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Mixing Modern Pop Vocals

Transcript
Hello, it’s Warren Huart. Hope you’re doing marvelously well. This is the last in our Stay New mix series, so if you haven’t already, download the files here, and of course, if you haven’t already, go back and check out the drums, bass, keyboard, and guitar videos. Check them out, and this is the last one on the vocals.

Now, you’re going to be able to download the files, you can mix the song, you can copy what I’m doing, you can do whatever you like. This is just a guide of how I mixed the song originally. I did a lot less kind of EQ and compression than I would on other songs. It felt like the perfect song to kind of give you guys the opportunity to carve it up and have some more fun with it.

Now, if you watch the bass one, you’ll notice that the bass was kind of very rough and thrown together, and very bratty, and needed a lot of work to kind of get it evenly done. It wasn’t recorded the best, and I recorded it. I played it and it’s bratty. It’s because it’s an idea that came out during the writing part, and that happens a lot.

You’re writing a song, you start performing it, you may not have the best sound, but you know, you’re like me, you’re the producer, the engineer, the mixer, and the song writer, you know, or the singer, and doing all of that. I’m wearing all of those hats, and sometimes, something suffers, and in that case, it wasn’t the greatest bass recording, so we ended up doing a lot of multiband compression, and just kind of even out some of those lows that were all out of control.

Now in the vocals, it’s essentially the scratch vocal and a couple of more vocals comped into it. This is pretty much Lily’s — you know, rough vocal that we embellished and made great.

So why do I bring that up? Well two things. It’s incredibly dynamic. I don’t personally print this dynamic. I usually print a lot bigger, fatter tones, so if we move over to the vocal now, you’re going to see, by my standards, these are really, really dynamic. I mean, look at that sticking out there. Listen to it. It’s compressed so you’re not going to hear so much of the issue.

[vocals]

But it’s a lot more dynamic. I tend to compress heavier going in than most modern guys do, purely and simply because I grew up — you know, recording things directly to tape, and A, you had tape compression, you know, you could hit it harder and all of this kind of stuff, but I got very used to being able to pull stuff up on the faders, and it sounding like the record. A lot of the records that we love, that we grew up on are recorded the way — pretty much close to the way we wanted to hear them, which is also true of the keys that I gave you guys earlier.

So what did I do on the vocal? So, a lot of it is the tricks that you normally see me do, so if you’ve ever watched my vocal — if you’ve ever watched my vocal mixing video, you’ll see the different things that I do, so this is going to adopt a lot of those.

[vocals]

I mean, it’s a great vocal there.

[vocals, then mix]

So what we’ve got is we’ve got an overlap here between the two vocals, so the vocals are on separate takes.

[vocals]

Now, you’ll hear, there’s a whole bunch of crazy things going on, so firstly, the lead vocal, the first lead vocal here has all of the usual tricks that I like to do, so let’s check it out.

So firstly, I actually used two compressors initially on the vocal.

[vocal with Waves R-Comp]

So I’ve got the R-Comp on there, the Renaissance Compressor — the Waves Renaissance Compressor on there first before putting the R-Vox on. Now, normally, I just use the R-Vox directly on the vocal after I’ve recorded it, but as I said at the beginning of this video, I didn’t give it as much compression as I normally would.

However, I like what the R-Comp does. The Renaissance Compressor does.

[vocals]

It kind of gives this, [miming vocal attack]. It’s the way the attack comes through, it makes it a little — in SSL, we’d say spanky. It’s a little “pah” sound, and it gives her a little bit of aggression.

[vocals]

Listen here.

You hear that [miming vocal attack]. I like it. It’s definitely the sound of a compressor working, but it’s a trick that I like. If I put it back into the track, listen to that phrase.

[mix]

It just kind of spanks out. [laughs] Anyway, so that’s the R-Comp, and that’s going into the good old R-Vox.

[mix]

And that’s evening it out. So now, we’ve got a nice, even sounding vocal.

Okay, so both of this lead vocal and the overlap vocal go into a vocal sub. Right. So both of them going in there means that they get hit the same way, they get EQ’d, compressed, etcetera. So what are we doing?

Well, the first thing I’ve got is the trim on there.

[mix]

I’m just controlling how loud that goes to my first plugin, and I didn’t want to hit it too hard, so I just pulled down a little bit.

[mix]

And all I’ve got is a bit of top end boost. You can take it off…

[vocals]

A little darker. Back on.

So I’m just adding a little tiny bit of air on it. Not a lot, just a little bit.

De-esser.

[vocals with de-esser]

You’re seeing it coming in on the ess there.

[vocals with de-esser]

And that’s just under 6kHz. Kind of a painful area for your ears, if it happened to be too loud.

