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Hi all!
I have a question on mixing vocals. A lot of mixes I've done in the past have almost always used some kind of samples(especially for percussion) in them. I have cheap mics and don't have a great preamp yet. I shall soon be upgrading some of these things, but this is how my recording rig is set up now. Anyway, I think one of the toughest things to do when working with samples, artificial and natural reverb, and recording in different rooms is getting the vocals to sit well in the mix and not sound overdubbed but as much a part of the performance as any other instrument in the mix. I was just wondering if anyone had any tips, advice, or lessons learned on this topic that they'd be willing to share. What are your thoughts on getting a natural sounding vocal in your mixes? Don't spare details if possible, please! :D

DogsoverLava Wed, 06/22/2016 - 11:19

When you get more gear - even basic recording gear like an interface and pre-amps you'll immediately have and discover more options so some of this understanding will come naturally from experimentation. But as a general thing what you are asking about in some ways is self evident -- that natural sounding vocals wont sit well in sample and electronic music environments because it's Ying & Yang. One of the general reasons for this is the relative sense of dimension that comes with natural acoustics that doesn't necessarily come with electronic music.

That said you can experiment still -- possibly by recording your vocals relatively dry -- or applying similar reverb treatments to the master bus so that the electronic instruments sound like they were recorded in a similar environment. The application of some compression across the bus also helps "glue" things together. The guys here are great and they can give you better more immediate tips - but just think intellectually what you are trying to achieve - you want the vocal to sound and fit naturally with the music -- OK -- so -- we want them to sound like they are part of a performance that's taking place in some physical space -- so --- how do I get that to happen?

Eq also helps too -- EQing to carve out room within the mix for everything to cohabit.... sometimes the various frequencies bump up against each other and push each other out of the mix -- see if you can make a little more room. Also - if the vocal is too loud it will be naked and obvious how different it is from the music -- if too soft same thing ---- so really tweak the levels and also the stereo field --- that can help give or open up dimension as well.

Good luck man

pcrecord Wed, 06/22/2016 - 12:44

Most of the time when we mix a song, we make room that every instruments including the vocal is have their place.
Thing is with karaoke and other pre recorded backing tracks, they are mostly mix to sound good alone regardless of the high possibility that we will add other instruments.
DogsoverLava gave great tips, and I think what we forget is to grab that EQ on the backing track and remove a few db at some frequencies to let the vocal sits better.
I guess the spacial mixing is very important as well. If the backing have a special type of reverb, if you can match it, it'll go a long way...

The same thing with samples and Vsti. They are to be considered as instruments that you need to mix.. don't be afraid to carve them to your need ;)

kmetal Wed, 06/22/2016 - 13:42

almost by default I add a small almost inaudible bit of short delay like 15-300ms with only a couple repeats. This adds dimension. You can slightly offset either side on a steroe delay to add width.

I use delay before reverb in general, then add a bit of small verb with some pre delay.

This type of thing maintains the clarity and punch of vocals to keep them out front, but blends them into the space behind them

Also almost by default use the old pitch shifted/harmonizer trick with a pitch shifted set +3-6 cents on one side, -3-6 cents on the other. This will widen and thicken the vocals. Subtle or outrageous amounts are up to you.

Happy singing. Vocals mics are like shoes, one type and size doesn't fit all. The best mic for a vocalist could be a $100 shure sm, or a 5k tube mic. It doesn't matter, cost is irrelevant to performance with vocal mics.

Mic technique is and vocal technique utmost Important. That will make your vocals sit better than any eq compression or effect.

Sean G Thu, 06/23/2016 - 15:46

Makes you feel like this when you can't get your vocals sitting correctly in the mix...

SPL do a plug-in that is called de-verb...it helps pull back the room effects on vocal tracks.

SPL also do a plug-in called mo-verb which does the opposite as de-verb so you could go the other way and add more verb to the sample tracks...but I'd try de-verb and just work on the vocal track.

You could then use a compressor to add some glue to the master track as suggested in previous posts and one common reverb across each track or a single reverb to your master track to further pull things together.

