Mixing Vocals

I’ve run into a problem i usually don’t have…I’m running Cubse 7 with Saffire 6 usb as my audio interface and Sterling Audio St69 as my microphone…the vocals come through clear but I’m having a problem mixing them down correctly to allow them to “sit” in the track…are there any tips? I also use Waves 9 plugins which are great. Are there any other plugins that anyone could suggest?

Just a heads up, I record Christian Hip Hop and R&B…I have great monitors also, Yamaha HS80M

In order of importance:
#1 You need a good vocalist who knows how to sing in front of the microphone
#2 You need a good microphone
(as you see, the 2 most important things need to be met long before mixing)
#3 In your mix, use EQ to “dig hole” for vocals on instrument tracks (cut frequencies, which are at the same frequency range as vocals)
#4 In your mix, use EQ to “dig hole” for instruments on vocal track (cut frequencies, which are dominant on instrument tracks)
#5 Use compressor to even out excessive dynamic variation of your vocal track (this is extreamly important, if condition #1 is not met)

Oh maybe I have been and still am making this harder than what it is. Steps 3 & 4 I really do not understand…I’m sure I have a good microphone…st69 by sterling audio…I’m “lost in the sauce”

#0.5 treat your room…

Ok, try this…

The Vocal is the focus of your song when it is present.

Loop your 1st verse.

Solo the vocal and make it sound good. It doesn’t have to be great… it’s a first draft.

now, solo another track, of your choosing, to compare with the vocal track. Image it and e.q. it. Do not let it distract you from the vocal. Add another track, and so on…

Hope that helps get you started on solid ground.

The basic theory is that every ‘instrument’ that needs to be distinctly heard, including vocals, should have a frequency range that is not being ‘trodden on’ by another instrument.

In sparse mixes, most instruments can be left wide range, with some modest EQ boost (<2dB) to ‘highlight’ each one’s characteristic sound. This allow the space to be filled with the resonances of the instruments/vocals.

On dense mixes (lots of instruments), individual tracks benefit by cutting out, by high and low pass filters, what is not needed on them. This can make a soloed track almost boring, but it pays dividends in the clarity it imparts to a mix.

Also, use automation to momentary dip the levels of other instruments when the vocal is present, but only just low and long enough to let the vocal be heard distinctly. ‘Weave’ around the words. This keeps the overall level as high as it can be. This is the manual version of sending the voice into the side-chain input of a compressor in the instrument channel(s) (group or individual) to get the instrument to ‘duck’ when the voice comes through.

This really helped! One thing that i noticed helped also is being that i’m recording vocals in mono, my plugins should be in mono also… i use waves sometimes but now i’m in love with fab filter lol

Defintely agree with 1 & 2. And 5 as well, but even if # 1 is met. Don’t necessarily agree with 4 & 5. Sometimes that can help, but it’s not the definitive way to go. As with everything, it depends.

Two more things to add that were not on the list:

You need a good mic pre (most people in home studios dont have one), and you need a good room (most people in home studios dont have one). Many people say the room does not factor in that much; they are mistaken.

Not necessarily true. Maybe, but it depends on what you are trying to acheive.

Basically, you need to start out with a well-recorded track. From there, mixing is a learning process that takes many years to master. Many people think it’s easy, and it only takes a short time to learn. NO

Best suggestion from here I can give you, is to try and post an audio ex. - it’s extremely difficult to offer a suggestion without hearing what your mix sounds like.


I agree with Jeff that you need a good mic pre, but I think I might disagree with him on what constitutes a good one. I think just about any audio input one buys these days will be just fine in terms of noise, freq response, distortion, and errors.

One thing that will definitely improve a vocal track is to try and isolate the mic from room reflections when recording. You don’t have to spend a lot of $$$ to do this. I bought a couple of used cloth-covered office partitions for $20 each, which I bracketed to each other to form a 135 degree angle; I position them behind me and facing the mic so as to block room reflections from coming back into the mic – really tightens up the sound.

There can be a myriad of reasons why a vocal is not sitting in a mix well, so it’s hard to diagnose your problem without hearing it. Before the forum got updated recently, there was a “Made With Cubase” section where people could post their work and get constructive feedback; I think they’re now just posting those songs on the Lounge. So if you could post the track, you’d probably get some really good advice.

99.8% of the time, with any kind of material that has vocals, the vocal is the most important element. Maybe you’re worried about making sure everything in your mix is prominent enough to be heard; my advice would be, don’t worry about that – just focus on the vocal. Instead of mixing everything and then trying to sit the vocal on top of it, start with just the vocal, and maybe kick drum, and then build everything up around that, making sure that the vocal remains the predominant focus as you go

Would add that detailed automation of the vocal is almost always helpful if not essential. This can go way beyond simple volume automation - many times (if not always) getting the best vocal track also includes EQ automation, reverb automation, send-to-other-effects automation, etc. This is really tedious, and often the best results are when it’s done on a syllable-by-syllable basis, but it can really make a huge difference.