After that, another R-EQ, and you’re going to ask me, why do I do what I do? Well… [laughs] I will always do multiple sets of EQ and compression. I would rather build it like that. I don’t like to go back steps. If I like something and then I listen to it in a mix, and this happens all the time, when you look at my mixes or you break down my mixes, you’ll see — and everybody I know, you’ll see multiple plugins on it, and some of them have got a lot of movements, and some have got one or two, and sometimes you see doubling up of frequencies. Sometimes you see boosting and cutting at different areas.

The point is that when you’ve built a mix together and you’ve got four or five elements that you love, you may well want to cut some things. You don’t go to the very first EQ that you’ve done, because that affects how that signal goes into a de-esser, how it goes into a compressor, whatever.

Now in this instance, I could do that roll off before then, because it’s — you know, it would be quite possible, but it has a different sound. I like the McDSP EQs because they sound more analog, whatever that means, we can have a five hour discussion on that if you’d like, but I like the way the McDSP sounds for that.

The Waves I tend to use to do — you know, a little bit more surgical things. There are great surgical things out there, such as the FabFilter stuff, which people love. I’m just — you know, I’m tied to knowing what I do with that, so I like it.

So after that is the R-Comp.

[vocals]

So that’s just giving me even more compression. It’s just pulling that vocal forward. Like I said, this is a very dynamic vocal for me, which is great. Even more R-Vox. Believe it or not.

[vocals]

Okay, it’s only giving us like one or two dBs worth of gain reduction, and it’s giving us a little bit.

The sound characteristics between the Renaissance Vox and the Renaissance Compressor are drastic. The R-Comp, the Renaissance Compressor, tends to be a little bit more aggressive, it can give you these great kind of attacks, and the R-Comp is very, very fat and warm sounding. What it tends to do — sometimes it sounds too muddy if you only use it on its own. I find if I take a vocal that doesn’t have any kind of compression on it, I can show you quickly so you understand what I’m talking about.

Here is the R-Vox.

[vocals with R-Vox]

And here is just the R-Comp.

[vocals with R-Comp]

Now obviously, there’s a slight volume difference, but you can hear how much warmer that R-Vox sounds.

[vocals with R-Vox]

It seems to be really reinforcing some of those low mids.

So it can get a little stodgy, so I don’t usually use it on its own, but you know, there’s a lot of talk about this, and it’s very important. Compressors, you know, unless they’re specifically designed to be totally transparent and not color it at all, I’ll always get a color, and the R-Vox does tend to — I like it, but it tends to make it feel a little bit stodgy and fatter, which can be really useful, or too much.

Okay, so after the R-Vox, talking of that, there’s a little bit more low roll off. High pass.

[vocals]

And to brine it a little bit more, a little more 7kHz and up.

[vocals]

Followed by a little de-esser, and you see it coming in again there.

[vocals]

I will do that a lot. I’ll do EQ, compression, you know, EQ into compression a lot, and then I’ll run de-essers before, after, just because when you’re boosting something, you might want the whole thing to feel like it has air around it, but at the same time as having air around it, you know, you might want that — you know, you’re going to bring up the esses, to you run a de-esser where it gets too excessive, but it won’t touch the rest of the kind of air around that lead vocal.

So you’ll see me do a lot of EQ and de-essing after each other. I talk about it all the time, so I’m sorry if I’ve repeated myself in fifteen videos on the vocals, but it’s very, very common. You know, my good friend, Phil Allen, we were just at his place the other day, talking, you know, doing a mix there, and we’ve filmed it. He and I are cut from the same cloth, he does the same thing. Multiple plugins doing different moves and stuff like that.

I find that — you know, it’s the relationship between compression into EQ and de-essing, if you balance it, it takes nanoseconds to do. It’s not like a science, but you’re going to want to brighten it, but then you’re going to want a de-esser across it so it doesn’t just excessively boost the esses, it allows the whole vocal to feel like it’s got air over it.

Okay, so what are the next most important things? Well, effects wise, you can see everything I’ve got going on here. If we come out… Go just into volume view. So I’ve got very low vocals in the verses here.

[vocals]

So you can see, simply what’s happened there is I’ve got the verses.

[vocals]

And then…

[vocals, heavy delay and reverb]

Everything comes up. The reverb comes up, the delays come up, just to fit in that. But you can hear soloed how dramatic it is.

[vocals]

Okay, so there’s a bunch of fun things happening. Okay, so let’s mute those for a second.

[vocals, then filtered vocals]

Okay, so this is the first — we’ll jump down here, the vocal octave. I’ve got a pitch where I’m pitching it one full octave below.

