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Tips for Mixing Vocals

Transcript
In this video, I’m going to be showing you some tips and techniques for mixing vocals with Neutron 2, but you can follow along with whatever plugins that you have at your disposal.

Let’s get started.

One equalizer, two compressors, an exciter, a transient shaper, a gate, and the list goes on. There is a lot to Neutron 2, but don’t feel bad if you feel a little intimidated by all of the options, and are unsure of how to use them all.

A fantastic way to save time and learn about the functionality and settings of Neutron 2’s modules is to use the Track Assistant, which gives us a great sounding starting point for one of the toughest aspects of any mix, which is approaching the almighty lead vocal.

So let’s get started by pressing this button here. Now, we can have Track Assistant automatically detect the sound we’re going to be putting through it by leaving it on auto detect, or I can choose from the dropdown menu if we’re going to process a voice, guitar, percussion, etcetera.

Next, we can choose the kind of flavor that we want. You can go with Balanced, Warm, or Upfront, I’ll go with Balanced. You can choose the intensity of the processing. I’m going to go for high.

Now I’ll press next and get the process started for Track Assistant.

[vocals]

So, once that process is complete, I’ll press accept, and you can look through the modules that Track Assistant activated to see how it applied various processes. Now, you can learn a lot from this, and still have the ability to completely change the sound after Track Assistant made some changes. For example, if I find that this vocal is just not bright enough after what Track Assistant did, I can go over to the EQ just like this and make some changes immediately.

Now, let’s do a before and after, first on the soloed vocal, and then in the mix to see the changes the track system brought to this vocal.

[vocals, before and after Track Assistant]

And here it is in the mix, first bypassed.

[mix, before and after Track Assistant]

So Neutron 2 is complex in its capabilities, yet thankfully simple in its operations and functionality. Dive into it and experiment with Track Assistant next time you’re stuck having to mix a lead vocal from scratch.

There’s something aurally pleasing about the harmonic distortion that tubes impart. It’s no surprise why tube mics, tube compressors, and tube amps are so widely popular and highly desired.

Neutron 2’s Exciter provides a great X/Y adjustment to quickly achieve tube like harmonic distortion, or a blend of saturation styles not possible with a single piece of analog equipment.

Take this vocal for example. I’m using the multiband exciter to add tube saturation just to the mid-band, where most of the energy is in this vocal, an even blend of excitation types in the upper bands, and some tape type excitation in the low band.

My aim here is to help the vocal stand out and cut through the mix with a healthy dose of saturation. Now, on its own, the vocal might sound a little too saturated, but once its in the mix, it really cuts through. But first, have a listen to the before and after of the soloed vocal.

[vocal, before saturation]

And here’s after, with saturation.

[vocal, after saturation]

So you’ll see when I throw this vocal into the mix how saturation helps it command the attention of the listener and stand out from the rest of the arrangement.

Here’s before.

[mix]

So by adding a little multiband saturation in Neutron 2, we can really help this vocal punch through the mix.

So a common issue mixing engineers run into when they’re mixing a vocal is dealing with something known as the proximity effect. This is when singers get too close to the microphone, and low frequencies get boosted and become more pronounced. Now, since this problem rises and falls based on the singer’s distance from the microphone, you don’t necessarily want to use a static EQ to deal with a varying problem.

Before we go any further, have a listen to this vocal passage, specifically to the words, “Can” and, “Sand.” You’ll notice that the vocalist gets a little bit too close to the mic at those moments, and the low frequency just gets a little bit boosted, a little bit louder in a kind of inelegant way.

[vocals]

So we don’t necessarily want to use a static EQ to deal with a varying problem like proximity effect. This is where dynamic equalization comes in handy. It can attenuate different frequency bands with different settings, and be triggered by different thresholds. Now, each band in Neutron 2’s equalizer can be set to dynamic mode by pressing the node over here and then choosing dynamic from this little settings menu over here.

