Mix Vocals

Simple Step-by-Step Guide On How To Mix Vocals

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man infront of computer
man infront of computer

November 21st, 2023

Arib Khan

Welcome to the ultimate guide on how to mix vocals, where we'll dive deep into the art of crafting the perfect sonic experience. Whether you're an aspiring artist or a seasoned producer looking to take your music to the next level, this blog is your golden ticket to achieving that pro sound. So, grab a notepad and get ready to soak up some serious knowledge.

Mixing vocals is like the secret sauce that elevates a track from good to great. It's that magical touch that makes your words come alive, floating effortlessly atop the music. But mastering this craft takes more than just a few knob twists and turns. It requires a keen ear, a meticulous attention to detail, and an understanding of the intricate dance between frequencies and emotions. 

In this guide, we'll unravel the mysteries behind EQ, compression, reverb, and more. We'll explore the tools and techniques that transform raw recordings into polished ai vocals that captivate the listener's soul. So, let's embark on this sonic journey together and unlock the true potential of your music. Get ready to mix vocals like a pro!

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Table of Contents

Simple Step-by-Step Guide On How To Mix Vocals

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Prepping for Vocal Mixing

Before we dive headfirst into the world of vocal mixing, let's make sure we have everything lined up and ready to go. Here are some essential steps that will set the foundation for a successful vocal mix:

1. Organize your session

Start by organizing your vocal tracks in your digital audio workstation (DAW). Create separate tracks for each vocal part, such as lead vocals, harmonies, and ad-libs. This way, you can have more control over each element during the mixing process.

2. Clean up your tracks

Eliminate any unwanted noise or background sounds by using tools like noise gates or spectral editing. This will ensure that your vocals sound crisp and clear without any distracting elements.

Achieving Clarity and Presence

Now that we have our vocals prepped and ready, it's time to bring them to life. Here are some techniques to enhance the clarity and presence of your vocals:

3. EQ like a pro

Start by applying an EQ plugin to your vocal tracks. Use a high-pass filter to eliminate any unnecessary low-frequency rumble, and then make subtle cuts or boosts in the mid-range frequencies to shape the tone of the vocals. Don't be afraid to experiment and find the sweet spot that suits the song.

4. Tame the dynamics

Dynamics play a crucial role in vocal mixing. Apply compression to even out the volume levels and control any excessive peaks. Start with a moderate compression setting and adjust the attack and release parameters to achieve a natural and balanced sound.

Adding Depth and Dimension

To truly make your vocals shine, it's essential to create a sense of depth and dimension. Here's how you can achieve this:

5. Create a space

Use reverb and delay effects to place the vocals in an immersive sonic environment. Experiment with different types of reverbs (e.g., plate, hall, or spring) to find the one that complements the song. Adjust the wet/dry mix to strike the right balance between a spacious feel and maintaining clarity.

6. Double up with care

Adding vocal doubles or harmonies can make your vocals sound fuller and more vibrant. Carefully pan these additional vocal tracks to create separation and widen the stereo image. Remember to blend them in subtly to avoid overpowering the lead vocals.

Polishing and Final Touches

We're almost there! Let's focus on the final touches that will polish your vocal mix to perfection:

7. De-ess to impress

Sibilance can be a pesky issue in vocal recordings. Use a de-esser plugin to reduce excessive sibilance and make the vocals smoother. Adjust the threshold and frequency parameters to target the problem areas without affecting the overall vocal performance.

8. Automate for impact

Automation is a powerful tool in vocal mixing. Use it to fine-tune the volume levels, add emphasis to specific phrases or words, and create dynamic changes throughout the song. This extra attention to detail can elevate your vocal mix from good to great.

The Final Mixdown

We've put in the work, and now it's time to wrap things up and deliver a polished vocal mix. Here's how you can approach the final mixdown:

9. Check the balance

Take a step back and listen to your mix as a whole. Ensure that the vocals sit well in the mix without overpowering or getting lost. Make any necessary adjustments to the levels of other instruments or elements to create a cohesive and balanced final product.

10. Mastering the vocals

While mastering is a separate process, it's essential to touch upon it briefly. Apply a gentle limiter to the vocal mix to control any stray peaks and ensure overall loudness consistency. Be careful not to over-compress or squash the dynamics, as it may negatively impact the vocal performance.

