9 Vocal Mix Mistakes You're Probably Making (and How to Fix Them)
Have you ever wondered why your vocals sound like they were recorded in a bathroom with a karaoke machine? 🎤
Well, buckle up, because today, we’re diving into the 9 most common vocal mistakes that even the professionals make sometimes! From reverb overload to the dreaded ‘sibilance showdown,’ we’re going to help you take your vocals from ‘singing in the shower’ to ‘chart-topping bop’!
Trust me, by the end of this article, you’ll know exactly how to avoid these common pitfalls. So, stick around, and let’s get ready to fix those vocals together!”
Let’s hop in to mistake #1
“You don’t need any production knowledge at all to get great sounding vocals!” -Mattie
#1: Poor gain staging:
Gain staging is the adjustment of volume levels before and after recording to get the best sound possible. And if your gain isn’t set right, your vocals will suffer. Too much gain while recording leads to clipping and distortion, while too little gain while add unwanted noises with compression.
Finding a balance between the two leads to the best results. Shoot for recording your vocals to peak around -10db in your DAW. This will give enough headroom to account for huge changes in volume while singing, but still give enough of a signal that compression won’t be a problem later on.
#2: Ignoring room acoustics:
On to mistake number 2– ignoring room acoustics. One of the biggest problems I hear with amateur sounding vocals is where they were recorded. In a normal room, sound waves bounce around the walls, and if you’re recording, they can bleed into the microphone. Though they might not seem obvious right away, adding plug-ins afterwards will magnify the extra room noise.
To tackle this, the best producers acoustically treat their room. Hanging acoustic panels on the walls helps absorb these nasty reflections, and gives a much cleaner end result.
If you don’t have acoustic panels, hanging thick fabric like blankets on the wall or recording into a clothes closet can help out in a pinch!
Acoustic panels also help with the mixing stage and hearing sounds accurately! This is the number one recommendation I give to producers that want to take their sound to the next level!
On to mistake 3# over-compressing! Unless you’re brand new to music production you’ve probably heard the word compression more times than Mariah Carey’s, “All I Want For Christmas” during December.
It’s a hot topic. And rightfully so. It’s important.
But this obsession with compression leads to messing with our message.
Over-compression is when too much compression is applied to the vocal. This makes the vocal to sound lifeless, squashed, or over-processed. Many of the natural inflections and body of well recorded vocal are lost with too much compression.
Compression needs to be present on most takes so that the vocal sits at the front of the mix. But adding too much isn’t necessary. To get a more natural sound, try adding multiple compressors in a row that all do less compression. -5dbs or less. Or try parallel compression by turning the mix knob down on your compressor.
#4: Not addressing sibilance:
On to mistake #4. Not addressing sibilance. Sibilance are the extra high frequencies that can make vocals sound harsh and unpleasant. This often comes from the letter ‘S’ and ‘Sh’ but can affect other letters as well like T and K.
The best way to reduce sibilance is to set up the vocal recording properly. By using a pop filter and staying between 5-10 inches away from the mic, the microphone won’t pick up as much of the high end harshness from sibilance.
After a vocal has been recorded and printed, there’s a specific tool called a De-Esser that will turn down the harshness of the vocal at specific frequencies. With most De-Essers, you can solo these frequencies to identify them, and then turn them down with compression.
#5: Overusing reverb and delay:
Mistake #5: Overusing reverb and delay! Reverb and delay are the golden children of the singing world. Adding them on vocal recordings transforms them from a dry studio sound into real life recording and experience.
But are we doing too much? Overdoing reverb leads to a washed-out vocal that lacks clarity and focus in the mix. And using delay settings that don’t match the tempo or style of the song causes the vocal to sound out of place or cluttered.
Dial the reverb and delay back! Save it for the most important parts of your song. The more dry a vocal is the more it stands it to the listeners. Notice how much reverb and delay are used on professional songs, most of the time it’s less than your putting your tracks.
#6: Not automating:
Moving right along to mistake #6 – not automating. Automation is when you adjust the levels of individual track elements over time. Automation gives life and adds interest to your tracks! It can also help create a more dynamically consistent vocal track for you. Rather than just adding compression, many top producers will adjust the volume of the voice with gain automation before using compression.
Other common types of automation include filtering, and reverb.
Failing to use automation, can lead to inconsistent vocal levels or dynamics throughout the song and uninteresting parts. Above all else, when the vocal changes over time, it’s more interesting
#7: Relying solely on presets:
Mistake #7 – Relying solely on presets. Vocal presets are a game changer. They save time and a produce amazing results without having any production knowledge! We know how helpful they are and we even created a free download of them to try on our website!
But presets are limited. The real power of presets comes when you can adjust the parameters to fit your vocal! Your vocal is 100% unique. That means it needs a unique EQ. Unique compression. Unique De-essing. You get the picture. Vocal presets can do most of the grunt for you, but when it comes to getting that extra 20% polish, you need to be the one adjusting the parameters yourself!
If you’re interested in learning more about the plug-ins themselves, go check out my last video on creating a vocal chain using stock plug-ins in logic!
#8: Neglecting vocal timing:
Mistake #8 – neglecting vocal timing. When it comes to editing vocals, most people are concerned with the tuning of the vocals. Though pitch is really important for a great sounding vocal, many people neglect the timing of the vocals.
When it comes to a vocal performance, timing plays a huge role in the feelings and the vibe of the song. Unknowingly, people latch on to discrepancies in tempo between the track and the voice. And timing is way harder to fix after the voice has been recorded than vocal tuning. The plug-ins that exist to fix it often add unwanted artifacts to the sound.
Make sure that your vocals are recorded to tempo. Use a click track. Make sure you can hear the rest of the mix. And if you need to change a recording afterwards, adjust the vocal part by phrases rather than by words.
#9: Having a Poor vocal/instrumental balance:
On to the last mistake – Having a poor vocal balance. All of the problems mentioned before are either highlighted or understated by how loud the voice is in relation to the rest of the mix. A vocal that is too loud in the mix can drown out other elements, while a vocal that is too quiet will not stand out.
Adjust the levels of all elements with reference to each other to give your vocals the best clarity possible. I like to mix my vocals last on my songs, because I find that whatever element I mix last tends to be the one the most prominent.
Mixing vocals to the track deserves its own video and is not easy by any means. But it’s something to keep in mind while making your music!
Getting great sounding vocals may seem like an herculean task, but with the right know-how and techniques, it can be a rewarding experience. You’re already taking the right steps by watching this video, and if you subscribe and keep watching, you’ll learn how to make professional sounding music. Avoid these 9 common mistakes with your vocals, and your songs are bound to sound better! As always keep practicing and have fun!
Thanks for reading! If you still need help, check out my Free Vocal Presets for Logic Pro X that will get your vocals sounding amazing in no time!!
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