Remember less is more, the less plug-in processing you have on a track or on your overall mix, the better it will sound....in principle.

IMHO.

audiokid Thu, 06/23/2016 - 19:48

Jeremy Dean, post: 439423, member: 49624 wrote: Hi all!
I have a question on mixing vocals. A lot of mixes I've done in the past have almost always used some kind of samples(especially for percussion) in them. I have cheap mics and don't have a great preamp yet. I shall soon be upgrading some of these things, but this is how my recording rig is set up now. Anyway, I think one of the toughest things to do when working with samples, artificial and natural reverb, and recording in different rooms is getting the vocals to sit well in the mix and not sound overdubbed but as much a part of the performance as any other instrument in the mix. I was just wondering if anyone had any tips, advice, or lessons learned on this topic that they'd be willing to share. What are your thoughts on getting a natural sounding vocal in your mixes? Don't spare details if possible, please! :D

I agree with this and the best way I accomplish this is to degrade the samples to some degree. Try and get them to sound like "your" recorded tracks in a mix.
How we do that are without doubt tricks of the trade but try and get both home studio and pro studio to blend in a common room size and a sonically common bandwidth size.

We love how big samples can sounds but if they are bigger and fatter than our studio gear, there is no easy way to expand home recorded vocals to what pro audio samplers are doing in pro studios. So, degrade the samples to emulate your weakest sounding track.

Example, if you are recording vocals through a budget converter and low end mics and peramps, to glue a big ass sample library to that, your best bet is to crunch down your samples. The best sounding mixes are when the vocals are in front where they are supposed to be. If your vocals sound like they don't belong, its because the rest of your music is bigger than the vocals.

Imagine using drum samples that were recorded in one of the best acoustically controlled studio using the best recording gear available. Then we import those drum samples into our home studio and go insane trying to match the "vocals" (glue).

Its a no brainer that the drum samples (like BFD3) sound awesome.

Degrade the samples and try to remove your wall reflections of your vocals. Then I suggest to use a mixbus reverb to give the overall mix a unified room sound. Like everything was recorded in the same studio.

If you are ever in the budget for a Bricasti, this is the secret weapon in doing just that. If you are into producing pop music, the best place to start is invest in big rail pre-amp, choice vocal mics, LA2A analog leveling amp and you will be doing cartwheels. If you can buy a Bricasti, even better.

There is no cheap way to get vocals to "glue" to big ass well sampled drums. It costs money to get that level of sound.
So, reduce (try filters) to match your sound. Don't get caught in the trap of pulling out all your mids to get that big top and bottom. All it does is make everything sound blurred. Its really hard to get your mixes loud as well..

Thats what I do. Hope that helps.

Jeremy Dean Thu, 06/23/2016 - 20:22

Thanks for the feedback guys!

kmetal, post: 439456, member: 37533 wrote: It's funny how we all said good things but from completely different angles. This isn't as straightforward a question as it would seem on the surface. Interesting.

Yeah, I'm glad to read so many different takes on the same topic. I may have to try all of your methods and do some experimenting.

DogsoverLava, post: 439426, member: 48175 wrote: Eq also helps too -- EQing to carve out room within the mix for everything to cohabit....

pcrecord, post: 439428, member: 46460 wrote: Most of the time when we mix a song, we make room that every instruments including the vocal is have their place.

I have learned a good deal about carving out space for each instrument in a mix, using compression to glue everything together, and somewhere along the way putting a small amount of reverb on the master bus become a very frequent practice. One of the songs I've done I actually didn't put any reverb on my vocal, just on the master buss and it really did help glue it together. That's like a miracle for me because I really like reverb.... a lot. Sometimes I have to force myself to use less so I don't go crazy with it. Some of my first mixes the vocals were soaking wet in reverb. I'm sure some would say I still use to much every now and then. 80's music has really influenced me(arena rock sound, rock ballads, big snares, etc...), and I also like ambient atmospheric stuff, so that explains that habit.

kmetal, post: 439429, member: 37533 wrote: I use delay before reverb in general, then add a bit of small verb with some pre delay.