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The Importance of Vocal Mixing

Man jamming in his studio - how to mix vocals

Vocal mixing is a crucial step in the audio production process that can make or break a song. It's like adding the final touch of finesse to your masterpiece. When done right, it can transform a raw vocal track into a polished and professional-sounding performance. Let me break down the importance of vocal mixing and how it contributes to achieving a professional-quality audio production.

1. Enhancing Clarity

Clear and intelligible vocals are essential for any song. You want your listeners to hang onto every word you're saying, and vocal mixing helps accomplish just that. Through techniques like equalization (EQ), compression, and de-essing, you can balance the different frequencies in a vocal track, remove unwanted noise, and tame harsh sibilance. This ensures that every word is crystal clear and easily understood, even in the midst of a complex mix.

2. Achieving Balance

In a well-mixed song, all the elements should work together harmoniously. Vocal mixing plays a crucial role in achieving this balance. By adjusting the volume levels of the vocals in relation to the other instruments, you can ensure that they sit perfectly in the mix. This allows the vocals to cut through without overpowering the rest of the arrangement or getting buried beneath it. A balanced mix allows the vocals to shine and be the focal point of the song.

3. Creating Depth

Adding depth to the vocals is like giving them a three-dimensional quality. This is where effects like reverb and delay come into play. By applying these effects with precision, you can create a sense of space and add a subtle airiness or ambiance to the vocals. This adds depth and dimension to the mix, making it sound more immersive and engaging. It's like giving your vocals a beautiful sonic landscape to inhabit.

4. Enhancing Emotional Impact

Vocal mixing also plays a crucial role in conveying the emotional message of a song. Through creative techniques like automation, you can shape the dynamics of the vocals, emphasizing certain phrases or words to evoke a specific emotion. For example, you can subtly increase the volume during a powerful chorus or use panning to create a sense of movement. These techniques give your vocals that extra punch, making them more impactful and resonating with your listeners on a deeper level.

5. Professional Sound

Ultimately, vocal mixing is what separates amateur-sounding recordings from professional-quality audio productions. When the vocals are mixed properly, they sound polished, cohesive, and radio-ready. It's the difference between a demo that only your friends and family would appreciate and a track that can compete with the big names in the industry. A professionally mixed vocal can elevate your entire song and take it to the next level.

How To Properly EQ Vocals

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When it comes to mixing vocals, one of the most important tools in your arsenal is the equalizer, commonly known as EQ. EQ allows you to shape the frequency response of the vocals, enhancing clarity and removing any unwanted frequencies that may be muddying up the mix. Let's dive into some key techniques and tricks to master the art of EQ in vocal mixing.

1. Taming the Low-End rumble

One common issue in vocal recordings is the presence of low-end rumble, which can make the vocals sound muddy and unclean. To address this, start by applying a high-pass filter to the vocal track. This filter removes any frequencies below a certain point, usually around 80Hz or lower, depending on the vocal and the mix. By eliminating the excess low-end, you'll achieve a cleaner and more focused vocal sound.

2. Clearing the Muddy Midrange

The midrange is where most of the vocals' energy resides, but it can also be a breeding ground for muddiness and congestion. To tackle this, use a parametric EQ to identify and attenuate any problematic frequencies. Sweep through the midrange, listening for any frequencies that sound harsh, boxy, or muddy. Once you've identified these trouble spots, gently reduce the level of these frequencies to achieve a smoother and more balanced vocal sound.

3. Adding Brilliance with High-Frequency Boosts

To make the vocals shine and cut through the mix, consider boosting the high frequencies. This can add a sense of airiness and sparkle to the vocals, enhancing their presence and clarity. Be careful not to overdo it, as excessive high-frequency boosts can make the vocals sound harsh or sibilant. Experiment with subtle boosts around 5kHz to 10kHz to find the sweet spot that enhances the vocals' brightness without introducing any unwanted artifacts.

4. Dealing with Sibilance

Sibilance, those sharp and hissing "s" and "sh" sounds, can be a challenging issue to address in vocal mixing. To tackle sibilance, you can use a de-esser, a specialized type of EQ that targets and reduces the intensity of sibilant frequencies. Set the de-esser to target the frequency range where sibilance occurs, usually around 5kHz to 10kHz, and adjust the threshold to catch the excessive sibilant peaks. By taming sibilance, you'll achieve a more controlled and polished vocal sound.

