Not every session that we work on comes with aggressive guitars, pounding drums & in-your-face vocals; sometimes we get the soothing tracks complete with a gentle female lead vocal.
It’s a welcome change when it’s a good performer because it keeps you on your toes. It’s easy to get into the rhythm of doing the same thing session after session when there’s not variety.
The challenges that come along with a different type of song are also an exciting opportunity to try out something new and unique.
Our focus today is going to be on softer female vocals that you might hear from an acoustic folk style artist. While we’re going to be discussing our techniques in relation to this particular style, it’s worth noting that the techniques used can be adapted to fit similar pain points for other genres and recordings.
Start With A DeEsser
Depending on your source audio, you might be able to skip this step all together. However, if you’re noticing a lot of sibilance (or even just enough that might affect the accuracy of an EQ or compressor further down in the chain), reaching for a DeEsser is a great first step to treating a female vocal.
Listen closely as you apply the DeEsser – using too much will cause a drastic loss of intelligibility and could even end up giving your singer a perceived lisp.
You want to apply just enough to clean up the vocal without coloring it at this step. You’ll be adding plenty of color with the rest of your processing - no need to get ahead of yourself in the “preparation” step.
Add Some Body
There are plenty of reasons a female vocal recording might not have enough body to it. Anything from being too far away from the microphone to a lack of confidence from your singer are going to happen, and as the mixer, it’s usually out of your hands by the time you get the vocal for mixing.
The solution comes from a familiar place: Gain Reduction.
We’re not looking for the aggression that comes from slamming a heavy vocal into Gain Reduction. Instead, we dial the gain back a bit, set the Slay at a reasonable level to compress the vocal & play with the Body slider until it’s just right.
As you can hear in Fluff’s example, there’s plenty of gain, compression & saturation that can be added to a clean, beautiful vocal to sweeten it without pushing it over the edge into rock & metal territory.
Finish It Off With Some Shine
Once you’ve got the vocal sitting right where you need it, you can really drill it home with some well placed time-based effects. At a basic level, this can be a luscious reverb on your lead vocal.
Going a step further, delays (especially multi-head delays) can be added to increase the complexity of your sound.
You’ll want to base these decisions on the track itself. A denser mix with more elements will be easier to blend a thick delay tone into. If the song is sparse, sticking to the basics will still add leaps and bounds to your vocal sound.
Do What Sounds Right
It might seem simple, but a DeEsser, followed by Gain Reduction & a bit of reverb are all we needed to get our soft vocal front and center in the mix. Some additional EQ might come into play as we continue to mix, but the work we’ve done with these three tools will likely account for 95% of our final vocal sound.
Use your ears to find the other 5% and don’t be afraid of getting creative with it.
If you’re looking for some inspiration for your next session, come see what our amazingly creative community of over 10,000 engineers and producers has to say in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum.