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Tips and Tricks for Mixing Vocals

Hi, it’s Warren Huart here. Hope you’re doing marvelously well.

Today, I’d like to talk about mixing vocals. We’ve touched upon mixing vocals before, but I want to get a little bit more in depth, and show you exactly what I do in a mix. We’re back using Chaser’s song, Gone, and I did quite a few different things here to kind of make the vocal sit out in front of the track.

So let’s look at all of the different techniques that I used.

Okay, so let’s look at the lead vocal here. Let’s put it into solo. Now, what I would do is I de-ess initially on the vocal chain. I run a couple of de-essers. Sometimes, as many as three, depending on what kind of EQ and compression I’m doing, but this is the first thing in the chain here, as you can see. I’ve got it set so it’s only really picking up the worst ones. For instance, here.


So it’s getting the worst sounding ones and the reason for that is, you know, depending on how much compression and how aggressive the vocalist is getting on the mic, you know, I may want to — I let a lot of that go through and just deal with it now. Sometimes you can go in there and just gain down esses. If the esses are really, really bad, or breaths are excessive, you know, you can go in and either volume ride it or gain it down.

In this instance, the vocal is pretty open, so we don’t have to worry about that.

Okay, the next thing in my chain is the R-Vox, and I’ll be honest, I really like the R-Vox. It’s great, it tends to make the vocal sound very warm. It doesn’t brighten it in any way, shape, or form. It brings out a lot of low mids, so it’s a good trick if you’ve got a very thing sounding vocalist.

Chase has got a pretty rich voice, so it’s not the reason why I use it. I just use it because it’s an aggressive compressor that I can still — allows it to breath somewhat. Have a listen here.

[vocals with R-Vox]

Cool. Now, I’m running this through a sub, so what I’m doing is — the reason why I do that is I may have multiple vocals. I may have a vocal for the verse, a separate vocal for the chorus, I might have overlapped sections, so what I do is if I’ve got multiple vocals on different tracks, I’ll have them so they’re going through the same auxiliary.

Now, on my auxiliary, the first thing that I’m going through on this is just a gentle 7kHz and above lift on the EQ on my McDSP. As you probably know from watching my other videos, I’m a big fan of the McDSP EQs. A lot of friends, mixers, and producer/engineer friends of mine, we all love it because it’s a very natural sounding EQ. When I say natural, it just reminds us of using a console. So I highly recommend it. And just a little 7kHz lift. It just gives it a little air on the top. So 7kHz and above.

Again, another de-esser. This time I’m using the Waves one, which is a little bit more aggressive and a little bit more finite. It’s probably not doing anything on a section like that verse, but it might come to play on a chorus here. Let’s have a look.

[vocals with R DeEsser]

And it’s set to nearly 6kHz, and you hear it doing a little job there, it’s nice.

Now, for more really aggressive shaping, I do like the Renaissance EQs, the Waves Renaissance EQs. This one, again, nice gentle lift to like, 8.5kHz just to add some air that I’m rolling off at like, 100Hz and below. A gentle slope, not an aggressive one, but a nice gentle slope.

Chase doesn’t have super, super lows in his voice, so I don’t have to get too aggressive, but some singers have, like, you know, second and third low harmonics that seem to come in like, “woah,” and in that case, you might have to get a bit more aggressive with your slope, but here it’s pretty easy.

Now, the R-Comp, which is Waves vocal — well, sort of generic do-everything compressor, is pretty nice. Here, I’ve got it on — you know, I’ve got it pretty much set the ratio quite gently. You can hear it come in.

[vocals with R-Comp]

I mean, this is one of the most aggressive sections of the song, and we’re still getting just 3dB worth of gain reduction.

You know, I’ve found over the years multiple sets of compression doing small amounts, especially different types of compressors can really be your friend. If you take one compressor, which maybe is more aggressive in certain frequencies or has a certain sound that it gets and you use it too much, it will just choke the vocal. So it’s nice to just do small amounts of compression with different compressors.

Again, in this particular instance, I wanted to go back to an R-Vox. It — so I put a second R-Vox on my sub here.

[vocals with second R-Vox]

You know, and it’s just gently keeping that vocal in place.

Another R-EQ. Again, just a bit more top end boost.

Now, for me, I will use two or three EQs before and after compressors, because — you know, when growing up using an SSL, or using, you know, consoles like that, one of the tricks that you do is to boost frequencies really excessively, and then put the compressor afterwards on an old school console like a 4000 — an SSL 4000, you could assign where the compression came in. So if you wanted it after the EQ, it had this kind of smack, and it’s really kind of nice, and so to simulate that effect, what I’ll do is I’ll compress and then EQ, and then maybe compress again afterwards.

And you know, it’s like a little finite trick, but you see, I’ve done — I’ve EQ’d similarly here, then compressed the signal. I used an R-Vox evenly over the whole thing, and then another EQ just to add some air over the top.

So it’s not multi-band compression, but it’s kind of doing that, because you’re boosting the EQ and then compressing it back in, and it just kind of gives the vocal a lot of air over the top.

Okay, another de-esser, believe it or not. I was getting just a little excessive one. I went a little higher this time, I went up to 7kHz. Just under 7kHz, because it was getting a little harsh on some of these.


Cool. Now, there are multiple things I do on a vocal. Chase is a very pure sounding, cleaner voice, which is beautiful, but I wanted to dirty it up a little bit. So I have, believe it or not, a distortion channel here. I am sending from a separate buss — sorry, I’m bussing the vocal through that as well, I should say. I’m running a separate de-esser on R-Vox and EQ. A lot more aggressive, a lot more top end on it, but then — and the de-essers are removing any unwanted esses that obviously are going to be built up, but then I’m running the Lo-Fi plugin over it, and the Lo-Fi gives us that distortion.

[distorted vocals]

That’s pretty subtle. It’s not super loud in the mix, but you know, hopefully you can hear it through computer speakers or headphones or whatever, but it just gives it that [emulates distortion]. It’s that, [emulates vocals]. It gives it some energy that just dirties his voice up just enough for me, and then blend them together.

Another trick I have is I’m running actually a low octave under the vocal. Again, to thicken it up.

[vocals with octave and distortion]

Now hopefully, you can hear that too. What it is is it’s — I’m just taking the Digirack, and I’m just doing an octave down. See, I hit 8va there. So basically, that is one octave below, and I’m just blending that really lightly under his vocal, and it just adds some girth, some thickness to it. Because it’s not all about using a lot of EQ to give the lowness. You know, to give some of that fatness. I’m actually running an octave, and that was really helping me.

And another trick to really give it some air is I’m using this magic plugin here. Another Waves plugin, which is the Morphoder, and what that is is creating a whisper track.

[vocal whisper track]

So those elements are all blended together. A little bit of a whisper track, a low octave, and distortion, all very low, as you can tell. I had to crank the volume for you to really hear it, but just enough, just to kind of give some lows around it, some little air above it with the whisper, and a little distortion, just to make it dirty in the track, and — so we’re using multiple different things to give that vocal some kind of grit in there.

Okay, great, so there’s a bunch of little tricks I do, so let’s just sort of hear it in the track. Here’s the verse.


Great, so it sits pretty nicely. You’ll see, I’m just doing a generic volume ride on the chorus. Let’s hear that.

Great. So that’s some of the things that I do on vocals to kind of give them some more aggression and make them sit better in the mix. There’s tons of other little tricks and stuff that I do, which I will show you in future videos, but thanks for watching.

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So thanks for watching, and I’ll talk to you 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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