This type of thing maintains the clarity and punch of vocals to keep them out front, but blends them into the space behind them

Also almost by default use the old pitch shifted/harmonizer trick with a pitch shifted set +3-6 cents on one side, -3-6 cents on the other. This will widen and thicken the vocals. Subtle or outrageous amounts are up to you.

I might give this a go, sounds interesting!

The room I record in now doesn't have a lot of reflection in it, so that's a blessing. It's definitely not perfect or anything but it helps not to have to treat for wierd slap-back spots.

Sean G, post: 439451, member: 49362 wrote: SPL do a plug-in that is called de-verb...it helps pull back the room effects on vocal tracks.

I might check that out, Mr. Sean. Looks like a great tool!

audiokid, post: 439454, member: 1 wrote: I agree with this and the best way I accomplish this is to degrade the samples to some degree. Try and get them to sound like "your" recorded tracks in a mix.

That sounds like a great idea. My mics and preamp are definitely not top notch. Next time I mix something I'd like to try this. I'm curious as to what methods you use to degrade the higher quality samples though. Take down the sample rate? Where should I start? How do you get the desired results?

audiokid Thu, 06/23/2016 - 21:03

Jeremy Dean, post: 439457, member: 49624 wrote: That sounds like a great idea. My mics and preamp are definitely not top notch. Next time I mix something I'd like to try this. I'm curious as to what methods you use to degrade the higher quality samples though. Take down the sample rate? Where should I start? How do you get the desired results?

I start with Filters, HPF, LPF.

If samples have more sparkle than a "lead" vocal track, you will start reaching for EQ's and doing the "suck the mids out" thing. This leads to muffled unatural sounding music imho. Not always, but I am a believer in less is more when it comes to EQing midrange. I used to suck out mids in everything. Now I listen more carefully to the volume of something and use filters on the supporting tracks that are screwing with my mids.(making me think I needs to pull mids to expand).

That being said, I'm sure there are some analog modeling plug-ins that smear up the sound a bit which could help mast the clarity of well recorded samples.

audiokid Thu, 06/23/2016 - 21:18

To add a bit more on this and then I'll let others continue on,

reducing by means of filters, then adding top and bottom curve on the master buss helps open up the reduction you did during the mixing process. The fatness doesn't always have to happen in the mix.
This, why I mix into a master. ;). My goal is to get all the tracks to sound like they were recorded at once from the same console. Same performance " ". (which one of these things doesn't sound like the others).
To go even further, this is also why I love working between 2 DAW's. One set as the tracking and mixing DAW, the other as the master buss/ mixdown DAW. But that's another topic.

Sean G Thu, 06/23/2016 - 21:27

Chris makes a good point...if you want a simple HPF and LPF Variety Of Sound have these by Bootsy... two stand alone plug-ins called Nasty HF & Nasty LF.

They are free to download..they are only compatable with Windows and are 32-bit (not sure of your OS or if your host DAW is 32-bit...if using a 64-bit host DAW on Windows you could use jbridge to run on 64-bit DAW host).

http://www.vst4free.com/free_vst.php?id=666

http://www.vst4free.com/free_vst.php?id=667

They are pretty handy...and best of all they are free to download. ;)

This pic shows them side by side on the Nasty Table Top...but when you download them individually they are stand alone.

Sean G Thu, 06/23/2016 - 21:47

Jeremy Dean, post: 439457, member: 49624 wrote: Yeah, I'm glad to read so many different takes on the same topic. I may have to try all of your methods and do some experimenting.

Like @DonnyThompson says...ask 10 different engineers and you'll get 10 different answers.

Sean G Thu, 06/23/2016 - 22:18

audiokid, post: 439463, member: 1 wrote: And Donny gets some of the most beautiful vocal mixes. :love:

totally agree...the guy is a master...not the least of which are his vocal tracks.

