One dimensional vocal - lost its mojo

I have a vocal track that feels a tad ‘flat’ in the mix (I’m not sure how to explain it). It cuts through fine, but feels a bit bland. If I solo the track, the reverb is more evident, widens it nicely and the whole thing sweetens up. In the mix, it loses its mojo.

I probably just need to walk away and then have another listen, but I thought I’d see if anyone had some ideas they have tried when things just don’t have soul! I really want to find/learn wise solutions to these things, rather than lazy & quick fixes that end up being a compounding mess in the mix.

Anyhoo, I’m not sure if it’s a perceived wideness thing, or just a colour thing. I’ve fiddled with using a stereo delay set very lightly, but I don’t want the track to lose its clarity by trying to make it sound less one-dimensional or muddying it. Is this a good/valid idea to try?

I tried using double and panned tracks, then off-setting one - sounds wider, but then it loses its ‘pop’. I even thought of using 2x panned tracks with a 3rd one centred, with any combination of off-set, or possible fine tuning. But, I’m not trying to fatten the track, and I just want to find its ‘sweet spot’

Maybe, I should continue to try a few different compressor or EQ combinations, and/or saturation? Mmm - many variables to pursue!

So, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated to set me off down the right path to learning vocal track nirvana!

Woops, thought I should mention what VST’s I have outside the C7.5 standards - maybe useful!

  • Waves CLA-2A, CLA-3A & CLA-76 compressors, Renaissance Vox & Renaissance compressor

  • Plus some freeby VST’s like Boot EQ mkII, Baxter EQ, TDR Feedback compressor, plus others I can’t remember & probably many I should delete!

Not that I think that after market VST’s are the magical solution - they’re all just tools!

One trick on vocals is to use 2 compressors in series. First a heavy soft knee compressor, driven reasonably hard so that the vocal is evened out (compression operating most of the time). Then a lively compressor hard knee after that, with a slowish attack and fast release so it lets through transients (compressing only on the peaks say). This gives back some attack and dynamic but in a controlled fashion.

Other than that, if it’s not standing out in the mix then it’s probably frequencies. It could be that there’s another instrument that’s in the way, likely to be guitar. Take out some instruments to see how this effects the vocals.

Finally, it’s a tried and trusted practice automate vocal levels during the song, to bring out various words or to dip consonants. Also automation of the other instruments too to keep them away from the vocals. This is what a compressor does but often they can’t do it so precisely.


Thanks for the tip! I love learning new things!

The dual compressor idea is great - the Renaisance Vox + one of the CLA’s work a treat. I’m thinking the RV first in line.

The frequency is probably the most likely culprit. I’ll try to move some of the instruments out of the way and see what dulcet tones I can produce.

I’ts so newbie easy to get caught dumping huge FX on a track and bringing out some presence by over saturating the mix and in reality just making it all worse. I’ve just started trying to move about instruments to complimentary frequencies, so it’s good to hear I’m on the right track with that!

Thanks again!

Other than bass drum/bass guitar/etc, apply a low cut (high pass filter) on all your tracks to around 100hz.
All these tracks don’t need the low frequencies and otherwise you’ll like push up the basses to compensate for the noise, which sounds bad.
On a compressed vocal track, not cutting can spell horror since the compressor triggers on all those unnecessary freqs rather than on the actual vocals. You’ll likely have to set the thresholds again after cutting.

As I was thought in school… Professional vocalist don’t need anything maybe a compressor in the channel strip to record. Capture the vocal sound as pure as possible. After that it’s up to you. Variaudio, pitch correct, reverb, delay, De Esser, that’s all you should need. Use with caution… Less is more :smiley:

Sorry, but that’s not how you mix. I keep seeing people (here and elsewhere) talking about how you should just slap an HPF filter on a track to cut the lows. What?!?! No.

Then I keep seeing people (here and elsewhere) talking about how you should just slap an LPF filter on a track to cut the his. What?!?! No.

That’s not to say that filters should never be used, nor that there aren’t situations where you would just slap an HPF or LPF on and cut. Sure there are. But telling someone who is having an issue getting a vocal track to sit in a mix to slap on an HPF to everything other than bass drum/bass guitar/etc (what’s “etc”, anyway???) because those tracks “don’t need the low frequencies” is not helping - it’s hurting. I am really not trying to be a dick here (in real life, I happen to be a really cool guy) but you are telling someone to do something a certain way which is - at least in a general sense - just plain wrong.

If the vocal track is not sitting right in the mix, there are several things to keep in mind.

  1. The recording is key. Obviously you are past that point now, but for future reference… capturing a great vocal performance is not just about setting up a mic in front of the vocalist and pressing record. It is actually a lot more involved than many people - including those who are relatively new to engineering - realize. It starts with the vocalist. If the vocalist is not that good (and no, I am not only talking about pitch), you are going to have issues with trying to get that vocal track to sit properly in the mix, regardless of the room, mic pre, mic, compressor used, and regardless of what you do to it - and the rest of the instruments - after the fact. There is the compressor. It’s not just adding a comp to the chain - it’s knowing how to use that comp. And the settings will vary from vocalist to vocalist. Then there is the room, and the mic pre. Now, the comp, mic pre and room are little things, but they add up. Then there is the mic. Want a good read on how to go about selecting “the right vocal mic”? Have a look at the GS thread, where James Lugo tries to find the right vocal mic for himself:

If you are into audio, and engineering, and you dont find that an interesting read, you need to have your head examined.

  1. The dual comp idea is a good one - sometimes. It depends largely on the recording and the performance. Is the performance extremely dynamic to begin with? Was there a comp used already, which has already significantly decreased the dynamic range? Dual comp may not always be the way to go - but if you do decide to go that route, be gentle.

  2. Maybe the issue is not the vocal track, but everything else. Or maybe some things. Remember - the vocal track rules all. Well, generally speaking. Sometimes, you need to sacrifice other elements to get the vocal track to sit right. So, the guitar(s), or the snare, or the piano, or whatever, may sound great on their own, and may sound great in the mix without the vocals, but that doesn’t mean you should say “well - the guitars sound great - so I can’ touch those!” No. If you have to sacrifice some of the guitar for the sake of the vocal, you do it. If you have to cut some freqs from the guitar that are competing with the vocal, but find that the guitar doesn’t sound as great anymore, you do it - for the sake of the vocal. That doesn’t mean that other things should start sounding like crap; the overall objective is to get the track as a whole to sound great, but sometimes, you have to cut your hand off so you can see where you are walking so as not to walk off a cliff. Ok, that was pretty stupid - but you get the drift.

  3. Try backing off on some of the vocal track’s reverb level, and when you add a delay, add that same verb to the delays themselves. Try a Ping-Pong delay, so as not to have the delays repeat in the center only.

  4. EQ is the way to go when it comes to making something stick out. I cant tell you which way to go obviously, but many many hours have been spent in many pro studios by many a pro engineer working on getting the EQ of the vocal track just right. If you slap on an EQ to the vocal track , and think you are done after spending 5 min on it, you probably have not spent nearly enough time.

Mixing is an art form unto itself, and take many many years to perfect. Keep banging away!


@Jeff, many thanks!
I forgot to mention in the post that I’m still very much a newbie in this field, applying basic tips that seemed to help on my end. And well I’m glad it at least brought forth your detailed message. Will go over the linked thread when I get more time to concentrate.

funky, did any of the tips here , in practice, help you solve the issue? That’s the main thing.

Also don’t forget you can use parallel compression (a.k.a New York compression) to beefen up your vocal.

I will agree that EQ is the way to go. But the more you mess with it the more you damage it. Do you think Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson’s engineers for example waste a lot of time with EQ? I will bet you no. EQ and move on. Listen to music you like and go for that. Sometimes using variaudio in the wrong way can make a vocal lose it’s mojo, use with caution. If the song is hot it’s hot if it’s not it’s not. Sometimes you’re your worst critique.
You have to mix fast before you lose the mojo :slight_smile:


Try the classic 1176 -> LA-2A. It’s a battle-tested chain for pushing vocals up-front. :smiley:

You might try any larger EQ roll-offs, de-essing, background noise suppression, rumble cutting, broad shelving, etc. before that compressor chain. Then sweeten it with more subtle EQ, “air” etc. (if needed) after the compressor chain.

Then do any grouping, doubling stacking. Keep things center for main vox, consider widening / panning for bg vox. Bg vocals may also be EQd more.

If you are grouping, doubling stacking, put them in group channels that make sense and consider using a small amount of buss compression glue on those group channels. This might also be an appropriate place to catch any peaks before they head downstream and wreck havoc.

Then put a shipload of reverb and delay on it. :laughing: Kidding. (“he’s not kidding”)

I can’t believe all the ruthless information in this thread about getting a vocal to stand out. It’s not rocket science!!
Just push the S button on the track.

Blammo!!! Done!

^ BOO!!! :stuck_out_tongue:

Exactly! But wouldn’t it be great if Cubase had half-mute buttons too, because sometimes Mute thins out a mix a little too much?


Ha! That would be the listen “L” button :stuck_out_tongue:

There are some good tips in this thread about sitting a vocal, but no one has talked about this:

The stereo field.

The stereo field is not 1 dimensional (left right) nor 2-dimensional Left/right + Up Down). It is 3-dimensional. There is depth front to back as well. You can still have a full spectrum and add a vocal into it while having it sit front and center. You have to wrap your head around psychoacoustics. Read these articles and try to apply it in your engineering.

One reason that the 1176+la2a combo works so well in bringing a vocal forward is the harmonic content added by the la2a. A trick I use all the time is with the cubase plugins “datube” and “bitcrusher” those two things can stand whatever you put on them right out front without a level change or even carving an eq. The thing here is the distortion/harmonic content. The human mind perceives things with greater harmonic content/distortion as being louder. That is harmonic content.

Now lets step into the real world as seen on a stage. Why, besides volume level, does something sound closer. What are the sound qualities of something that sounds close vs something that sounds far away? These things you have to answer in your mix. If you have no depth to your mix, you will need more destructive techniques to fit everything on the same plane. It will be a battle of compromises where you will have to decide the collateral damage.

As always, when mixing with depth, sum to mono to check compatibility.

I think we should defer this entire discussion to JP22.

One last thing:

It is extremely helpful to have all your instrument sounds optimized first which starts with your mic placements then in the session like some of the high passing/low shelfing someone wrote about, and addressing the offending parts of an instrument while embellishing the sweet. There is no blanket statement on how to approach hp or shelfing other than with hp is when you hear its effect, bring it back a hair so you have the usable frequency range of the instrument. Do it soloed and with the mix open. Personally I tend to do a combo of hp+low shelve or sometimes just a low shelve. When high passing think of speaker crossovers. You want a guitar to crossover into a bass… not too much, not too little where it is disconnected. Watch your slope too. yadda yadda yadda… This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Mike Elliot’s Guide to EQ