab in center stage (unless you’re going avant-garde).
  • Use automation to move sounds around during the song. This can create a dynamic and immersive listening experience.

Panning Pitfalls: Watch Your Step.

No one likes their music sounding like it’s coming from two different rooms, right? Over-panning or panning without purpose could lead you down that road.

Always remember, just because you can pan doesn’t mean you should go all out every time. Use this tool wisely – make sure your mix benefits from each pan decision you take.

Key Takeaway: 

Unleash the magic of panning in your music mix. It lets you position sounds, creating a balance across all channels. Experiment with vocal pans and automation for dynamic soundscapes but remember – over-panning can backfire. Use Mix Elite to make wise pan decisions for that perfect sound every time.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Mixing Vocals

Mixing vocals is an art form that, if not handled with care, can quickly become a disaster. There are common pitfalls that many fall into when starting out. But don’t fret. With some help and guidance, you’ll be avoiding these mistakes in no time.

Relying Too Much on Auto-Tune

Auto-tune might seem like the easy fix for off-key vocals, but using it too much can make your track sound robotic and unnatural. While tools like Antares’ Auto-Tune Pro offer amazing pitch correction features, they should be used sparingly to maintain the singer’s natural tone.

Neglecting Room Noise Removal

No matter how good your recording equipment is, unwanted room noise will sneak into your vocal tracks. This ambient noise distracts from the clarity of your mix. Using a plugin such as Waves NS1 Noise Suppressor, helps clean up those pesky sounds.

Oversaturating with Effects

Sure, reverb makes everything sound bigger and delay adds depth; however excessive use of effects drowns out lyrics and confuses listeners. The rule here: less is more.

Failing to EQ Correctly

Ineffective equalization (EQ) results in muddy or thin sounding vocals which stick out awkwardly from the rest of the track. Remember – every voice has its unique frequencies that need highlighting or reducing. Use an EQ plugin, like FabFilter Pro-Q 3, to help sculpt the perfect tone.

Overcompressing Vocals

Compression is key in maintaining a balance. It works wonders when we need to manage large files or keep our storage space in check.

Wrapping It Up – How To Mix Vocals Like a Pro

You’ve made it to the end of our journey through vocal mixing, but remember this is just a start. You possess the necessary abilities and comprehension to craft your own personal sonic signature, but how you employ them is what will set it apart.

Mixing vocals can feel like taming an unruly beast at times. But with patience, practice, and the right tools from Mix Elite, that beast becomes more like a house pet.

Your Journey Awaits

We hope these tips will help guide you on your path to becoming a master mixer. Remember that no two mixes are ever alike because each one carries its own mood, vibe, or emotion. So experiment freely.

Sure there might be bumps along the way; maybe an occasional pop or crackle here and there…but don’t sweat it. Just see them as learning opportunities for refining your craft even further. Mix Elite’s vocal mixing resources are always available to assist if you hit any snags during the production process.

Come Join Us On This Adventure.

If we’ve piqued your interest (which we hope we have), why not join us on this exciting adventure of sound exploration? Sign up for Mix Elite and get access to a world of resources designed to help you mix like a pro.

We offer over 320+ in-depth lessons packed with the best vocal mixing tips, mixing techniques, and practices from professional music producers, practical resources like top-tier sample packs, and student discounts of up to 50% off on thousands of plugins. As a member, you’ll even gain access to our private community of students and professionals alike – an invaluable network for getting feedback, finding inspiration, or just discussing that latest parametric compressor plugin that’s got everyone buzzing.