Part 2: Having created the conditions for a successful mix last month, what can you do to fit your vocal in the mix?
In Part 1 of this two-part series, I explained some ways to prepare your vocal recordings to maximise your chances of a good result in the mix. This time, I’ll run through what you can do to perfect your vocals during the mix itself. Much of what makes for a good mix is highly subjective and the same goes for vocal sounds too: every voice is different and we all have different tastes. That said, there are certain constants you’ll encounter with almost every vocal and it’s those I’ll address here.
Judicious equalisation (EQ) obviously helps a vocal sit well in the mix, but note that ‘EQ’ isn’t the preserve of dedicated equalisers. The mic itself may already have added a first stage of equalisation — most large-diaphragm condenser mics (and a fair few dynamics) have a natural ‘lift’ in the vocal range, and directional (eg. cardioid) mics will add bass boost due to the proximity effect if they’re used close to the source (as they almost always are for vocals). Mic selection isn’t really a mix issue, of course (unless, I suppose, you’re deliberately using one of the new crop of modelling mics), but it’s well worth listening out for what the mics might have added. Similarly, keep an ear out for what any other processing such as compression and analogue tape emulation does to the tonal balance of the vocal. My point here is that before you even reach for an EQ and start tweaking, you really need to make an effort first to listen to the part and then decide how you want it to sound.
When it comes to applying EQ, there are three main areas it can help to consider adjusting for the male voice (which is primarily what I work with): the lows, below about 150-200 Hz; the lower mid-range, around 300-400 Hz; the upper mid-range, in the 2-4 kHz range; and the highs, which can overlap the upper mids. For female vocals, the formant tone (which gives vocals much of their character) will be somewhat higher, so if these ranges don’t work try moving them up about half an octave. I recommend using the upper bass and mid-range as the ‘reference’ for vocal EQ — try leaving that region alone while you work first on the lows and then the upper mid-range and highs.
Low Frequencies. EQ can easily address excessive bass that was captured due to the proximity effect (ie. bass boost caused by singing close to the mic). However, note that some singers deliberately use the proximity effect to make their voice sound less ‘thin’, so don’t automatically EQ to reduce the low end — do so only if it dominates, or leads to a muddy or muffled sound.
A high-pass filter usually works well here, with...
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