5. Balancing the Vocal with the Mix

While EQ can work wonders in enhancing vocals, it's crucial to maintain a balance between the vocals and the rest of the mix. Take a step back and listen to the vocals in the context of the entire track. If the vocals still feel too prominent or buried, make subtle adjustments to the EQ settings to achieve the right balance. Remember, the goal is to have the vocals sit comfortably in the mix without overpowering or getting lost in the music.

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Reverb In Vocal Mixing

Woman recording her sound in laptop - how to mix vocals

When it comes to mixing vocals, one of the key elements that can make or break a track is the use of reverb. Reverb plays a crucial role in creating depth and ambience in a vocal mix, allowing the vocals to sit within the mix and sound as if they were recorded in a specific space. But how do you choose the right reverb settings to achieve the desired effect? Let's dive in and explore this topic to help you take your vocal mixing game to the next level.

1. Understanding the Role of Reverb

Reverb is an effect that simulates the natural ambience of a space, such as a room or a hall. It adds a sense of space and depth to the vocals, making them sound more alive and immersive. Without reverb, vocals can sound dry and lifeless, lacking that professional touch. By adding reverb, you can create the illusion of the vocals being recorded in a specific environment, whether it's a small intimate room or a large cathedral.

2. Choosing the Right Reverb Type

There are different types of reverb that you can choose from, each with its own unique characteristics. The most common types include room, hall, plate, and spring reverbs. Room reverbs are great for creating a natural and intimate ambience, while hall reverbs can add a sense of grandeur and space. Plate reverbs offer a smooth and even decay, while spring reverbs can bring a vintage touch to your vocals.

3. Setting the Pre-Delay

Pre-delay refers to the time delay between the direct sound of the vocals and the onset of the reverb. It allows you to control the initial clarity of the vocals before the reverb kicks in. A shorter pre-delay can make the vocals sound more upfront and immediate, while a longer pre-delay can create a sense of distance and space. Experiment with different pre-delay settings to find the sweet spot that complements your vocal mix.

4. Adjusting the Decay Time

Decay time refers to how long it takes for the reverb to fade away after the initial sound. A longer decay time can make the vocals sound more spacious and atmospheric, while a shorter decay time can keep them focused and upfront. Finding the right balance is crucial to achieving the desired depth and ambience in your vocal mix. Pay attention to the overall vibe of the track and adjust the decay time accordingly.

5. Using EQ and Filtering

To ensure that the reverb sits well in the mix and doesn't clash with other elements, it's important to use EQ and filtering. You can use EQ to shape the tonal characteristics of the reverb, making it blend seamlessly with the vocals. Additionally, filtering can help remove any unwanted frequencies or excessive low-end rumble from the reverb, keeping it clean and focused.

Use Delay Effects

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When it comes to mixing vocals, one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal is delay effects. Delay effects can add depth, texture, and ambience to vocals, taking them from ordinary to extraordinary. But how can you use delay effects effectively, and what are the different types of delay suited for vocal mixing? Let's dive in and explore these topics in more detail.

1. Slapback Delay: Adding Vintage Vibes to Your Vocals

The slapback delay is a classic technique that has been used in countless recordings. It creates a short delay with a single repeat, mimicking the effect of sound bouncing off a wall. This type of delay is perfect for adding a touch of vintage vibe to your vocals. It can give your vocals a sense of space and depth, and make them stand out in the mix. Just be careful not to overdo it, as too much slapback delay can clutter the mix and make the vocals sound muddy.

2. Stereo Delay: Widening Your Vocal Sound

If you want to create a wider, more expansive vocal sound, stereo delay is the way to go. This type of delay adds a delay to both the left and right channels, creating a sense of width and dimension. By adjusting the delay time and feedback settings, you can control the width and intensity of the effect. Stereo delay is particularly useful for choruses and hooks, where you want the vocals to have a big, immersive sound. Experiment with different delay times and feedback levels to find the sweet spot for your vocals.

