Vocal production is a creative engineer’s playground. A great singer is nearly impossible to find – just look at every flash-in-the-pan band or some of the performances that made it into TV shows (just for the humor value we get from a terrible performance).
People have made an art out of being terrible singers. Engineers and vocal coaches have made full, prosperous careers at molding bad singers into good singers, whether naturally or unnaturally in-the-box after recording.
If you’re looking for the guide to turn a bad vocal into a good one, you might want to check out another post. This one is focused on MAXIMIZING the impact we can get in a mix with an incredible vocalist.
Instead of insulting them with too much tuning and post-processing, here are the top ways you can let your vocal take center stage and shine brighter than any other element of your mix.
Start With The Lead
If the lead vocal isn’t right, no amount of production trickery is going to improve it. When you’ve got a good singer in the studio, get as many takes as you can. Make their voice the highlight of the song. Give yourself plenty of vocal parts to comp together the perfect take if you have to.
Won’t you end up with a lot of extra material if the singer is consistent? Absolutely.
Even a consistent, on-key vocalist is going to have different inflections and phrasing though, and a lot of the gems can be found in the takes that aren’t right on the money.
Once you’re back in the studio, you’ll be glad you’ve got extra material to work with (especially when it comes to doubling a part in the mix later on).
Harmonies, Adlibs & More!
Even the best singers can’t do it alone. Very rarely are you going to hear a powerful vocal in pop or rock that doesn’t have stacks of background singers around them. Especially in a modern, full mix – you need that extra push to get your vocals out front.
Start with the easy stuff: have your lead singer come up with variations of harmonies for their lead. Once again, having more in this situation means you have more to choose from later. While you may think a higher harmony might not sound as good as the lower harmony during tracking, having both options to make a 3-part stack might be just what you need.
The same goes for adlibs & hype tracks (we’re not just talking about hip-hop either)! Record some fun parts just because! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve recorded seemingly unnecessary screams, sounds & more that end up making it to the final mix.
Having fun with the vocal sessions keeps the creative energy high in the studio and makes your song sound fun and bouncy instead of stale and overly rehearsed.
Tie All Together
You know any good mix needs some glue by this point, right?
With vocals, we get an opportunity to fine-tune that glue early on. While most instruments end up bussing down to a single compressor/parallel track, vocals are in a rare situation where multiple subgroups prior to the “vocal bus” aren’t just accepted, but commonplace.
A session with a lot of vocals might look to compress high harmonies on one track, low harmonies on another, and the lead vocal/doubled vocal together on yet another track! That’s just the simple version – I’ve seen engineers that treat third harmonies and fifth harmonies together, left channel on a separate track from the right; you name it!
Every engineer has their own approach, but the important part is having a compressor with the flexibility to handle all of the variants. While something like Gain Reduction might work wonders on lead vocals, it might be too much for a group of soft vocals tucked underneath that lead.
BG-Vocals was our attempt at meeting the requirements for each type of vocal grouping. We realize that engineers want something that can stay transparent when needed but can also give vocals a bouncy or bold sound.
The end result is powerful vocal processing that can be used on subgroups, as well as the final vocal bus before heading to the final mix.
How Are You Putting Vocals In The Spotlight?
Do you use compression to make your vocals stand out, or are you more of a time-based effect engineer user?
Come see how others are using vocal production tricks to bring life to their mixes in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum. There, we’ve got thousands of vocal producers, mixers & more all ready to share their experience and stories with the community.
See you there!