5 Tips on Mixing Vocals

Mixing vocals could be very difficult if you do not understand the basics of recording and mixing. A good mix always starts with the proper vocal recording. I already made a post named ‘5 Tips On Recording Vocals,’ so make sure you check out that post first if you’re starting a project from scratch.

Depending on what type of song you’re creating, thaere are different techniques that you can use when mixing vocals. Since these are just some basic tips, I’m not going to go in depth on the advanced techniques. There are lots of very useful video’s about mixing vocals on YouTube with some great tips about that.

Also, these tips are based on mixing vocals only. I’m going to assume that you already have a proper instrumental mix.

Here are the 5 Tips On Mixing Vocals:

  1. Volume And Panning
  2. EQ
  3. Compression
  4. DeEsser
  5. Effects

1. Volume and Panning

This where I usually start with when I am mixing vocals. It’s very important to find a good balance between the different sections of a song. The process of adjusting the volumes of your different recordings will continuously go on during the mix.  Make sure you let the lead vocals sit on top, background vocals underneath it and separate the background vocal dubs by panning them left and right.

In most hooks of popular music, the background vocals are dubbed several times. As well as the harmonies. You can really stereolize a hook or harmony part by panning these dubs hard left and hard right.

2. EQ

Fabfilter Pro-Q

There’s no one-size fits all when it comes to EQ’ing vocals. There are different ways to do this and it all depends on what type of song you’re mixing and wether you’re mixing male vocals or female vocals. When you’re mixing vocals or whenever you’re mixing anything, you should work more with your ears and not always with your eyes.

On the right you see a picture of an equalizer that I use and here’s a great list of frequency ranges and their characteristics that I picked up from the guys of Behind The Mixer.

  • 100 Hz – 300 Hz : Clarity / Thin (Good for cutting these frequencies)
  • 100 Hz – 400 Hz : Thickness
  • 100 Hz – 600 Hz : Body / Warmth
  • 100 Hz – 700 Hz : Muddiness (Good for cutting)
  • 400 Hz – 1,100 Hz : Honky / Nasal
  • 900 Hz – 4,000 Hz : Intelligibility
  • 1,000 Hz – 8,000 Hz : Presence (I told you the ranges could be wide)
  • 1,500 Hz – 7,000 Hz : Sibilance (Start in the 3,000 to 5,000 Hz range)
  • 2,000 Hz – 9,000 Hz : Clarity (Compared to the 100 to 300 range for cutting, this is good for boosting)
  • 5,000 Hz – 15,000 Hz : Sparkle (who makes up these words!?!)
  • 10,000 Hz – 20,000 Hz : Air / Breath-iness

What you always need to do when you’re EQ’ing vocals:

Clean up you’re low-end: Use a High-Pass filter to cut off all the muddiness. I usually roll off everything till somewhere between 100-300Hz. Do this by ear! Make sure you roll off just enough that the muddiness is gone without getting a thin or cold vocal.

Get rid of unwanted frequencies: This is something that I do with my eyes. When you play your vocal, you’ll see some frequencies pop up and jump up form the rest of the frequencies. When you’re mixing vocals you don’t want any irritating frequencies in your mix that could clash with other parts of the songs. Cut those with a bell.

Sit your vocal on top of the mix: You can do this by boosting some of the mid-high frequencies. Try to boost somewhere in the 2-9k range and 5-15k. You’ll add clarity and brightness to do vocal if you do. Don’t overdo it! A boost of max. 3dB should do in most mixes.

Cut more – Boost less: Less is more! When I’m mixing vocals or mixing instrumentals, I always cut more then I boost. Make room for you vocals by cutting the instrumental parts, not by boosting the vocal parts. Again; Cut to max. 3-4dB if possible.

3. Compression

When I first started mixing vocals and mixing music, I didn’t understand a thing about compressors. When I read about it, it was way to technical for me being a creative music producer with a workflow based on inspiration. However, I found a way to keep things simple. I think of compression as a way of evening out the loud and soft parts of any vocal or instrument so that its behavior is a bit more predictable. Compression brings up the really soft spots and tames the really loud spots.

If you’re a beginner with compression, I would advice to use some of the presets that come with the compressor that you’re using. The compression settings then depend on the effect you’re trying to achieve and what else is going on in the mix.

Here are some figures that will surely help you out getting started.

Pro Tools compressorRatio: The ratio could be anything between 2:1 and 5:1. It all depends on how compressed you want the vocal to sound.

Threshold: The threshold will depend on how loud or soft your vocals are recorded. It also depends on how squashed you want it to sound. Use your ears!!

Attack and Release: The attack and release times depend on the style of the track and have different impact depending on the type of compressor you’re using. A good way to start would be 1‑3 ms for the attack and 250‑350 ms for the release. If you’re compressor plugin allows it, use the auto-release button.

4. De-Esser

Waves De-EsserDe simplest way to explain what DeEssing actually is, is that a DeEsser turns down the level of the vocal signal whenever sibilance occurs. For example an ‘S’ or ‘F.’ There are different ways and techniques to do this manual when your mixing vocals. However, nowadays there are numerous of plugins that have great presets to do a lot of work for you.

Try to find a standard DeEsser plugin in your DAW software and only adjust the threshold so that the effect of the DeEsser doesn’t effect the natural sound of your recording.

5. Effects

There are so many different types of effects that you can add when you’re mixing vocals. The type of effects all depend on what type of song you’re creating and what type of vibe you want to create with the effect. For a basic mix, we’ll just go with the number 1 and 2 on the list. Reverb and Delay effects.

Reverb Effect

Lexicon ReverbReverb is very useful for making vocals sound more musical and for making them sit with the rest of the mix, but adding too much will have the effect of pushing the vocals back. By adding reverb you basically create the illusion of space. The mistake that still so many beginning mixers make is to insert the reverb plugin right on the vocal track. This is not the way to use it!

If you want to add reverb to your vocal recording, create an FX channel and send the effect to your vocal track. A common type of reverb used in mixing vocals, is the plate reverb.

If you want know more about how to create certain type of effects, I would suggest you search YouTube for some tutorials videos. So many useful information is to be found up there.

Delay Effect

H-delayDelay forms the basis for a wide range of effects that can transform your tracks from dull and pedestrian to polished and professional. Use delay effects the same way as your adding reverb effects. Send them to your channel!

One thing I always do when I’m mixing vocals of a singer is using the delay effect to fill up the gaps in the track. Most of the delay plugins these days have a ‘sync’ button which allows you to sync the delay with the BPM of the track. Set the feedback know to zero and set the plugin to eight-notes to create the ‘repeat-after-me’ effect. What I would recommend in most situations is to EQ the send-channel of the delay and use a low-pass and high-pass filter to create some kind of a telephone effect. You will notice that the delayed sound will fit better in the mix. Adjust this to your likings and experiment with it.

There are numerous other ways to experiment with delays, but this is a great way to get started! Again, visit my friends of YouTube 🙂


5 Tips On Mixing Vocals