Ask David Glenn — Ep. 4: Fixing Closet Vocals


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This is episode number four on how we’re going to deal with poorly recorded vocals, but before we jump in…

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David: Alright, today’s question comes from Michael Chalarksky.

Michael writes in, “Thanks David for all of the great content. Really learning a lot from it. Question, have you recorded any tips or tricks on how to make a below average vocal sound as good as possible? Some of the work I see, the vocals are either not recorded that great – bad room or technique – or the singer is not that strong. I was wondering what steps an individual might take to get the best possible mix from this challenging situation, other than re-recording them?”

Well, it’s a great question, and unfortunately, it’s something that a lot of us have to deal with more than we’d like.

And actually, recently, I put my friend Joey from The Mix Academy web show in the hot seat during one of the shows, and I gave him a scenario dealing with a closet vocal, and being a phenomenal recording engineer, and a stubborn, stubborn man, his answer was pretty much to re-record it.

However, we’re not always able to do that, so when I saw your question, I thought it would be a great podcast question, and I’m going to share some thoughts similar to what I shared on the web show, but some new ones as well.

Before I begin mixing anything, I like to listen to the track, and picture the end result. It could be the artist’s rough mix from the producer or the client, or if they haven’t given me one, then I’m going to push a rough mix together from what they’ve given me. I’m going to pull out my phone, and I use a free app on my phone called “WonderList.” It’s free in the App Store, it’s also available for Android.

Then I make a list of the good and the bad. What I’m hearing. I kind of sort of do a concept map, if you will, where I establish my plan of attack. Sometimes I use the rough, like I said, sometimes I use my own. I have to push it up. But I take my notes and go from there.

If I notice that the vocal has a closet vocal sound, or closet vocal syndrome, then there are a few techniques that we can use to deal with it. You’re probably not ever, ever going to get rid of a closet vocal sound completely. But hopefully, these tips will help you out to make it a little bit better.

So number one. A common technique is to use an EQ that allows us to tighten the Q so we can hunt down annoying room resonances and pull them out. You can boost around 300Hz all the way up to 2kHz. Start hunting for them. You may find three or four of them, and you can pull those back a few dB. You may want to completely notch them out. It just depends on how bad the vocal is you’re dealing with.

The problem I have with this technique is you end up losing a lot of the vocal sound, which isn’t cool. It’s usually in the mid-range, which is kind of the meat and potatoes of the vocal.

So not the best, but in combination with some of the other techniques I’m going to show you, it could be a good way to go.

Number two is the SPL Deverb plug-in, or the SPL Transient Designer. I’m going to recommend you pull back some sustain. You’ve got to be careful. This is a great option, but if you pull back too much, the vocal is going to start sounding really weird, and not pleasant.

Number three is the iZotope Alloy 2, because it has a multi-band transient designer, and it’s the same concept, except here, you’re going to be able to go on the hunt, find – say it’s like, 700Hz to 2kHz, and you can zone in on that frequency range, and pull back sustain for just that range. It’s going to be a little bit more natural sounding, and then sometimes you can actually get away with boosting some of that 200-400 range and filling out the vocal a little bit so it doesn’t seem like it’s missing as much. It’s not great, but it may help you sound a little bit better.

In addition to that, my recommendation is to not smash the vocal. Don’t use as much compression. Try riding the vocal more, or if you’re on Pro Tools, automate the clip gain. It could be a great way to save a closet vocal sound.

Then number five, I want to give a shout out to my man John Titey***. I think it was him who first mentioned the iZotope RX 4 bundle in one of the Facebook groups.

I don’t personally own this yet, but I’ve heard amazing things from people I trust, and it may be exactly what you need. Especially if you’re dealing with this problem from a lot of your clients. It could be a worthwhile investment.

iZotope has a free 10 day trial on their website. If you’re interested in test driving it for yourself, shout out to John again. I appreciate him looking out in the forums.

Number six – sorry, man. The hi-fi vocal sound may not work, but with all of the cool plug-ins out there to make things sound different, we’ve got a ton of options to throw some cool effects on the vocals to make it fit the track without the quote, unquote, “closet vocal sound” become distracting.

Guitar amps, crazy EQs, saturation based effects, like FabFilter Saturn, SansAmp, Plug-N-Mix has got a ton of different things. Go to Analoger INTO a guitar amp. I think they even have three or four guitar amps. Extremely affordable options. There are so many different ways that we can deal with a messy vocal sound, give it character, help it fit the situation.

But in closing, remember, I didn’t say to jump in and mix the drums, and then the bass, and then the music, and build this awesome, big, modern sounding track, to then eventually get to the vocal and put it on the back burner. You’re going to absolutely destroy the mix if you try to wait until the end and procrastinate on dealing with a closet vocal sound, and the reason is, if you build this big awesome sounding music bed, and then you try to pop a closet vocal, or even a filtered vocal on top, they’re just not going to play together very often. So it’s going to sound very out of whack, and it’s not going to work.

Instead, establish your plan of attack before hand, because then you can make decisions with the drums, the bass, keys, guitars, etcetera that will work well with the poorly recorded vocal. In a situation like that, I would almost recommend mixing the vocal first, establishing that vocal sound, and then building the song around that so that things can sound more cohesive in the end.

Now, I said a lot, and I said it quickly, but I wanted to try to layout a foundation for you when dealing with a closet vocal sound, or a poorly recorded vocal, and probably would be worthwhile for me to do some tutorials to demonstrate some of those techniques, so we’ll keep that in mind.

But thanks again Michael for the question. If you want to have your question answered on the Ask David Glenn Podcast, shoot me an e-mail to, with the subject line, “Ask David Glenn.”

Also, you can head to, and you can shoot me your voicemail straight from the website, and I can include that in the Podcast.

So thanks again for checking it out! I appreciate you. Have a great one, and I’ll catch you in the next episode of the Ask David Glenn Podcast.

David Glenn

David Glenn

David Glenn is a producer/engineer/musician based out of Orlando, FL. Credits include: Pablo Villatoro, Blanca Callahan (Group 1 Crew), Aimee Allen, and more. Learn more and get in touch at
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