Another hint that can really help, if used very sparingly, is to try to use mid-side processing to push some of the non-vocal tracks just a bit out of the center towards the edges - if the vocals are in the center, that can help them stand out some.

Finally - having different effects on the vocals at different points of the track can be helpful. In other words, for the chorus may want to have a different reverb or compression, or EQ etc., compared to the verse.

As described in Michael Paul Stavrou’s 'Mixing with your mind", we used our mics with figure-8 patterns so successfully that we could almost treat each track as a separate recording for stereo placement purposes, so good was the isolation.

We built our studio with 200mm acoustic fibre walls so that there is little reflection, but the condenser mics can pick up the ‘atmosphere’ around each instrument. We can then place them in a stereo field, and add REVerence (what a nice warm reverb) to build the room in which the whole ‘performance’ takes place.

Michael’s book, being one of the most practical and empowering for aspiring recording engineers, also highlighted that vocalists rarely sing out the front of their mouths, but instead bias towards one side, which is determined by using his technique of moving a mic around the vocalist’s head and listening for the position with the best timbre. The bias tends to be greater the older one gets. Other benefits of having the mic off axis is that it tends to avoid plosives which DO come out the front, and allows the face to be more clearly seen, which is good for YouTube videos. Look at the vocal mic placement in our video for an example.

He also describes:
a) a simple technique for finding optimum speaker placement to avoid room problems, with just your ears.
b) a fantastic compression-reverb trick that enhances vocals the louder they get. This is used on my wife’s voice in the video, applied to a EMT140 plate reverb only 30 degrees to either side of centre.

The book is great, and available from http://www.mixingwithyourmind.com. ‘Stav’ as he is known, has worked with all the greats in London’s top studios, but is now back in Australia and based in Sydney. I once asked him some questions by email, in response to which he arranged to meet with me to ‘set me straight’, but not before almost making me sign an NDA!

A couple of tricks I have for handling problems in the recorded vocals are:
a) Plosives
These have the curious property of making the whole stereo sound field sound like it is swaying in the wind. The waveform looks like it has a very low frequency at the start, slowly petering out. The simple fix I have is to just drop, but not silence, the front part of the wave form to reduce the first few 10ms gradually increasing to normal level at the end of the low freq pattern. I created an Envelope preset which I apply to a selection covering the two points above. You may have experiment and undo until you get the right sound, capturing the power of the song sound-wave, but avoiding the leading sledge-hammer.

b) Sibilance:
It can be annoying, but I find it is only so if it increases to become very noticeable. If it is made to look more like a mesa (flat-top mountain) of about a third of its peak, it seems very natural, and is not overtly noticeable. Again, an Envelope preset with just the right amount of dip in the middle, applied to a selection that starts and ends about a third the way up. It seems a whole lot better to treat the few that occur this way, than apply a dynamics plugin across everything, which is sure to have some unintended artifacts!

c) Lip smacks and mouth noises:
RX, especially RX3, has its Spectral Repair module that makes short work of these. Just use the Replace tab, open to maximum pre/post width, select just outside the thin vertical line that these look like, and Process. Voila!
Also makes short work of guitar string touches, which are wider than the mouth noises.

Generally, I apply these tasks permanently to a copy of the file – first two in the Cubase sample editor online (and Apply Edits…) and the third in RX offline – than audition it in the mix instead of the other, and if OK, remain using it instead . I still have the original if I need it.

Hope these help.

Here’s a song i’ve been working on for the longest. after i render my songs i normalize them to -4.5 db before i put my own master to it. If someone can listen to this and critique it for me I’d definitely appreciate it. I’m all for constructive criticism! Just to give yall a good rundown of what I’m working with…Cubase 7, Yamaha HS80M monitors, Focusrite Saffire 6 usb audio interface (the mic pres on here are heard to be pretty darn good), and Sterling Audio ST 69 microphone. I have my microphone cornered off in a nice place so extra noise doesn’t enter. I’ve tried to upload a song by mp3 or wma format and it’s not letting me. can someone give me their email address i send them the track that way?

You will have to join some audio repository site, like Soundcloud.

I have a reverbnation account…
but i dont want to post it until i get the best mixdown available

I think all the sites stream at relatively low bit-rates… sometimes that makes a tune sound kinda icky. I use the pay version of soundclick.com, which I believe is $9.95/month, because it allows streams at 320kps

I think box allows you to d/l the wav, no?

My mom says mix into 2 or 3db of bus compression !!! She says this pushes the other stuff out of the way a bit when the lead instrument kicks in. Vocals in this case but works for lead anything.

Dude - your mom told me the same thing! :smiley:

Yeah, that’s true. Sometimes peeps don’t have it set so you can do that, however. Even when they do, I’m too set in my ways from the old days, when this option wasn’t offered, or it took too long to do it. I admit, it’s a really weak excuse :laughing: