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5 Quick Vocal Mixing Tricks

Hello, hope you’re doing marvelously well. We’re going to do five vocal mixing tips. Please, as ever, subscribe, hit the notifications bell, and you’ll be notified when we have a new video up.

Okay, so let’s get started. Tip number one is saturation.

Saturation I love because it emulates what a console used to do, and what analog used to do in general, which is basically add a lot of harmonics, a lot of distortion, a lot of things that made the signal feel fatter. Made the vocal feel bigger, make it more exciting.

The wonderful thing about digital is everything is perfectly clean, the worst thing about digital is everything is perfectly clean. So.

As you can see, I’ve created a specific vocal sub here that’s got a Lo-Fi plugin on it. This is what comes free with Pro Tools. You can use any kind of saturation you’d like, but I’m going to use this, because like I said, it comes free. What I like about this specific plugin is it has a distortion control and a saturation control, which could be considered to be the same thing, but if you listen to the distortion here…


If I turn up the saturation, it’s dark.

[vocals, adjusting saturation]

So somewhere in the middle is a good balance.


I kind of like that. Now underneath here, where it says lead vocal sub, I have the lead vocal being compressed and EQ’d, et cetera in a much cleaner way. Let’s put the two together.

[lead vocal]

Now I’m going to mute here, and we’re going to listen to it without.

[lead vocal]

Now I’ll put it in.

Off. Probably a little too much.

So it’s quite a nice little technique to just kind of give it a little bit more edge. I’m inclined to go for a little more distortion, a little less saturation like this. And listen to it again.


Now clean, it sounds fantastic.


You put on this saturation, it makes it just a little bit edgier.

[mix, with saturation]

It also evens it out a little bit, because of course, all of the transients now are being squashed together a little bit more. That’s the great thing about using saturation and distortion.

Okay, next up is slap delay.

Okay, so let’s create a new channel. I’m going to do it in mono. You can do it in stereo, but I’m just going to do it in mono.

We’ll call it of course, “Slap delay.” And I’m not going to — I’m going to find something simple and generic that you’ll have. So if we go for the short delay here… which comes standard in Pro Tools. So whatever your DAW is, I’m sure there’s a standard short delay you could use.

This is already set to 23 milliseconds. It’s set to 50%, but I’m going to make it 100% effect. So we’ll set the input to 29, come out here, and I’m doing this very slowly to illustrate it, but you know, a lot of people are always telling me that they do it much faster on their DAW, so I totally understand.

Okay, here we go.

[adjusting delay volume]

So there’s no feedbacks, there’s just one delay, and it’s very close.

[vocals, then full mix]

It’s a nice effect. Now, I can go for a longer delay time. Maybe go up — let’s just go up to maximum, which is 38 milliseconds.

A little bit of feedback. With the distortion.

Take them both off. So it just adds some interesting effect to it. It definitely makes it feel a little bit more rock and roll, a little less Pop. A little bit more indie, because this is an indie Pop band. Also what we can do of course, is we could actually put distortion with that. So we get this.


So that’s the delayed, distorted sound. Saturated slap delay. Now, there’s tape delays on the market. There’s the Kramer tape that we all know and love, there’s — Slate makes them, a lot of people…

Last week we talked about the new McDSP delay. There’s lots of ones you can use to get great ones. I just went to that because it’s free with Pro Tools, so just to prove to you that you can use free plugins with your DAWs.

Okay. Next up is the lower octave. This is the one that usually scares people. So let’s scare some people. Okay, so what am I doing with the lower octave? This is going to terrify you. Here we go.

[octave vocal]

What is he doing! Hear it again!

[octave vocal]


Yeah. Okay, so again, generic, comes free with your DAW. One octave down, set to 100% mix. Again, on an auxiliary. You can see, I’ve gone -12 semitones, or minus 8va there. One octave down.

I’ve got a gate in here, which is just cutting off esses and breaths. I don’t need octaves of them. Esses and breaths do not need octaves.

[octave vocal]

Cool. So — and then last, but no means least, I’m rolling off the high end. I do not need the high end in it. This is just to add warmth to the vocal. Add some body to it. It’s a girl singer, and I’m trying to give us some… You know? Obviously, it’s ridiculously loud if I just bring it in with the main vocal sub…

[vocals with octave]

It sounds terrible.

