In a hit song, the most important thing is the vocals. The vocals encompass the structure, rhythm, and melody of the track. If you take the vocals out of your favorite song, it would probably sound like a repetitive mass of smack and kick and four chords. What gives a song the right feel and sound are the vocals layered on top. That’s not to say you can have a hit song by simply slapping some vocals on top of a weak track and leaving it. The mixing engineer knows that regardless of how soulful the performance and lyrics are, there are several vocal effects tips they should follow to pull a song together. While these vocal mixing tips may not work on every track, they can provide an interesting edge to a vocal recording.
Mixing Vocals Like a Master
You’ve probably heard these effects before in some of your favorite songs and you’ve probably wondered how you can recreate them. So, we’ll shed some light on some of the best vocal tricks you’ll hear in modern recordings, from robotic vocoding to simple delay effects.
Megaphone: The megaphone effect is a great place to start. Here, you’ll try to recreate the vocal effects as though the vocalist is singing through a megaphone. This type of speaker is probably the lowest quality speaker you can use, and because of this, it can actually have an interesting effect when you put clean vocals through the same amount of distortion and EQ that a megaphone creates.
Because a megaphone generates a narrow frequency range to start, insert an EQ plugin on your desired vocal track. You can filter out most of the low and high frequencies, then put a boost on the mids for that nasal and boxy sound.
In order to give the vocals the distortion it needs you can use an amp plugin and put a little drive on it. Most pros recommend a 1 x 12 speaker, so it’ll have a smaller sound. Whatever type of DAW you use, you can recreate the megaphone sound using an amp simulator or even a standard drive or gain plugin.
100MS: Medium delay with a little bit of feedback is another type of widely used vocal effect. It works to thicken up the vocals in a new way compared to the 25MS delay that’s used in double tracking. It also provides the vocals with a dash of effect as well. This isn’t a major vocal effect and it can often get drowned out by the rest of the track, but sometimes, that’s what you want with effects, and that’s an effect that isn’t noticeable unless you turn it off.
This effect is pretty easy to accomplish because you just need a simple delay plugin. Send the vocals to the delay plugin and begin with a 100MS delay. Next, add a little more or less, depending on the tempo and feel of the song.
Make sure you have set the delay under the main vocals so you don’t end up overpowering the main element.
Pros recommend shooting for something basic, such as a mono delay plugin with a twenty percent feedback rate and a 125MS delay.
Experimenting with Vocals
Whisper: At times, there will be a specific section of a song you want to enhance, but you’ll still want to keep the main vocals clean. There may be a specific ambiance to the vocals or a smaller section of a song that needs more punch. Using the whisper effect can add the punch you’re looking for, but by making some serious changes to the whispers you can get them to sound pretty creepy, making it the perfect effect for hard rock, metal, or even industrial tracks that will allow the main vocals to still sound powerful and clean while giving the track a unique sound.
If you want to add a neat whisper vocal effect to a track, make your vocalist whisper some of their lines. It’s a good idea to have some extra recorded things to experiment with when you’re recording a new track, even if you don’t end up using them in the final mix, so give double-tracking the vocal whispers a try.
Try doubling the effect so you’ll end up with a couple of variations of the same whisper. You can do this by copying the recording onto a couple of separate tracks. On the first track try accentuating the raspy, telephony quality of the whisper. Remove all the high and low end, cutting everything down to just 1kHz. Next, you’ll filter out everything from 2 to 3 kHz onwards. You’ll be left with one octave of voice, which makes the whisper pop. You can then take a bell curve EQ to spike a desired area between the filters.
So the vocals stay level, powerful, and consistent, compress them so it squashes down at a high ratio.
For an added horror effect, you can also modulate the voice. The ring shifter plugin is a modulation effect that will shift around the frequencies and alter the harmonic relationship of the vocals. This is a popular feature found in Logic, but you’ll find that most DAWs offer something similar. As you play around with the ring shifter you’ll find a wide range of enhancement options you can add to the whisper effect.
When you’re using this feature, you’ll want to focus on which frequency you choose because going too high can have a chipmunk type effect and going too low will give the vocals a Darth Vader sound. Just by skimming through the frequencies you’ll be able to find the sweet spot in the vocals.
Advanced ADT: Artifical double tracking is a widely known vocal mixing trick that’s used on any vocal track that needs to be a little better, wider, and bigger. This process involves taking the main vocal and doubling it via a chorus or delay. It’s a more affordable option to artificially double a vocal track than have a singer come in a waste studio time. Which is why it’s a lot easier to copy the vocals to an aux, add a delay with 20MS and no repeats. This way, you’ll have the same vocals, note for note, but the minor time shift will make the vocals sound a lot bigger. You can take things even further by adding more than just delay. You can add a slight pitch shift and an exciter for a new layer of freshness.
Send the vocals to two auxes. Use a tape delay on both, setting them to 25MS without feedback. Without the feedback, you’ll be able to get the double tracking effect using delay. Repeat this on the second aux. For aux one and aux two, pan both thirty percent left and right and widen it with manual panning as well. A pitch shifter should also be added on both tracks. Adding a slight pitch shift will give it the added nuance you need.
Vocal mixing can be fun to experiment with. You can try these vocal tips if you want a special effect to go with your main vocals or to beef up certain vocal recordings. Just keep in mind that a bad vocal recording can’t be fixed by piling effects on top of it.