Tips for Using Vocal Effects to Compliment Specific Moments of a Song

Hey guys, Matthew Weiss here — weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com, and advancedmixing.com, and while I’m giving little shoutouts to various dot coms, I have to certainly shout out davidglennrecording.com, because that is where the multi-tracks for this particular record and tutorial came from. David is of course an amazing audio educator, he is an excellent engineer, and he’s a decent guy too.

So go over there, download these multi-tracks, they’re a great learning tool, great for your reel, and now I’m going to talk about some vocal effects.

So I’ve discussed reverb a number of times, I’ve discussed ambience a number of times, and I always think of it in two different ways. I think of it as the three-dimensionality of the space in which the record is living, which is what its intended purpose is, but I also think of it as a tonal and rhythmic tool, and something that can be used to compliment moments in the record itself. This is going to be a tutorial on exactly that.

As you can see here, I have some duplicates of this main vocal track, and most of it is all muted out.

But, some of it is active. You might be wondering, “What’s up with that?”

Well, this is sort of a workflow thing, but each one of these different tracks is actually a different reverb return, except for instead of doing it on an actual send and return channel like an aux, I’m doing it on an audio channel where I’m just using a 100% signal on the channel itself.

Now, you might be saying, “Well, why would you do that? Isn’t the traditional way to do it as a send, and you automate the mute and you automate the level, and you just dial it in as each moment goes?”

Well, yes, that might be the traditional way of doing it, but since my computer can handle the track counts, there’s no reason why I can’t just make my life easier and put this on different channels, and the other little advantage is if I want the effect of say, a delay, which is what this is, to fade in, to not come in with a hard delay, but to actually rise up so that more delay is fading it, it’s very easy to just highlight a region and throw in a fade, as opposed to automate the mute in and then automate the level of the send going into the aux channel. Right?

So it saves me a little bit of time, and you know, being wary of my time constraints is something that I do need to be.

Also, I just don’t feel like doing all of that all of the time. It ends up being an extra half an hour to an hour worth of work.

So okay, let me give you this playback and start explaining some stuff.

[mix]

So if you focus on the ambience that’s around the voice, you’ll notice a couple of things.

First of all, like “Welcome to the planet, welcome to existence,” make me think I should be suggestion the image of this big, scopic space. I want the listener to see shooting stars and comets in their mind. I want the pan shot of the music video to open up to the whole galactic universe, right?

And I also want to make moments special. I want there to be some contrast and internal arc within these first couple of lines. I don’t want to just have the same, big, static delay on there, because it will actually take away from the specialness of the moment, and I will show you that real quick.

So I want you to listen really closely to the ambience, specifically on the vocal.

[mix]

Right, so the first one sounds like this big, weird reverb meets delay that just spreads out and becomes wider, and more scopic as it goes.

The other one kind of almost sounds like a spring reverb.

Watch what happens if I take out the second, the tighter ambience, and I bring in this one for both moments.

[mix]

It just sounds washy and out of place on that second phrase, so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t just use a different delay.

So okay, I’m going to show you what these delays are. They are both presets, and I’m going to talk about that too.

This one is called EchoBoy’s Galaxy. It is exactly the preset. I haven’t even tweaked it. I started with the preset, and I was like, “That sounds perfect,” and I rolled with it.

Now, when you are working on a record, sometimes presets do not make sense.

On EQs for example, a preset doesn’t really make too much sense, because how can the EQ possibly know what you’re starting with? With a reverb or a delay, that makes more sense. You can have the delay be exactly what it is, and just feed it with whatever source needs to be fed. So there’s no reason why a preset doesn’t necessarily work.

The other thing is like, could I create this from scratch? Yes, I could do something like a 15 millisecond succeeding echo that decays with a bunch of feedback behind it going into a limiter and then with some various types of distortion here — like, this has the diffusion turned on max, which is basically the equivalent of building a reverb into the delay.

Like, I could go through all of that. I would probably need a delay, a reverb, and something like a distortion module to do it all, and it would have to feed back into itself, so yeah, I could set that up, but why?

Like, the end listener is not going to go, “That’s a preset!” Like, maybe one really nerdy one who’s also in music, but no one else is going to care at all.

This one is sort of the same vibe. This one is designed to sound more like a tight, spring kind of reverb, and it’s just a preset as well, but I have done some EQ on it because the tone was not totally right, which is exactly what I’m saying. Like, if the preset isn’t totally right, I can make slight modifications to get it to be what it needs to be.

[mix]

So going along with this idea of arc, I want to point out this little section here.

This section on this phrase is dry up until the very end of the phrase, where it gets that big scopic reverb, and then the same musical thing repeats. “Everyone’s here, everyone’s here,” except on the second one, I have that springy reverb tucked in. So that allows me to create a little bit of an internal arc, a little bit of suggested movement, and it can work that way. It can help the ear come along.

And when I get to the chorus, neither of these echoes make sense. Neither of these styles of spring reverb-y echo, or this weird, galactic-y reverb thing works. So this is just a very basic eighth note kind of thing with a wide spread to it. It’s a pretty standard approach to this style of rock I think, and it sounds like this.

[delay]

Right? It’s band limited, it’s eighth notes, there’s a wide pan to it, and that’s what makes this chorus work.

[mix]

Right? Nothing crazy about that.

Now, the other thing is that everything is going to this Lexicon Plate emulation here. It’s all got a plate reverb tucked in with it.

[plate reverb]

So even the moments that don’t have the delay do have an ambience on it. It’s not the most in your face ambience, it’s subtle, but it’s not super subtle. It’s not like rap vocal subtle, or like, you know, really tight, in your face, rock kind of subtle. It’s definitely more obvious and sparkly.

I want to point out, again, going back to the same idea of creating arc and creating movement here, I want you to listen to how the reverb comes into effect right at the end of the chorus.

[mix]

So I want you to listen one more time, and listen very specifically to the reverb on the vocal. You’re going to hear that on the phrase before, it gets very dry, and then immediately after that, as the music comes back in with this bit of swell, the reverb swells up with it, and it creates this sort of, “Hold in your breath, releasing your breath” kind of a movement.

[mix]

Shoom! That kind of a thing.

So I’m going to delete this automation and play it, and you’ll hear that while it doesn’t sound wrong, it doesn’t sound nearly as compelling.

[mix, no automation]

Right? So we have to think big picture to get the foundation of the mix right, but we also have to think little picture, because these subtle decisions, these creative decisions, are what makes a mix great, rather than good. It’s what makes things creative, and musical, and special, and unique, rather than just simply dialing it in and getting it done. And there’s a lot to be said for getting it done, but I like to get it done and then also bring in a little bit of extra something special to the table, and I encourage you to do exactly the same.

Alright guys, like I said, you can download these multi-tracks over at davidglennrecording.com, so I really highly recommend doing that, and I hope that you learn something. Until next time.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.
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  • Guilherme Henrique Rodrigues d

    Serious man! I love their mixes and its methodology, you really know what you’re doing, it is not equal to other tutorials I see there.

    I would love to buy the course but for us here in Brazil the prices end up a lot, and my English is not very advanced (yet).

    Sorry for my English, I’m using Google Translate.

    • Orestes Miñán

      Totally agree.

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