Lead Vocals - How Deep In The Mix?

I’m learning how to set the vocal in the mix by carving out spots for it with the eq, however is there a certain DB reading that it should sit at, like -20db, -15db verses how load the overall music should be at decibels?

I use Cubase 7 and I have set the brickwall limiter at threshold of about -14db for vocals and it sounds alright to me.

I know there are a lot of variables here, genre, etc.,., but is there a good starting point? I’m sure that EARS would be a good place to start, instead of meters?

Thanks in advance for any good tutorials on the net or pointers here.


Aloha G, IMHO it’s all over the map.

With some forms music the vox needs to ‘stick out like a sore thumb’
while with other forms of the art, the vox level is such that it makes the listener
‘dig thru layers of sound’ to hear the lyric.

As an engineer I let the artist decide.


That makes good sense, and I do apologize if this topic has too many variables to determine the perfect scenario, because of different genres. I think one of the biggest things for me is being able to carve out the spot in the music for that vocal to fit and then tucking it in there.


there are many techniques to get a vocal to stand out in a mix. Always remember vocal is recorded usually monophonic. It has to sit in a stereo field with multiple stereo instruments. I personally find vocal treatments more important than eq. Know though, when I record all the instruments, the space for vocal was taken into consideration. Plan ahead, carve less.

I’d agree that there are lots of variables and as Woodcrest says ,treatments are ususally more important than eq. Listening to a range of contemporary styles is important to me, I think living in the past is useless.


Yes. You wouldn’t look at the meters to determine how the vocals sit in the mix. You might look at the meters to determine if there is clipping, tho.

As curteye alluded to, there is no definitve answer. Nobody can say, “put your vocal fader at x, and go from there.” That’s not how it’s done.

The things that help vocals sit right in the mix:

  1. Good vocalist
  2. Good mic (even if all else is in place, vocals recorded on a [as one ex.] U47, will sit better in a mix than vocals recorded on an SM-57)
  3. Good signal chain, ie - mic pre, good compressor with proper settings, good eq (not always a necessity)
  4. Good room

Remember - your vocal recording (and everything else for that matter) is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.

In the good ol’ days of SSL and Neve consoles, Studer tape machines and great anaolog gear, a vocalist would be compressed on the way in, compressed again in the mix (not always, but usually slightly, at least), then compressed again when printing to 2-track (not individually, but there was almost always a comp on the m.bus), and then compressed again during mastering (usually). This (assuming done properly) along with #s 1 - 4 and some fader moves, all helped the vocals sit right in the mix.

Hope this helps.


I must confess. When I am doing an album, I do use meters to see overall vocal levels in relation to the master buss level. I use it as a barometer for the rest of the songs on the album so there is consistency throughout the album.

+1 :sunglasses:

and +1 again :sunglasses:

As I read this, I was like, “HUH?!?”

Then you said:

That actually makes sense. Especially if it’s a vocal-heavy album, and the vocals really are the featured instrument. Which is usually the case, anyway.

But you wouldn’t use meters to see overall vocal levels in relation to the rest of the instruments in a song, if you were doing just that one song, would you? No you wouldn’t. Would you? No. Y-no. :stuck_out_tongue:

Who makes THAT plug?? :slight_smile:
I’ll order it tomorrow.
Has to be number one on this topics list.

Thanks Jeff and all of you who are giving great suggestions. I really appreciate them.

I guess I should explain our setup first, my wife and I are the singers as we lead worship events and meetings. I use a Shure Beta 87a for my mic, and the Steinberg UR824 to record through, (Still using Cubase 6 for recording live, because 7 is not stable enough yet for me).

One of the problems that I have encountered is every location has different acoustics, sometimes our space is limited to setup and it requires a lot of thought for placement of my keyboard where I sit to play and sing. Often I have experienced way too much bleed through in my mic, either due to a wall directly behind me reflecting the sound into it, or I had my monitors up too much. Only until recently did I start using Sennheiser 280HD Pro headphones to hear the mix, instead of through monitors. Hopefully I will switch over to a good pair of in ear monitors soon, probably the Shure brand?

Just touched on this so you would understand my setup, and that I’m not in a studio perfect room. Ahhh the fun and joy of learning the art of recording! It’s a joy to learn! I’ve had to learn by listening to other mixes, asking questions and just simply by hearing with my ears what sounds right.

Thanks again for all the great tips.