3. Ping Pong Delay: Taking Your Vocals for a Ride

Ping pong delay is a fun and creative way to add movement to your vocals. This type of delay alternates between the left and right channels, creating a bouncing effect that can make your vocals come alive. Ping pong delay is perfect for adding energy and excitement to your vocals, and it works particularly well on phrases with rhythmic patterns. By adjusting the delay time and feedback settings, you can control the speed and intensity of the bouncing effect. Use it sparingly to add a touch of magic to your vocals.

4. Reverse Delay: Unleashing the Power of Backwards Vocals

If you're looking for a unique and otherworldly effect, reverse delay is the answer. This type of delay plays the vocals backwards, creating a haunting and ethereal sound. Reverse delay can be a powerful tool for adding tension and drama to your vocals, and it works especially well in intros and breakdowns. Just remember to use it strategically and sparingly, as too much reverse delay can quickly become overwhelming.

Parallel Processing

Parallel processing is a mixing technique that can take your vocals from average to extraordinary. It's like having multiple superheroes working together to save the day. Each processor adds its unique touch, contributing to the overall power and polish of the vocals in your mix.

Equalization: Unveiling the True Voice

Equalization is one of the key components of parallel processing. It involves adjusting the frequency content of the vocals to enhance their clarity and presence. By using multiple EQ plugins in parallel, you can target different frequency ranges and bring out the best in each part of the vocal spectrum.

For example, you could use one EQ plugin to boost the low-end frequencies, adding warmth and depth to the vocals. At the same time, another EQ plugin can be used to tame any harsh or sibilant frequencies, ensuring a smooth and balanced sound. By combining these EQ adjustments in parallel, you achieve a more natural and polished vocal sound.

Compression: Taming the Wild Dynamics

Another essential aspect of parallel processing is compression. This powerful tool helps control the dynamic range of the vocals, ensuring that the softer parts are audible without overpowering the louder sections.

Using parallel compression, you can employ different types of compressors to handle different aspects of the vocal performance. For instance, a fast-acting compressor can be used to catch and control any sudden peaks, while a slower compressor adds sustain and smoothness to the vocals.

The beauty of parallel compression lies in its ability to strike a balance between preserving the natural dynamics of the vocals and providing a controlled and polished sound. When applied correctly, it brings out the nuances of the performance, making the vocals sit perfectly in the mix.

Reverb and Delay: Creating a Sense of Space

Reverb and delay are crucial elements in creating depth and space within a mix. They give the vocals a sense of ambiance, making them feel like they're floating in their own sonic universe.

By using parallel processing, you can add different flavors of reverb and delay to the vocals. For example, you could send the vocals to a plate reverb in one parallel chain to create a sense of size and depth. In another parallel chain, a subtle delay can be added to introduce a sense of movement and dimension.

The key to achieving polished vocals with reverb and delay is to strike a balance between adding space and maintaining clarity. Parallel processing allows you to control the amount of effect while keeping the vocals present and intelligible.

De-Essing Vocals

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When it comes to mixing vocals, one crucial aspect that can make or break the final product is the issue of sibilance. Sibilance refers to those sharp, high-frequency "s" and "sh" sounds that can be a bit too harsh on the ears. Luckily, there are several techniques you can employ to de-ess vocals and ensure a smooth and pleasing listening experience. Let's dive into these techniques and understand why they are essential in preventing harsh sibilance.

1. Frequency-Based De-Essing: Nipping the Sibilance in the Bud

Frequency-based de-essing is one of the most common techniques used to tame sibilance. It involves identifying the specific frequency range where the sibilant sounds reside and applying a reduction in that range. To find the problematic frequencies, you can use a spectral analyzer or simply trust your ears. Once you've identified the range, you can use a dynamic equalizer or a specialized de-esser plugin to target those frequencies and reduce their intensity. This technique allows you to maintain the natural character of the vocals while taming the sibilance.

2. Broadband De-Essing: A Wider Approach to Sibilance Control

While frequency-based de-essing targets specific problem frequencies, broadband de-essing takes a wider approach. Instead of pinpointing individual frequencies, broadband de-essing focuses on reducing the overall level of sibilance across a broader range of frequencies. This technique can be useful when dealing with vocals that have a wide range of sibilant sounds or when you want to apply a subtle de-essing effect. By reducing the overall level of sibilance, you can prevent any harshness from overpowering the mix.

