So you want to know how to mix lead vocals? Well, this post is for you. In this article, we will go over the 9 essential steps that every vocal engineer needs in order to properly mix lead vocals. Whether you're a beginner or an expert looking for a refresher course on mixing lead vocals, these tips are perfect for anyone who wants a well-mixed song!
Pre-Production is Key for a Quality MixDown.
A quality mix-down starts off during the preproduction stage of your song (before you even hit record) and continues throughout each step in the recording process until it's ready to be mixed down. During pre-production, get together with your artist(s), producer(s), engineers, etc., create playlists of good songs that inspire them & discuss their vision for the track. Discussing what they want out of this production will help establish direction when choosing sounds/effects later on in the mixing process. Also important are band interactions between members while tracking — being able to keep great communication amongst everyone involved can often time lead to better performances! Make sure artists have had enough rest before laying vocals down, and that they are in a good mood. This can be key to getting the best performance out of them!
Equalization (or "EQ")
Will allow you to sculpt your lead vocal's tone & clarity by allowing you to boost or cut certain frequencies on your lead vocal track at various points throughout your mix-down process — this may include cutting unwanted low-end rumble from an audio interface, adding definition with high-pass/lowpass filters (depending on what sounds better for context in the song) around 200hz if it adds more body to the overall sound without muddying up the bottom end, or adding air to the vocal with some subtle boosts around 12khz.
Reverb and delay are great effects
They can help your mix-down project come together, but it's important not to overdo them! Less is more in this case — if you want a powerful lead vocal performance without any additional reverb or delay, try using less of these effects during recording instead of adding reverbs after they've been recorded into Pro Tools (or whatever DAW you're mixing down with). If your vocals feel too dry for context within the song, then by all means go ahead and add an extra layer of reverb on top very sparingly, and only if it sounds natural.
Compression can be a wonderful tool when used correctly on lead vocals during mix-down as well
Basically anything that you would do with equalization (or "EQ") for example, using compression to cut out frequencies or add/boost them will work in conjunction with EQ by allowing you to control the dynamics of your vocals & reduce dynamic range through use of ratio settings such as: attack time: how long it takes once sound hits threshold before compressor actually starts working; release time: how fast the audio signal goes back to normal after being compressed; and knee: how much pressure must be applied before compression kicks in etc. In short, compression will help your vocals sit on top of the mix a lot better by evening out dynamics and adding more clarity — experiment with these settings & dial in what sounds best for context.
Compression also does wonders during mastering
Especially when it comes to level matching from one song to another on an album or EP release: this is why you often see compression being applied across all tracks before finalizing a master down mix, so that they fit together sonically nicely within their own sonic space AND relative to other songs. It's important not to overdo it though at this stage either! Make sure only enough compression is added if needed (if any) — remember less is more!
Effects like reverb, delay (or "echo"), chorus, & phasers, flangers, distortion can be great when used sparingly throughout your mix-down process
Think of these effects as spices that you add in small doses for enhancement purposes only; too much spice or use of the wrong kind will ruin a dish entirely; same goes with mixing/mastering down vocals in music production! Be sure to experiment and find what sounds best within context before committing during finalization stages. There are no rules here but know when enough is enough so not to overdo it on effects either! If unsure how much compression etc, simply ask an engineer who's familiar with this process or also your producer when applicable.
Many engineers will tell you not to apply equalization (EQ) after compression on vocals because of the risk of introducing unnatural artifacts
However, if needed, use a high-pass filter with an appropriate steepness setting depending on context (for example something around 18db/octave might work great in most cases for this purpose). Depending on how much compression is applied during mix-down & mastering stages, using some gentle boosts here and there can help bring out certain frequencies that get lost otherwise — note that boosting at points like 200hz could add more low end body without muddying up bottom end clarity within context of your mix-down. The key here is to only add the amount that's needed and not overdo it!
During critical listening sessions, set vocals up high in your mix
This will help them stand out more within context of the song; however, if vocals are too loud or "in your face" sounding then you can simply pull down their volume fader until this problem goes away — just make sure you also don't lose any clarity by doing this either! Be careful during finalization stages though because most DAWs do have minimum level settings on tracks like these so be aware what else might happen when pulling down faders during mastering.
When in doubt, always reference other professional mixes to get an idea of what sounds good and why
This can be done easily by simply listening to a variety of commercial releases or even checking out mix-down tips/tutorials on YouTube. Doing so will help you develop your own ears for what sounds great & why, as well as give you some guidance when it comes time to start mixing down lead vocals in your own music productions! Remember, there's no one right way to do things here but following general best practices will at least point you in the right direction. Happy mixing :)