In the track…

Put a little distortion. Delay.

All of these together and this kind of load is definitely not like a Pop vocal, but it’s taking a song like this, which is pretty much a Pop song, and making it a bit more indie. A bit more alternative.


You can see all of these things are really, really super fun. I give you loads of different things and ways of making your vocal sound more interesting.

Okay, so here’s a tip that I do all of the time. This one, mastering engineers do this when they’re mastering tracks. You boost the high end, then control it with de-essers. So here’s my main vocal sub that I’ve highlighted. I’ve got a de-esser.

[vocals with de-esser]

This is barely doing anything on this section, because she’s not wailing. It’s set very subtly. Then I’ve got an EQ. I’ve got a low pass. But here’s the secret. Here I’ve got some high boost EQ going on.

[vocals with EQ]

I’ll turn it off. It gets a little duller.

Here’s the secret. There’s a de-esser. See, the de-esser is coming in there. I’ve got an R-EQ, an EQ, going into a de-esser. So I’m brightening the whole vocal, but then I’m de-essing it so that it doesn’t just exaggerate the esses, because of course, there’s certain sounds like, [emulates esses] and consonants, [ticking noise] are going to be really exaggerate by brightening that.

So it’s a great way to take a vocal, brighten it, then control it with de-essing. I do it all the time. And like I said, mastering engineers do it a lot, but they do it in gradual amounts.

So let’s repeat that same move. So I’m going to duplicate that R-EQ over here.


Definitely brighten the whole vocal, then let’s take the de-esser, you guessed it.

[vocals, processed]

So now, the whole vocal feels more airy, more bright, but the esses and the t’s aren’t exaggerated. So it’s gradual amounts. Boosting the high end, controlling of the de-esser, boosting the high end again, controlling with a de-esser. It’s a great trick and it will get your vocal brighter without it sounding harsh.

Let’s have a listen in the track with everything on.


See what I mean? It’s making it indie. It’s a very pop melody, but now it’s, you know, just a little bit edgier, a bit more exciting, a bit more you can imagine on Sirius Alt Nation or one of those kind of radio stations.

So tip number five, don’t be afraid to use different effects in different parts of the song.

So very, very often, I’ll have multiple reverbs and delays, et cetera going on. So let’s talk about here. I’ve got a tiled room.

[vocals with reverb]

And that’s just a 0.65 of a second.

And that’s featured more heavily there. When I get to the chorus, I’ve got this that we created recently, which is a Crystallizer delay going into, which is like, 50%, because it’s part delay, part clean going into an AIR Reverb, and the reverb room size is pretty big. It’s like, two seconds. So a lot — significantly bigger.


Why is that? Because in this section here, listen.


It’s super, super dense. There’s a lot of stuff going on there, so when it comes to reverbs, and delays, and all kinds of other stuff, don’t be afraid to use different reverbs and different delays in different sections in different amounts.

Many, many mixers I know, in fact, pretty much everybody uses at least two or three reverbs at once, and they’ll just blend them to taste. Two or three delays. I mean, you can get away with one delay and one reverb if you’re doing like a 50’s kind of Rockabilly sound. Maybe you’ll want something like a slap vocal that’s super loud, and that’s fine, but if you want to have choice, then — and the ability to kind of push the feel of the song in different ways and manipulate it in different ways, don’t be afraid to have multiple effects going on.

I have a third reverb here, for instance. Might as well just talk about, which is the D-verb, which is set to 4.5 seconds, which is huge. And that cranks in the chorus. Here we go.


Yeah, I mean that’s — that there really illustrates how big you can make it here, so don’t be afraid to use multiple different effects and just blend them on your vocals. Hopefully that all helps. Have a marvelous time recording and mixing. This song is actually one I did in a course with Bob Horn, so you can check out that course if you’d like. There’ll be a link below.

Of course, please go to, sign up for the email list, and you get a whole bunch of free goodies, which include drum samples, free videos, tons of multitracks, and there’s an amazing community in there.

Have a marvelous time recording and mixing, and I’ll see you all again very, very soon!


Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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