3. Multiband Compression: Dialing in Precise Control

Multiband compression is another powerful tool that can be used for de-essing vocals. This technique involves dividing the vocal signal into multiple frequency bands and applying compression individually to each band. By doing so, you can control the dynamics of the sibilant frequencies without affecting the rest of the vocal performance. Multiband compression allows for precise control over the sibilance, ensuring that it remains smooth and balanced throughout the mix. This technique is particularly effective when dealing with vocals that have varying levels of sibilance across different frequency ranges.

4. Manual Volume Automation: Hands-On Sibilance Taming

Sometimes, the best way to de-ess vocals is by manually adjusting the volume levels of the sibilant sounds. This hands-on approach allows you to directly control the intensity of the sibilance in specific areas of the vocal performance. By automating the volume levels, you can reduce the harshness of the sibilant sounds without affecting the overall vocal tone. Manual volume automation can be time-consuming, but it offers a level of control and customization that other techniques may not provide.

Common Mistakes To Avoid

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Don't Drown Out the Vocals with Instrumentation

When it comes to vocal mixing, one of the most common mistakes is drowning out the vocals with too much instrumentation. I get it, we all want our beats to slap and the melodies to shine, but let's not forget that the vocals are the star of the show. To avoid this mistake, make sure to EQ the instruments properly and carve out space for the vocals to sit comfortably. Use high-pass filters on instruments that don't need low-end frequencies and use panning to create separation. Remember, when it comes to vocals, less is often more.

Taming the Beast: Dealing with Harsh Vocals

We've all been there - that moment when a vocal track hits your ears like an ice pick stabbing through your eardrums. Harsh vocals can ruin an otherwise perfect mix. So how do we deal with this beast? Compression is your best friend. Use a gentle compressor to even out the dynamic range of the vocals and reduce those sharp peaks. Additionally, try using a dynamic EQ to tame specific frequency ranges that are causing the harshness. And of course, don't forget about proper EQing and de-essing to control those piercing sibilant sounds. With a little finesse, you can transform those harsh vocals into silky smooth goodness.

The Invisible Touch: Balancing Levels and Creating Depth

One of the keys to a polished vocal mix is finding the perfect balance between the lead vocals and the backing vocals. You want them to complement each other and create a sense of depth without overpowering the main vocals. Start by leveling the lead vocals so they sit comfortably on top of the mix. Then, adjust the backing vocals to provide support without stealing the spotlight. Use panning and reverb to create spatial separation between the vocals and make them feel like they're coming from different places in the mix. And remember, automation is your secret weapon for adding that extra touch of magic to the vocal mix.

The Sweetest Spot: Finding the Right Reverb

Reverb can be a powerful tool when used correctly, but it can also turn your vocal mix into a muddy mess if you're not careful. The key is finding the sweet spot - the perfect amount of reverb that adds depth and space without overwhelming the vocals. Start by selecting a reverb with a decay time that matches the tempo of the song. Then, use pre-delay to create separation between the dry vocals and the reverb. Finally, adjust the wet/dry mix to achieve the desired level of reverb. Remember, the goal is to enhance the vocals, not bury them in a sea of reverberation.

The Finishing Touch: Polishing with Effects

Effects can be the icing on the cake when it comes to vocal mixing, but they can also be a double-edged sword if you're not careful. Too much of a good thing can quickly become a bad thing. So how do we find that perfect balance? Start by using EQ to shape the effects and make them blend seamlessly with the vocals. Then, use subtle delays and modulations to add depth and movement. And don't forget about the power of parallel processing - a touch of parallel compression or saturation can give your vocals that extra warmth and presence. With the right touch, effects can take your vocal mix from good to great.

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Getting Started with Musicfy

Ready to explore Musicfy? Sign up for free today and unlock a world of incredible features. Whether you're a seasoned artist or just starting out, Musicfy is your guide to taking your music to the next level. Embrace the power of AI and let Musicfy shape the future of your music.

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Arib Khan


Arib Khan, Founder of Musicfy

Arib Khan has been featured on Business Insider, VICE, and more. His passion and drive to help musicians is unbounded. He is on a mission to help anyone, from all walks of life, to create music with ease using AI.

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