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How To Make Your Vocals Twice As Good! Part 1

Practical Tips, Techniques & Sound Advice
Published July 2018
By Craig Anderton

Voxing Clever

Once you’ve recorded, edited and comped your vocals, a little careful prep work could pay real dividends when it comes to the mix.

If your song has a lead vocal, will almost always be the most important element in the mix: it’s the conversation that forms a bond between performer and listener, the teller of the song’s story, and the focus to which other instruments give support. You already understand that, of course — which is why you made the effort to find the perfect mic for your voice, record some great takes, and even do a little comping to leave you with the best possible performance. Now you’re ready to get busy with the mix... right?

Actually, just having this wonderful performance in your DAW doesn’t mean it’s ready to mix. In fact, in my experience, there’s plenty more you can do to your recorded vocals to maximise your chances of achieving a great end result. So, in this article I’ll take you step by step through my own approach to this mix‑prep stage for vocals. It won’t be a comprehensive discussion of vocal prep‑work, but what’s here works well for me — and I hope it will help you too. Next month, I’ll conclude this two‑part mini‑series with some tips for handling your vocals in the mix itself.

Taking The Hiss

Once I’ve edited and comped my ‘perfect take’, I bounce the vocal into one long track that lasts from the start of the song to the end, and the first thing I then reach for is a noise removal tool. Yes, really!

The freeware ReaFIR plug‑in is included with Cockos Reaper DAW.The freeware ReaFIR plug‑in is included with Cockos Reaper DAW.Ideally you won’t have much noise to contend with in the first place, and it’s true that the better the recording, the less you’ll need to do. But I find there’s always some degree of preamp hiss, hum, or other unwanted noise, particularly if you’re recording in a room in your home rather than a dedicated studio. Tackling such issues at the outset makes for a more ‘open’ vocal sound — and one that will respond better to whatever processing you’ll end up throwing at it in the mix, rather like removing a layer of dust from a painting will make it more striking.

There are lots of noise removal tools but if you don’t own one, check to see if your DAW has something suitable. For instance, Cockos Reaper includes the ReaFIR plug‑in (that’s also available as a free VST plug‑in for other DAWs, as part of the ReaPlugs bundle). Alternatively, you could export it for processing...

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Published July 2018