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5 Ways To Help Your Vocal Cut Through The Mix

Most modern music has ONE focal point: the vocals. Everything else, such as the production, the mix, the master, is generally meant to support them.

In today’s busy arrangements, it can seem daunting when it comes to mixing the vocals. This is especially true if all you have to work with are vocals and the dreaded stereo instrumental mix. You’re stuck, right? There’s not much you can do to make the vocals sit well in the mix…

Despair not, I’ll show you a way. If you’re the one singing, you might be tempted to bury the vocal in the mix. Yet, people want to hear your vocals more than they care for the synth parts, right? In this blog, you’ll learn how to help your vocals cut through the mix.

Before getting started

First things first: check the recording itself. If there’s a lot of room in the recording, you can use iZotope RX De-reverb to tame some of it. If RX is out of your budget, go for a transient designer and gently bring down the sustain of the signal. Do it line by line, as necessary, because you can ruin long, sustained notes this way.

Number 1: The mute button

When you’re the one mixing both the instruments and the vocals, one of your best friends is the mute button.

When a less experienced artist produces their own music, there’s a strong chance of there being too much going on throughout the song. The intro’s arrangement is thick, but so are the verses and the choruses. The vocal doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere.

Your first port of call should be the mute button. See if there’s anything that competes with the vocal. Then mute it. If that element happens to fulfill the role of a pad, you might be able to get away with having it muted throughout most of the song.

If not, you can definitely bring it down in level until it doesn’t interfere with the focal point of the song anymore.

Number 2: Automation or clip gain, and a VU meter

We’ve all recorded a wonderfully talented singer who’s all soul and emotion. Come mix time, you might’ve noticed that her vocals seem to disappear here and there. What you need to do is make sure the vocal level is consistent, yet dynamic.

  • Get a LUFS meter. We created LEVELS which has a plethora of essential mixing and metering tools, including a LUFS meter.
  • Instantiate the LUFS meter on the vocal track.
  • Aim for a fairly consistent short-term LUFS reading.
  • Keep the vocal level around ±4LUFS Short term for a very consistent sound.  It’s fine if the needle occasionally goes under or over. And when the vocal is not present, the short term reading will go down as it analyses loudness over a moving 3-second window.

You can either do the leveling via clip gain, or a volume/trim plugin. If you decide to go with a plugin, make sure it’s the first one in the processing chain.

If the singer is very dynamic, you’ll have to use a compressor as well to tame it a bit more. If you bring down the vocal too much using clip gain or automation, you’ll start hearing its tone change. This is due to the Fletcher-Munson curve, and you definitely don’t want the vocal to lose body or top end.

Number 3: Mastering The Mix’s MIXROOM

MIXROOM is a bit of a secret weapon because it’s a smart EQ. How smart? Very. The plugin first analyzes the audio signal. Following that, it suggests which frequencies to tweak, based on EQ targets. 

The targets are based on professionally recorded and mixed vocals from hit songs. However, the preset is unique to your mix because it’s reacting to the incoming signal. You can use it in one of three ways. One of them involves you using it as a standard, albeit prettier-in-3D-than-in-2D EQ. ………

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