Mixing Vocals 101: How to Mix Vocals Perfectly

by Ilan Adar, NoiseWorks CEO  15.08.2023
Mixing Vocals 101 - NoiseWorks
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No purchased plugins needed

Mixing vocals is a highly discussed topic when it comes to mixing and achieving a better sound. We’ve read countless blogs about this popular topic, and noticed that most of them suggest plugins you have to purchase to replicate their mixing tips.

So, here’s a blog on how to mix vocals using only stock plugins. We’ll explain settings across multiple DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations), including Pro Tools, FL Studio, Ableton, and Logic. There may be instances where purchased plugins could be helpful, but we’ll also offer alternatives that will yield similar results.

Let’s dive in.

Essential Plugins for Mixing Vocals

Everything you need is in your DAW. Additional plugins can be helpful but they are not necessary. When mixing vocals, four types of plugins (excluding reverb) can be very important:

  1. Equalizer
  2. Compressor
  3. Saturation / Distortion
  4. Modulation effects (Chorus, Phaser, Flanger, etc)

Equalizer

The Equalizer helps you to edit the frequencies of your track. With the different filters (Low-cut, high-cut, low-shelf, high-shelf, notch, and bell), you can decide the shape of the frequency band and determine how your frequency range will be boosted or reduced.

You use the Equalizer to:

  • Cut away frequencies to tidy up your signal (rumble, footsteps, mic grab sound).
  • Shape the sound you are looking for:
    • Make it brighter and airier with a high-shelf filter above 12kHz.
    • Add more warmth with a bell filter on the mids.
    • Create a dominant voice like a radio host by boosting the fundamental frequencies.

Discover how to EQ your vocals.

Compressor

The Compressor is designed to reduce the dynamic range of your track. With the different parameters, you can decide how the compressor reacts when the signal hits the threshold.

 

Here’s a brief explanation of what the basic parameters do:

  • Threshold: The volume level a signal needs to reach to trigger the compressor to work.
  • Ratio: How much dB the signal gets reduced when hitting the threshold. 4:1 means 4dB input results in 1dB output.
  • Attack: The time it takes, after hitting the threshold, for the compressor to begin compressing the signal at the rate set by the ratio. For example, at 20ms, when a signal hits the threshold, the compressor takes 20ms to start compressing the signal.
  • Release: The time it takes to stop compressing when the signal falls below the threshold.

 

You use a Compressor to:

  • Tame the dynamic range of a signal: This allows you to make your signal louder without clipping.
  • Glue multiple instruments together, such as using a glue compressor on drums or on the master chain.
  • Duck a signal: Using a sidechain compressor on a bass, for example, triggered by the kick, helps blend these instruments better together.

Learn more about vocal compression.

Saturation / Distortion

Saturation, as a milder form of distortion, adds harmonic frequencies to your signal. This allows you to emphasize a certain frequency range not just by boosting it, but by adding harmonics that make your vocals sound thicker.

You use saturation and distortion:

  • to make vocals stand out more in the mix.
  • As an artistic element to emphasize the message of the lyrics.
  • to create texture in your vocals.
  • to emphasize a specific frequency range to add warmth or bite (depending on which frequency range is affected).

Discover how to apply saturation and distortion to vocals.

Modulation Effects

Modulation effects can be a great way to make your vocals more interesting and brighter. By altering the phase, your signal takes on a softer touch and spreads throughout the stereo field.

You use modulation effects to:

  • Create a wider stereo field.
  • As an artistic element (chorus often has a mechanical and futuristic sound).

 

Learn more about how to enhance your vocals’ brightness.

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Multilay gives you all the possibilities to create your own sound.

Split your signal into three frequenzy-bands or into transient and sustain, and add up to six FX-modules inside the feedbackloop.

The ducking function, different mix modes and delay time in seconds give you the control you need to find a unique sound faster.

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