[octave vocal]

It sounds insane on its own. It’s super quiet, hopefully you can hear it. I’ve got it just slightly under the vocal, but it does give the vocal just a little bit more thickness.

[vocal]

I mean, I hear that clear as mud, but I don’t know if anybody else can.

[vocals]

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What I’ll do is I’ll take it off. Here’s off.

[vocals, no octave]

Put it on.

[vocals with octave]

It’s a trick I like to do. I don’t know many other people that do it, but I do it because I like being able to thicken up the vocal, and it can always thin out afterwards.

There is a gate on it, just making sure that it doesn’t — you know, if she goes, “Must be from another world,” maybe she would just sigh. I don’t want to hear an octave sigh at the end of the breath, so I tend to gate just aggressively enough that once she stops singing, there’s no tail end of octave blending on. You’ll see the gate working.

[vocals]

It doesn’t catch that breath. See the breath?

[vocals]

So it wasn’t until she actually hit a word, so it’s just set just enough to not catch the breaths, otherwise the breaths would go, “wooo,” and have this low octave, which would be quite silly.

Okay, so next up is an R-EQ, just wiping off the top end, so I’m just hearing the low octave. Simple as that.

Okay, so that’s that. Now, the next one up that’s fun is the vocal distortion.

[vocal distortion]

And you can really just hear what it’s doing. I’ll take the next section, which is a little longer, and it’s blended low, but look, you can hear it.

[vocal distortion]

So I’m de-essing it quite aggressively.

[vocal distortion, de-essed]

An R-Vox. An R-EQ. Another de-esser.

So what does that all do? Well, all of that goes into the Lo-Fi here, which is set with quite a lot of distortion, it’s just not loud.

[vocal, distorted]

There it is. So there, you can hear it.

[vocal, distorted]

Now, that could be louder. I just don’t need it louder. I mean, I like to use distortion, saturation, quite often on a vocal, and all of these tricks, the thing that’s important to remember about them is like, often, I’ll just use these different tricks, and then I’ll blend them the way I want to hear them depending on the vocal.

So I like the vocal octave, because on a girl’s voice, sometimes it just adds in a little bit of girth underneath. I use it on guys quite often. It’s really nice on thinner areas just to kind of give them some width. And you know obviously doubling and trebling, doubling vocals in high falsettos is quite common, but you’d be surprised what you can get away with a bit of strategic work like this.

Okay, so that’s all of the crazy elements. Next up is the verb, and the verb — all it is is I’m using MV2, so I’m just controlling the level going in.

[vocals with verb]

And I’m using just a good old fashioned D-Verb. Stock Avid plugins.

[vocals with verb]

And I’m also controlling another MV2. I just want that reverb to just kind of hang there, so I’m compressing the vocal going in, so it’s nice and big and fat, and then that reverb, I’m just compressing it again so it doesn’t sort of feel like it’s decaying quite so fast. I’m just sort of like, making it hang there, squashes the initial attack of the vocal…

[vocals with verb]

So it’s nice, and you can sidechain as well, you could have some really serious fun with that. We can talk about that in other videos. I think we have, but — and then there’s a trim on it, just literally just pushing the level up. I kept on turning it up and up and up, and because I automated them altogether, it’s easier to just put a trim on there and control it independently.

Okay, next up is a reverb I tend to favor a little bit more in the verses, and it’s a tiled room. So if we go to the verses, it’s — here’s the verb here.

[vocals with tile verb]

Really super quiet at the moment. Let’s go to that section here.

[vocals with tile verb]

So I have it in there. I don’t always feature it. Sometimes, in the verses, it’s usually my verse reverb to have a smaller, tighter reverb, and then go to the big, big reverb on the choruses.

So again, reverb, just an RV — MV2 over it, just to control it a little bit.

[vocals]

Trim again, just to get some more output from it.

Okay, so here’s the fun one. So here we have an H-Delay.

[vocals with delay]

And that’s an eighth note with a little bit of feedback, not a huge amount.

[vocals with delay]

Eh, there’s a decent amount of feedback, but it’s just not that loud. It comes down pretty quickly.

So that’s a really, really nice delay. Now, again, there’s an H-Delay here, which is a 16th note. So there’s a delay here now, which is a 16th note.

[vocals with delay]

So it’s not doing a huge amount, but what’s good about it is I’m running an R-Comp on it. The Renaissance Compressor.

[vocals]

Now what’s that doing? That is sidechaining from the lead vocals. So I’m coming off of the lead vocal, if you look up here, it says buss 10, and buss 10 is feeding it. So what does that mean? What is sidechaining the vocal? It means that every single time that Lily sings, she compresses the delay. You’ve got a delay and you’ve got a compressor afterwards.

