Mixing — it sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it? That’s always something I’ve left to the professionals. But the truth is, you can’t always afford the professionals.
That’s why learning how to mix vocals is an important skill to have as a DIY singer or musician.
Before you mix, you have to get a really good recording of your voice. You can’t just “fix it in the mix,” as inexperienced artists say. For tips on recording vocals, check out our article on some good-quality affordable mics here.
After you’ve gotten the best possible sound in the recording studio (or bedroom, basement, garage, etc.), you’ll enter the mixing phase. This is when you need to know when, if at all, to process your vocal sound.
Professional engineers know exactly how to mix vocals for the perfect sound, both in quality and in context of the song. And chances are, you’re not a pro engineer (or you wouldn’t be reading this article). But, thanks to some killer plugins for the current DAWs (digital audio workstations), you can get pretty close to pro level quality.
When you mix instruments, you typically start with EQ and compression (in that order). Unless you have a really good preamp, you’ll want to start with EQ when mixing your vocals — it is an instrument after all! One thing I do is start with a plugins’ presets and modify the EQ from there to fit my liking.
In terms of compression on your vocals, if you’re recording jazz, folk, or classical music, experts say you should skip the compression. For pop and rock music, start by using 2-4 dB of compressions and a slow attack — this will help keep the natural sound of your voice.
After EQ and compression, you may one to consider these additional effects:
- A parametric EQ (helps cut unneeded frequencies and make others pop)
- More than one compressor
- A de-esser (neutralizes mouth sounds like “s”, “z” and “sh”)
- Multiple types of delays (with different lengths for different parts of the song)
Ultimately, it comes down to your keen ear. As you work with EQ, compression, and these other effects, adjust the settings until it sounds good to you.
You’re in charge — you’re the DIY singer. The mix isn’t finished until you say it is.
Here are two simple strategies with a simple and straightforward explanation by Graham Cochrane from Recording Revolution to get you started: