How to mix vocals successfully

Mixing Vocals In A Home Studio Environment

Do you want to learn how to mix voices simply and successfully without expensive software? This page is for DIY musicians and independent artists using basic software and is written from my own experience. It tells you how to mix good quality vocals without equipment coasting millions! How do you get recorded vocals to sound good?



Perhaps the hardest aspect of DIY recording is to get your voice to sound good and stand out without being strident. This is especially vital when vocal mixing for folk music which needs clarity and sensitivity. Here I will show you how to produce a good vocal without getting too techy. It IS possible to get a great sound without spending a fortune on gear. In particular I will show how I mixed the song, St Francis' Prayer.

This account is aimed at ordinary musicians, not industry experts. It gives some useful tips to other DIY music producers in a non-techy way!I hope you will enjoy it and find it useful or interesting!

Recording Your Vocals

What you need to record vocals.

Photographs and images used here are my own, please do not copy but you can click here to preview St Francis Prayer :)

Recording a good voice track presupposes several facts:

You must have backing ready or you will be out of time!

You need headphones as sound from the backing track will spill into the voice if you use speakers.

A good microphone, on a stand, in a quiet room is a must.

A "pop screen" is useful!

Either a digital studio or an interface for your computer is necessary.

The route I choose is as follows, a good condenser microphone with a professional quality pop screen into a digital portastudio. If you want to save on equipment costs, you can make a pop screen by stretching nylon tights over a coat hanger. I have done it, but it does lose some clarity whereas the pop screen does not.

Pop Screens - Essential for a clean sound

When recording and mixing your own song, a pop screen is a must for cutting out explosive consonants - such as "b" "t" and "p" - from your recording. These air sounds can be ugly and spoil your track. Compression tends to make them more rather than less obvious, but a good pop screen will prevent the worst air sounds.

The Recording Hardware I Use

Recording with a digital studio

I use a 24 track portastudio. Any orchestral backing I want is produced with Sibelius software and its onboard synth. I use the sib track purely as a guide track to sing along to (a la karaoke!) importing it from the computer onto the studio.

Vocals and live instruments are then recorded and exported to a mixer programme on my computer. I could mix directly with the studio, but I find exporting to NCH Mix Pad works well for me. This is a very cheap but reliable programme which is easy for someone who is not a "tech head" to use.

I also use Wave Pad (part of the package) to edit any individual parts, amplify, add effects or EQ before loading to Mix Pad.

This set up works well for me. It is a lot cheaper than Pro-Tools or Cubase as my focus is on the music not the industry specifications. I know of professionals who also use Sony Acid and Audacity freeware programmes. It need not be expensive to mix sounds!

TASCAM 2488 Mark II 24-Track Digital Recording Workstation
TASCAM 2488 Mark II 24-Track Digital Recording Workstation

Still going strong 7 years after purchase! My only quibble is the display is difficult for me to read, but that is my bad eyes!

 

Tascam 24 track Digital Portastudio - A quality tool for home recording and demo CDs

I have used the Tascam 2488 extensively and can recommend it to readers. The only drawback I found was the manual which does not specify the codecs supported by the import and export WAV functions in an obvious way. I had to discover that by trial and error. After that point it became easier to use with the computer!

Raw Track Without Cleaning Or Compression - The Starting Point For Editing Your Vocals

As you can see, this wave form is very spiky. You can also perhaps see little spikes and oddities between phrases? This will not sound balanced or clean.

Edit Your Vocal Now - How to clean a track before mixing - easy method....

To get singing to sound good it is necessary to edit it first! However well you sing there will be problems with background noise, breath and mouth sounds and varying levels. If you have a good condenser microphone it will pick all these things up and now is the stage to get rid of them. Here is how you do it.

Take your vocal track into your computer editing programme (Mix Pad for me) listen carefully for unwanted sounds, heavy breathing or rumble between verses, overly loud consonants, gasps for air.... All lovely stuff!

Listen carefully to it at high volume. Where a problem occurs, "cut a notch" into the track using the increase and decrease decibel line. Listen again carefully. If you have lost part of a word, move the line until it is back again. Take time over this process - it is boring and longwinded and listening to unaccompanied voice can suck, but it is vital!

Using Compression - How compression changes your voice

When you are satisfied, compress it. This gets rid of unintentional peaks and troughs from your performance or proximity to the microphone changing. Some producers compress multiple times. I do it once. This preserves the natural sound of my voice.

Too much compression makes singing sound woolly and out of tune I find. Too little makes the track distort and bounce a lot. I compress in a low ratio and use as little as I can get away with, you decide how much you like.... It is personal.

Save as Vocal1compressed. Keep this for back up!

After compression, you may wish to tune it. Do not use a global tuner unless you want the robot effect! If you have Melodyne, use it to find any notes that are audibly off key and tune them individually.

Save as Vocal1comptune.

If you are going to add reverb prior to mixing, add it to your track as required and Save as Vocal1comtunereverb.

You are now ready to add your vocals to the mix.

Keep the non reverb track!

Buy Vocal Tuning Software Here - The Music Industry's Secret Weapon

Of course you don't need this software if you are a fantastic singer who never goes off key or if you are happy to make dozens of takes and cut and paste the best! You don't need this software for rough edged vocals in a heavy metal setting. You don't need it if your ear doesn't tell you you are out of tune or if your tuning errors don't make you cringe.... Your audience might appreciate it though....

Where To Pan Singing In The Mix

Centering your voice!

Panning instruments is to give separation to the various tracks and some depth to your song. The established place for lead singer is the centre along with the drum track. This puts you right in front of the rest of the band.

Now you know why it is so necessary to clean up the track! What I do with my singing is place it in several positions. I do this because I have a pure, some would say folky voice. I do not have much "edge" so I want to enduce a gentle chorus effect. A pure sound can cut through without being strident in this way.

With St Francis Prayer I followed this pattern:

Centre vocal with reverb, minus12dB

Centre vocal dry, minus 10dB

Left of centre vocal reverb, minus 16dB

Right of centre vocal reverb, minus 16dB

The minus values were necessary to avoid being out of balance with the instruments or the track distorting. I tend to put minus values on everything - not just vocals - until the volume indicator only redlines very slightly. I do not believe music has to be loud to be good - if it sounds good quiet it can be amplified but bad music will only sound awful when louder!

I guess this is all I have to say for now and you must be the decider as to whether it worked in this particular song, so for my last paragraph or two you can check out St Francis Prayer....

Happy Easter and good luck with your recording!

St Francis Prayer - This is the song talked about here

I am most proud of this, as I did everything on the song from scratch.

Please let me know if you have found this lens interesting or useful.

More by this Author


Thank you for reading about vocal mixing - What is your opinion about a good vocal mix? 40 comments

KarenTBTEN profile image

KarenTBTEN 6 years ago

You've got some good tutorials here for recording. I like the screencast.


Addy Bell profile image

Addy Bell 6 years ago

Useful stuff to know. Thanks!


callinsky lm profile image

callinsky lm 6 years ago

Very informative lens. Your track turned out fabulous. Very clean and pretty.


LisaMarieGabriel profile image

LisaMarieGabriel 6 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thank you all for visiting and for your input. I hope you have a wonderful Easter! :)


KathyMcGraw2 profile image

KathyMcGraw2 6 years ago from California

Wow....just learned tons. Most of this is way over my head, but for those that do this, I'm sure it's not. The one thing I got was it is "a lot" of work :) I have to come back as my speakers aren't working and I want to hear your new song!


Shades-of-truth profile image

Shades-of-truth 6 years ago from USA

Very informative. One of my sons would "eat this info up". He plays in a Christian band, and I'll bet they could benefit a lot from your detailed information on mixing. Top-drawer, here.


Kathryn002 profile image

Kathryn002 5 years ago

This is really interesting to me. I will probably never use the information but I really like to know how the process works. Great lens!


Philippians468 profile image

Philippians468 5 years ago

thank you for sharing this informative lens! very useful lens! cheers


jlardinois1 profile image

jlardinois1 5 years ago

Hey - didn't have the time to read all of this (yet) since I have to work in 5 minutes, but I thought I would share some tips as well, and provide a link to a similar lens about mixing. This lens of mine is about Neve emulations and some uses: http://hubpages.com/entertainment/jl_uadNeveRev -- but I would like to remind people that using a gate or expander is often much easier then editing out or automating out unwanted noise. If you use a console or console strip plugin like the SSL, just EQ the vocals really loudly only in the 1.5-3.5kHz range, then set the EQ path as a dynamic sidechain, enabling the gate. This way all the noise will be very quiet and fall way below the gate's threshold, but you won't actually hear the EQ.


LizMac60 profile image

LizMac60 5 years ago from United Kingdom

Great information and advice here Lisa


djforza profile image

djforza 5 years ago

Wow, awesome lens!!


DonMigoy LM profile image

DonMigoy LM 5 years ago

Very useful lens! thanks for the info :)


ZevRonso profile image

ZevRonso 5 years ago

Awesome lense. way to break it down.


anonymous 5 years ago

great stuff you have, they can in handy to my recording techniques


Joan Haines profile image

Joan Haines 5 years ago

This is fascinating! Thank you for the history as well as the practical directions. I really want to record some songs with my daughter.