I remember he posted a cover of Chicago's Wishing You Were Here that he did...I think it was late last year, his vocal harmonies sounded so good I was blown away...not to mention his arrangement and quality of the mix. If you read further on in the thread he states it wasn't a "mixed" mix, just mixed sort of on the fly, to be used for the guitar and backing vocals only in his live gigs...so the lead vocal you hear wasn't going to be part of the final cut.

I had to search back through the vault but I found it...worth listening to again. http://recording.org/threads/please-check-the-low-end-on-this.58968/

Outstanding (y)

kmetal Thu, 06/23/2016 - 22:54

Jeremy Dean, post: 439457, member: 49624 wrote: One of the songs I've done I actually didn't put any reverb on my vocal, just on the master buss and it really did help glue it together.

Never thought of that, gonna give it a go sometime.

audiokid, post: 439458, member: 1 wrote: Not always, but I am a believer in less is more when it comes to EQing midrange

I usually eq around the mid range, I don't really boost or cut much at all around there, expect perhaps some narrow notches.

audiokid, post: 439459, member: 1 wrote: reducing by means of filters, then adding top and bottom curve on the master buss helps open up the reduction you did during the mixing process.

Another thing I gotta try that I never thought of.

audiokid, post: 439463, member: 1 wrote: And Donny gets some of the most beautiful vocal mixes. :love:

Absolutely he nails it everytime w vocals.

kmetal Thu, 06/23/2016 - 22:58

The thing w reverb is we rarely hear ourselves in truly reverberant spaces. Showers and living rooms, even small bars, are early reflections and short delays.

I'm wondering if that's why you guys are finding so much success w verb on the 2buss as gel. Where when your seeing a full band it's usually in a more reverberant space. This is fascinating.

audiokid Thu, 06/23/2016 - 23:26

kmetal, post: 439466, member: 37533 wrote: I'm wondering if that's why you guys are finding so much success w verb on the 2buss as gel. Where when your seeing a full band it's usually in a more reverberant space. This is facinating.

This is pretty much how I always do it. Thus, why the Bricasti is so awesome. Its like adding a best room for the task everytime. However, most reverbs do just great on the 2-bus. Subtle amounts go a long ways.

Sean G Thu, 06/23/2016 - 23:33

kmetal, post: 439466, member: 37533 wrote: The thing w reverb is we rarely here ourselves in truly reverberant spaces. Showers and living rooms, even small bars, are early reflections and short delays.

Those reverbs I like to refer to as small, like shower / bathroom / etc spaces I tend to avoid...they never really sound like they fit what I'm trying to apply them to.

I sometimes find that I'm gravitating towards the same room reverb setting all the time because it sounds like how I would expect it to on a track...other settings tend to sound too artificial or like I'm listening through a tin can or something. Keep in mind that I'm only using reverb plug-ins, both the native Studio One Room Reverb plug-in and a few third party ones, such as the classic reverb by Kjaerhus that I mostly use as a send... not an outboard unit like a Bricasti.

Although I do have the Bricasti Impulse Response Library and I should be getting my head into this as a rule, although I'm sure its nothing like the real deal hardware unit.

I think I need a good plate reverb plug-in...any suggestions?

I have been getting into a few T-Racks and Waves plug-ins lately, but nothing really makes me say "Ahhh...thats the one!"

kmetal Fri, 06/24/2016 - 11:53

Sean G, post: 439468, member: 49362 wrote: Those reverbs I like to refer to as small, like shower / bathroom / etc spaces I tend to avoid...they never really sound like they fit what I'm trying to apply them to.

I feel the same way. That's why I end up w short delays instead. And use like a mid sized hall or dark plate for ambience and decay trail.

I'm gonna be getting the softube reverb w the scarelett in a couple months, but even that is very 'meh'.

The bricasti is so good becuase it has the processing power to do the complex calculations of thousands of sound reflections at different frequencies that make up what we call reverb. That's what it models, the reflective behavior of sound scattering in a room with defined boundaries and surface coverings.

I'm just gonna bite the bullet and go bricasti when the next gen comes out.

But still until then, the hunt continues for a verb pluggin that's better than just ok.