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eddie kramer
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Tricks For Mixing Vocals
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Tricks for Mixing Vocals

Professional recording studio engineers have a big bag of tricks they that can pull from during the mixing stages of a recording project. Each engineer has a few go to mixing techniques that they will use sometimes in almost every song they produce. There are many variations of the same mixing tricks and each audio engineer will change them or how they are used based on the situation they are in and what recording artist they are working with on any given day.

Learning how to utilize these mixing tricks will not only increase your ability to make interesting recordings but it will also increase your confidence. Knowing that you can do the same trick that Butch Vig used on a Smashing Pumpkins record is pretty cool. Or using the same type of technique that Eddie Kramer used on a Led Zepplin recording is pretty awesome! But the key in knowing when to use them and how often.

Home recording studio equipment that is found in almost every home recording studio on planet has the ability to duplicate many of these tricks if you uderstand how to use your gear. When mixing music or mixing vocals Pro Tools is the platform that I will normally use as it is what I am most comfortable with, but almost any recording software will allow be able to perform these music mixing tricks. I want to focus on tricks for mixing vocals in this article because the vocal is the most important musical element of any song regardless of the genre of music. Of course every instrument in the band or group should be treated equally but when everything is said and done, the vocal is the most important.

Having some knowledge about some of the most popular vocal mixing tricks can help take your recording to the next level. Vocal mixing is debated on every audio engineering forum on the planet and it can stir up quite a stink depending on how far you want to push the matter. In fact sometimes during the vocal mixing studio engineers will actually mix the vocals first and then mix the band around the vocals. Mixing vocals as the first element of the song will reinforce the importance of the vocal track and tends to force the mixing engineer to never lose sight of that.

Of course getting the volume of the vocal track perfectly set in the mix is probably the single most important aspect of mixing vocals, but there are many very popular mixing tricks that can enhance the vocal. Dynamic and time based processors both have a place in vocal mixing but it's the dynamic effects that can sometimes be over-looked. The following tricks for mixing vocals should be explored and considered for any audio engineering looking to add some spice to the vocals dynamic performance. Even free audio mixing software packages should allow you the ability to do these to some degree.

1. Stacking vocals - Stacking vocals is without a doubt the hands down most popular vocal mixing tip I can give you. This recording and mixing technique can be used many different ways but the fundamentals are the same. Most commonly used during the chorus section of a song, the recording engineer will have the singer record the same part over and over again. Instead of using a time based chorus effect or instead of doing a copy and paste of the original vocal part, stacking up vocals produces a natural "wall of sound" that is very difficult to achieve any other way.

So the singer would record the main vocal line of the chorus 2 or 3 times. Then the singer will perhaps then add a harmony part to the chorus section. Stack that harmony part as well. Then perhaps the singer will add even a second harmony part, stack that one as well. Proper placement of the stacked vocal parts in the stereo spectrum is where this really starts adding a captivating vocal experience. Be sure to use your panning on each of the stacked vocal parts. The main vocal should be straight up as the twelve o'clock position. Then try panning the 2nd and 3rd stacked versions of the main vocal part hard left and right. Then do the same type of thing with the stacked up harmonies. You will notice immediately that this vocal mixing trick will add a tremendous amount of 'wow' to your recording.

2. Distorted vocals - Distortion effects added to vocals can really make a statement in the recording. As with electric guitars or other popular distorted instruments this is the process of overloading the input to a preamplifier and distorting that preamp with an incoming audio signal. There are audio software plugins that do this very well. The other way to achieve it is to route your vocal track out of your D.A.W. and back into the input of a microphone preamp. Crank the preamp all the way up and then reroute it back onto an empty track in your recording software and rerecord the distorted vocal. This will give you a 2nd vocal track but it will be completely distorted.

3. Megaphone or telephone vocals - A very popular method of changing the dynamic content of the vocal in order to make a certain part of the song stand out. This is achieved simply by filtering out all of the low end frequency content of the vocal with a parametric equalizer. Then increase the high mid frequency band of the eq and sweep from left to right across the frequency range until you get the desired effect. Pretty easy yet very effective. I would high recommend to add a heavy compression ratio on this vocal track as well. If you really like goofing off and trying really cool stuff then here is a method you can use that might provide some results that you can't get with an eq. Send your vocal track out of an auxiliary send or other output and get an audio cable that you can cut up. One end will come out of your audio interface and the other your'll need to cut. Run down to your local Salvation Army or Goodwill store and find an old rotart phone. You should be able to purchase this for next to nothing. Take the end of the phone receiver and cut the wire exposing the small copper cable that sends audio to the phone receiver. What you are looking for is the cable that sends audio to the speaker in the phone which is where you would put your ear. Hook up the phone receiver to the vocal you are sending out of your D.A.W. and then put a very sensitive microphone in front of the phone reciever. The idea here is to literally mic a phone receiver to get the desired effect of a telephone vocal. Sweet!

The last little nugget of information I'll drop about these tricks for mixing vocals is to use them sparingly, don't over do it. Just a little bit here and there will go a long way! Also be very careful of how loud you mix these vocal effects as changing the dynamic content of the vocal track like this can alter the perceived volume of them as well.

Good luck and go make happy music!


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