The Ultimate Guide To Mixing And Producing Vocals
HERE’S A STEP-BY-STEP TUTORIAL TO MIXING AND PRODUCING VOCALS AT INDUSTRY QUALITY!
Being able to engineer sessions and mix vocals is a crucial part of the music industry. These skills will help you make more connections, land placements, seem more professional in studio sessions, and become a more powerful musician. You can also use it to mix your vocals, or a partners vocals, for independent releases.
Mixing songs may seem confusing or intimidating, but today we are going to break it down step by step and you’re going to learn the basics of mixing vocals!
WHERE TO FIND VOCALS:
Before beginning your mixing journey, you need to find some raw vocals. There are many places to search for your vocals and here are a few.
You can find a multitude of vocal samples and stems right here at wavgrind.com. Right at the top, you’ll find the “Melody Packs” tab, which contains a handful of FREE sample packs with vocal samples included. All of these packs are royalty-free, meaning any samples used will not require any percent split with wavering and you get to keep 100% of your profits and credit! This is a great opportunity for any producer looking to mix vocals or produce beats.
Tracklib is a subscription-based sampling website that contains every type of sample genre you could ever imagine. This includes thousands of vocal samples you can use in your own tracks.
The samples in Tracklib are not royalty-free, which is a drawback. Even with the monthly membership, acquiring a license and a percent royalty share is necessary in order to release a song that uses a Tracklib sample. If you are creating music for major labels, this shouldn't be too much of a problem because the label will pay for it, and it is always a good thing when musicians get paid for their work. However, independent producers and artists may need to take this additional licensing fee and percent share into account when choosing sample locations.
Arcade is a subscription-based plugin that contains melodic samples, one-shot presets, drum loops, percussion, and of course, vocal samples! For only $10 a month, you get everything from Arcade for free and owe zero royalties to output. This is a very powerful plugin for any type of producer, whether they need vocal samples to mix or want to make beats.
Make Your Own
Grab a mic, write some lyrics, and make your own vocals! Every producer/engineer has wanted to rap on their own beats at some point. Go for it! Expand out of your comfort zone and create some new art! Be on the lookout for a “How to record vocals in FL Studio” post soon!
Mix For An Artist
If you searched for this post, you most likely already have vocals from an artist who needs mixing services. Most of the time, you will be mixing for artists who will provide you with their vocal files, and in that case, you don’t need to worry about where you’re getting them from! Now that you have your vocals, lets start the mixing process.
Equalizers, also known as EQs, are used to cut and boost specific frequencies to make an audio sample sound cleaner or more crisp. There are a few different ways to utilize the EQ when mixing vocals. Here are some tips:
Cutting the low frequencies from your vocal sample will eliminate the muddy sound from the microphone and make your vocals sound much cleaner. I recommend a cut of around 100 hertz to get rid of that muddy sound while keeping most of the mid frequencies in the vocal.
Utilizing high cuts is also important while mixing vocals. The extremely high frequencies are unnecessary to leave in the mix and create a harsh mess in the headphones. To eliminate this, I recommend a cut of around 15k hertz.
You can also take advantage of the individual bands in the Fruity Parametric EQ 2. By using the scroll wheel, you tighten the bands to affect individual frequencies and boost or cut them to your liking. If any specific frequencies seem to be jumping out at you as harsh or loud, simply tighten a band and lower that frequency.
Compression is an incredibly useful tool when mixing vocals. This will lower the volume of the peaks in the vocals to make the file more uniform throughout. By using a compressor, you will eliminate the risk of harshly loud points in the vocals that can cause discomfort to the listener. Here is an example of a compressed sample:
Fruity Compressor is a stock plugin that comes with FL Studio. It has every function you would need for a compressor and works perfectly for anyone wanting to compress a vocal. Here is how to use it.
This is the level that the compressor will begin to activate. If the threshold is set to -10db, any audio that peaks over -10db will be compressed.
This is how much compression is added to the audio that hits above the threshold. If you set your ratio to 2:1 and your threshold at -10db, any audio that peaks above 10db will be cut by 50%.
If your sample is too quiet after being compressed, you can use the gain knob to add volume to the sample and bring it to the level of your choosing.
Fruity Limiter (Noise Gate)
Fruity limiter has a feature called a noise gate which will mute the whole sample until the volume hits a certain level. This eliminates the microphone and room tone that may occur throughout the vocal take. Here is a descriptive tutorial for the noise gate:
Similar to the Fruity compressor, the threshold knob determines how quiet the sample needs to be for the noise gate to activate. This can be seen with the orange highlight above “NOISE GATE” in the picture.
The gain knob determines how much the volume will be lowered on the audio below the threshold. If you turn the gain knob all the way down, the audio below the threshold will be 100% muted.
The release knob will determine how long the gain takes to active after the audio dips back below the threshold. A medium-high release will eliminate the robot-sounding effect caused by no release.
While the EQ and compressor can make your vocal sample sound cleaner and more professional, there are other effects you can use creatively to make your vocals sound more unique.
The Allstar MVP plugin, reverb, can be utilized to make your vocals sound unique and full. The key is to use a small amount for your vocals. Overdoing reverb can make your vocals sound obnoxious and unlistenable so use reverb with care.
Another subtle gem when mixing vocals is a delay. The subtle use of a delay plugin can make your vocals sound fuller in the mix and give a unique vibe to your song.
Tip: Put your delay before your reverb because delayed reverb will cause your vocals to be muddy.
Using a saturation plugin is a great way to give your vocal more life and dynamics. There are many free and paid plugins for saturation but my go-to stock plugin is the Soundgoodizer.
Autotune may be the most popular plugin of all time, but few know exactly what it does and how to use it. This is not a free plugin which is why it was saved for last.
When programming your AutoTune, make sure it is in the same key as the instrumental. Use the key and scale drop-down tabs at the top of the plugin to match up with the song.
The most powerful knob in the AutoTune interface is the retune speed knob. This is what determines how fast the voice will move from one note in the scale to the next. With a retune speed of zero, you will get the obnoxious robotic effect that comes with the name “autotune.” A good range for the retune speed knob should be 15-25 but changes based on the type of vocals you are going for.
In conclusion, mixing vocals is a very important aspect of music creation and can get you further in the industry by making connections, landing placements, and leading studio sessions.
To summarize, here’s how to mix vocals:
- Use an EQ to make low cuts, high cuts, and cut harsh frequencies.
- Use a compressor
- Add effects (Reverb, Saturation, Delay)
- Autotune to your liking