Sitting Vocals in a Mix
Sitting vocals in a mix is the main element of a song. The content, message, and emotion are in the vocals and you want to compliment the music and deliver the vocal message in that journey.
Start sitting vocals in a mix by removing semblance. Everyone has semblances at different frequencies, but usually the best range is 5K to 10K. Figure out what works with the singer. Find a reference or starting point, set out the vocal, and start tweaking the settings. You can remove semblance by DS the vocal with Logic DS. Be careful not to give the singer a lisp.
Filter out the bottom end with an EQ (nothing under 80 Hz) being sure you do not take out too much of the body of the sound. Also, the cleaning will remove the rumble and provide space for the kicking bass. Remove the bad frequencies first (subtractive EQ) in order to shape the sound to a good spot before tweaking the sound further. If your vocal has too much air or there is a “boxy sound”, it could be a bad frequency (300 to 500 Hz) and you want to remove those bad frequencies to avoid a boxy or nasal sound from the vocal. Then follow-up with the compressor to shape and control the vocal sound more. Do not use the compressor too hard because you do not want to compete or suck the life out of the vocal.
After removing the sounds you do not like, start enhancing the vocal sounds that you do like. Add approximately 120 Hz in order to increase the body of the vocals. Push a lower frequency to provide the vocal with intimacy. Add brightness to the vocal with approximately 2.5K, which will cut through a lot of different speakers as well. Be careful because some singers push too hard in that frequency, so consider what works best for the vocal. A frequency of 10K, which is called a sizzle or air of the vocal and can add a nice sheen to the vocal sound. Bypass that frequency with the vocal to add more of an “up-front” sound.
When sitting vocals in a mix, consider the drums and bass to ensure the energy level of the vocal keeps up with the drums. Ensure the energy is there and start working in the effects. You can use compression, EQ, or distortion a bit differently for mixing the energy into the track. Parallels bring the energy factor for tracks. Turn the vocal down and change the attack and release for the parallels. Without the parallel you feel the vocal go back in the mix, so you want to kick the vocal up there with the mix. If you are sitting vocals in a mix where the vocals and music are in competition, drop the resolution and drive it a little bit to add a nice texture. You can accomplish this task with a bit crusher or other distortion plug-in. The benefit of this is as the song usually picks up in the chorus, and in terms of elements and energy, you can automate this to come up in all the choruses and come back down in the bass. It is good isolate it when you are mixing because a chorus can be a tricky thing to get rid of because of all the elements going on.
The next step in sitting vocals in a mix is adding effects to the vocal. The vocal is not special enough yet. You need to maintain control when adding effects to vocals because you do not want to distract from the intent of the vocal or the song’s message. This is not about your mixing skills but rather your ability to deliver the message for the song. You need to support the sound rather than parting it. Start with the mono effects to begin with because you do not want to occupy the stereo spectrum with the lower stereo effects. Choose the mono and stereo effects carefully. This will add depth behind the vocal.
A space designer is a solid Logic plug-in and the tendency is to use plates for vocals. It provides for a rich tone. Pick a plate reverb (the blue plate is a nice setting) and some parameters to consider are a pre-delay of 22 milliseconds and a decay time between 1 and 1.7 seconds. This adds a nice balance to the vocals. Bypass the EQ and solo the vocal. The best way to check a reverb is to stop it and hear the decay. You can EQ after the effects as well with this plug-in setting to get rid of any low end so as not to reintroduce into the track. Do not let the reverb dictate what other frequencies are added (low end or high end) and you stay in control at every stage. One of the best ways to judge the reverb is to put it back in the track. You want to create spaciousness behind the vocals and keep the listener interested in the song, by sticking with a standard song sound but change it up a little to surprise the listener.
Another consideration in sitting vocals in a mix is using reverb to create depth behind the vocal. Use a slap-back delay, which is going to pull it out from reverb a little. This tricks the listener into thinking the vocal is there but you still have the space behind them as well. Use a standard echo plug-in in Logic or any type of delay with 16th notes. The further out you go it can feel like the vocals go further away so be careful using the echo. This method is all about balance, so getting the settings right is important. Start with the extreme and then bring it back because if you do not push it you do not know what is beyond this, so always go extreme and then pull back. The slap-back delay and the reverb create the depth behind the vocal. Now you need to create extra width with the vocal.
Stereo effects are used when sitting vocals in a mix to add the extra width with the vocal. First, create several basses that do different things using the stereo delay. When you have the space, make the sound wide and big using a standard pre-set. Start with the pre-sets and tweak the sound followed by EQ so as not to reintroduce unwanted frequencies. This technique keeps the track interesting by adding spaciousness while not distracting the vocal. Additional tweaking of the reverb, slap-back, and stereo delay creates the feel that the song gets bigger.
You can push the bass at spots and pull it back. This pushing and pulling of the bass adds a different movement and progression to the track. Based on the vocals you can drop the bass for a more intimate volume or increase the bass for tension and explosion, which all depends on the mood and emotion that the singer is relaying to the listener. You can always use automation for these moments and then manually help the transitions as necessary to create the song progression. Having different types of delays creates textures throughout the song and you can take things out or adds things in whenever you want. Again, sitting vocals in a mix is all about enhancing the singer and taking away the distractions from the vocals.
Balance is very important when sitting vocals in a mix. You have to get the balance of the vocal and not take away from the song. Ensure the vocal is cutting through by having your volume down; you want to hear the vocals balanced with the music and not detached.
Remember that automation is key when sitting vocals in a mix. Spend time crafting the sound for the best journey to the track.