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So, now the bands processing at node number 1 and number 3 will be triggered according to the dynamic mode settings. In other words, the filter will only begin attenuating frequencies when they exceed values that I’ve selected here in the threshold settings.

So take this dip that I made with node number 1. In static mode, the node cuts too much low end for my liking. Have a listen. I’ll disengage it to dynamic mode and return it to static mode. I’ll do the same thing for node number 3 over here.

Let’s hear that vocal passage again, and again, listen to those words, “Can,” and “Sand.”

[vocals, static EQ]

So in static mode, the nodes cut too much low end for my liking. I’d rather make them dynamic. Which will now only attenuate low end harshness when it exceeds the threshold values that I’ve set down here. So let me do that. I’ll return node number 1 and number 3 to dynamic mode, and now have a listen to this.

[vocals, dynamic EQ]

This gives us far more transparent attenuation of the low end, which keeps poking out as you hear in this sample as the singer moves closer and further away from the microphone.

Let’s do some more before and afters. Listen again for the proximity effect as I disengage the equalizer in Neutron 2.

[vocals, with and without EQ]

An easy way to take care of unwanted or distracting breaths after you’ve worked on that perfect vocal comp is to use the multiband gate in Neutron 2.

Now sure, you could highlight and delete each of those breaths from the region, or manually ride the gain in your digital audio workstation, but the result might sound a bit jarring, and let’s face it, the process is time consuming.

With Neutron 2’s gate, we can sort of set it and forget it. The ratio control in the gate allows you to decide how much gain reduction will be applied during times that the vocalist is just breathing, and unlike most gates, this one has a real-time scrolling waveform display with a separate line indicating the attenuation.

So have a listen to this vocal passage, and listen specifically for those breaths. I’ll bypass the gate so you can hear them.

[vocals, no gate]

And now, I’ll turn on the gate in Neutron 2.

[vocals with gate]

And the breaths are gone. Now, one thing I should point out is that the gate is multiband, so say, for example, you were hearing some early reflections in that vocal, and we wanted to cancel them out just in the top end. We could do that by this band’s threshold and ratio settings.

Also, we have Hold and Hysteresis mode in each band, so we can dial in some very smooth gating ballistics.

In many genres, it is routine to layer vocal parts in doubles, triples, and more. If all those layers are sung by the same person, or by vocalists with a similar tone, it often becomes difficult to distinguish different vocal parts. A vocal track can easily be masked by other similar sounding vocals. In Neutron 2’s equalizer, the masking function allows you to reference another instance of Neutron to see if and how it masks your current signal.

Take for example, the background vocal and lead vocal of this track. So, I have an instance of Neutron 2 on both of those vocals, which means they can share information like where the frequencies from either one is masking the other, causing muddiness and a lack of clarity between vocal passages.

Have a listen to both of these vocals soloed, keeping in mind that the bottom EQ represents our background vocals, and the top EQ represents our lead vocal. The white lights that we’re going to see in a moment represent where masking could be occurring between those vocals. Have a listen.

[lead and backing vocals]

So I’m hearing and seeing via the white lights some masking occurring from around 500Hz to around 3,000Hz. I’m going to make a decision to cut the background vocals in a few areas on the frequency spectrum where I think things might be interfering with my lead, using my ears and my eyes to guide my decision making. I’ll do that now.

Now things sound far less cluttered, because I’ve made various cuts, specifically in the mid-range, to make sure that those frequencies aren’t overlapping.

Let’s do some before and afters.

[vocals, before and after EQ]

Notice how I didn’t make any boosts on the lead vocal’s EQ. This is because by taking power away from the background vocal and adding more power to the lead vocal without having to make any boosts or any loudness adjustments.

Thank you so much for watching this video. I really hope the strategies that we showed you here will make mixing vocals a little less scary, and a lot more fun. Take care!

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iZotope

iZotope

iZotope develops award-winning audio software and plugins for mixing, mastering, restoration and more.

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