Edutopia 5 years ago

Great lens, really helpful for the budding home studio jockey.


Marshall1969 5 years ago

Great lense on this. I have done some home vocal recording and everything you said is true. I also learned somethings that I didn't know about. Check out my first lense here: http://www.squidoo.com/online-video-drum-lessons and like/let me know what you think.


anonymous 4 years ago

Dude you rock,,absolutely rock


Jeandre 4 years ago

Wow man, this is awesome. I recently did one for music production as a whole, my hopes is to create an interactive tutorial on all things music production. Through the collective wisdom will we be able to perfect our craft.

http://www.squidoo.com/ultimate-guide-to-become-a-...


darciefrench lm profile image

darciefrench lm 4 years ago

Great stuff for the DIY musician! My daughter would love any and all of it. She's an aspiring youtube professional at age 8.


JohnGcorner profile image

JohnGcorner 4 years ago

Great article, I've always had some problems with vocals, guess it's just a matter of more practice.


antoniow 4 years ago

Fantastic lens, great information here! Squidlike


tobydavis profile image

tobydavis 4 years ago

Interesting lens - lots of useful tips and advice :-)


mariaamoroso profile image

mariaamoroso 4 years ago from Sweden

I would love to try this! Must go on my to-do list


aesta1 profile image

aesta1 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

You really know your music. I regret not having giving much time to this. It is a lack in my life.


NigelMcKernan LM profile image

NigelMcKernan LM 4 years ago

Excellent article, definitely learned some tips!

A related lens?:

http://hubpages.com/entertainment/how-to-record-an...


madmike1 lm profile image

madmike1 lm 4 years ago

The vocal is very nice, but the backing track does lack a bit. Sounds a bit too thin, and the panning could be re-worked. But the vocal is quite nice !!!


LisaMarieGabriel profile image

LisaMarieGabriel 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Mixing with the software that I use is not difficult Fernando. I would prefer not to automate the process too much as for me the human ear is always a better tool than the computer algorhythm. So my music has an organic feel to it from analogue recording and manual reworking via the software. If you want the modern R&B sound though, I grant you, computer software is King!


miksmusic profile image

miksmusic 4 years ago

Quick tip: most modern DAWs come with some sort of pitch correction plugin, so you may not need to shell out hundreds for Autotune or Melodyne.


mattjohntz profile image

mattjohntz 4 years ago

Nice lens and some good tips. If any one needs any tips on what compression is or how to use it, check this out.

http://hubpages.com/entertainment/home-recording-t...


benpakenham 4 years ago

Tnx, it really works, I confirm and re-recommend it ;)


RedMastering 3 years ago

I would like to discourage non-professionals using compressors,

if you don't know how to use it - better don't touch it,

out of experience I can say when I was young and inexperienced I used to add compressor everywhere... and I didn't now back then how to use it.


LisaMarieGabriel profile image

LisaMarieGabriel 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

@RedMastering: Indeed! There is one of my songs, written and sung at a time when I was in a lot of emotional pain. It was mixed by an engineer friend who ran several passes of compression on it. The first one tamed the voice, the second and third detracted from the vocal - it was just too tame. A little compression can be a good thing, too much and its like singing through cotton wool!


jayavi profile image

jayavi 3 years ago

Thanks for sharing. nice lens. I like country music most.


HearDaBeat 3 years ago

Making great beats (and mixing vocals) can be pretty simple with sonicproducer.org I've used it in the past and for the money and ease of use, you can't "beat" it, pun intended!


meridianmusic1 3 years ago

Cool Tutorial..this helps people a lot and I just wanna personally thank you and all others like you that help those that need the info and want to learn..

Be sure to check out my blog for local talent in my area.... http://www.deeperelevation.blogspot.com/


rockindiy profile image

rockindiy 2 years ago

Many good tips here!


Bally Singh 2 years ago

thanks very much buddy


sujit001 2 years ago

How to use Reverb?


LisaMarieGabriel profile image

LisaMarieGabriel 2 years ago from United Kingdom Author

I would say sparingly. If you use reverb it is always wise to keep a copy of the "dry" track too. The same with chorus. These are both effects that can enhance a vocal if use sparingly but make it sound like a whale stuck in a drainpipe used to excess. When I use reverb I like to pan a little of the dry track slightly to each side of the main vocal in the mix and get a kind of natural chorus along with a little extra clarity but that is just me.

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