So she squashes and reduces the volume of the delay. As soon as she stops singing, it releases, and it lets the vocal come through — sorry, as soon as she stops singing, it releases and lets the delays come through. We could do that on the eighth note as well. In fact, I’m going to. I’m going to literally copy it across here and then see what we get.

[vocals with sidechained delays]

So you can hear it bypass there. It’ll come in and out. It’s quite a drastic difference. It’s pretty fantastic. So listen with it on. Here’s the compressor on the delay.

[compressor on delay]

So, “This is getting old, old, old.” You hear the delays getting louder between.

Now, lets bypass it.

[vocals with delay, no compressor]

It’s nice, but the delay is all over the vocal. So I’m going to bring the gain up just a little bit, and with it, compress back on.

[vocals with delay]

So it’s a pretty fun plugin. You know, being able to compress and sidechain from the lead vocal really gives you a lot of options. I do it all the time. It’s something I stole from Tim Palmer. You think of all the U2 he did, or you know, Pearl Jam, that’s a very, very common effect.

Okay, so next up, just some multi-effects. The first one is my Echoplex, which you’re going to get to use, and it’s just printed.

[Echoplex]

Just a bit of high pass, 104, we don’t need those lows interfering with the rest of the mix.

[Echoplex with EQ]

And the great thing about the Echoplex is it just distorts. It’s a distortion box. It’s a tape slap that distorts, so it just gives it a bit of energy and a bit of rawness, and then you’ve got my vocal thickening trick. Video about to appear here.

Now, the vocal thickening trick is basically when I go, I take the vocal…

[vocal with modulation]

And I pan, left and right, left and right, and I go minus three, plus three on the pitch, and then minus six, plus six, and minus nine, plus nine so they’re uneven, and they just create this width.

[vocals with modulation]

It’s like a very controlled chorus, and well, it’s — I highly recommend it. It’s a lot of fun to, you know, sit the vocal up front without feeling like the vocal is too loud.

Okay, so what else do we do? I don’t do any EQ or compression on that. It’s already printed from the lead vocal buss, so it’s compressed and EQ’d. It comes from the lead vocal buss, into the pitch change.

Okay, next up is a double.

[vocal double]

So that’s a performed live double. So next up we have the harmonies, and I’m going to create reverb here. Not a lot going on in these, so just the verb.

[vocal, modulation and verb]

So there’s not a lot going on in those. All there is is the R-Comp. I haven’t gone crazy on compression and EQ. It’s just the R-Compressor, the Renaissance Compressor.

[vocals, modulation and delay]

So they’re actually a little dark. They could be brighter, but the reality is like, that’s all I need them to be, because if you hear them coming in on the chorus…

[mix]

Great.

Well, fantastic! So we’ve got the song. We’ve got all of the files by now. If you haven’t, please download the files. Please mix this song, do some production on it, have some fun. Let’s get talking about this. I want this to be a great sense of community, and everybody help each other out. Let’s really get going on this and have some fun.

Of course, please post it. Post your mix, if you’d like, on the Produce Like a Pro Facebook page, and if you tag Little Empire, I will make sure that they listen to it, and they also comment as well. I know they’ll be very excited to hear your mixes. They’re a great band, they’re all in their early 20’s, and they’re all really, really good guys and girls.

So thank you ever so much. Please have some fun with this. If you have any comments and questions, go down below. This is a really, really good one for you all to experiment. As you can tell, if you’ve been watching all the videos, I didn’t do an enormous amount of EQ or compression on this. This is very much raw. The things that probably have the most amount of work, the vocal has quite a lot of EQ and compression, and you know, definitely multi-effects on it, but essentially the guitar is recorded the way I wanted it to, the drums, not a huge amount. I think you could cut some more low mids out of those drums and make them a little bit more aggressive, no problem.

The bass guitar had a lot of work, because it was very bratty, and it was the scratch idea when I threw it together. The vocal is essentially the scratch vocal with a bit of extra work to it. So it’s really, really a great, great song. Lily is a wonderful singer, and they’re a great band, and I had a lot of fun writing the song with her, but have fun with it. Those keyboards, you could carve up, you could distort, you could delay, you could do all kinds of craziness to it.

You guys could do EDM mixes of this quite easy. Whatever you want to do, try it out. So please download the tracks if you haven’t already, have some fun mixing it, and post the mixes on Facebook, and we’ll have a listen. Thank you ever so much for this opportunity to share the song with you. I really appreciate it, and I hope you have a lot of fun mixing and doing any additional overdubs.

Have a marvelous time recording and mixing!

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

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

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