Unfortunately, vocal tracking isn’t always the focus of the engineer on the session. Whether another engineer provides you tracks or you slip up and forgot to use a pop filter, there are situations that will arise where a less than ideal vocal needs to be tweaked to fit the final mix.
Here’s what you can do to clean it up:
Start with the Plosives
One of the first things my ears go to when listening to a vocal the first time is the low end. Especially in heavy music, you want to have those bass frequencies there to provide some punch to the vocal, but not too much to the point where they’re masking your bass-heavy instruments or worse - distracting the listener from the performance.
The classic way to treat plosives on a vocal track involves a lot of automation, and can take hours of work to get right. Most often engineers will reach for the fader on the vocal or an EQ, and carve out the P’s & B’s one at a time. When you’ve got a singer trying to give an aggressive, energetic performance, you could literally end up automating every word.
If you’ve been keeping up with us, you know that this type of manual transient editing isn’t something new, especially in the drum world.
Suppress the Sibilance
Once you’ve tightened up the low end of your vocal, you’re not quite out of the woods.
While you’ve probably run into some situations where de-essing was required on a lead vocal, the problem becomes magnified without a pop filter, and it makes sense why it would.
Any time you’re putting material between your singer and the microphone, it’s going to color the sound. Even the best pop filters on the market are going to have a small impact, despite their best efforts to promote themselves as transparent.
The pop filter you use will rarely eliminate all sibilance, but it does play a small role in reducing it. By removing the pop filter from the equation, you’re allowing those higher frequencies direct access to the microphone.
So to treat, we put a de-esser 2nd in the chain after Transify. As you can see in Fluff’s demo above, Transify can do some early clean up of those higher transients, putting less stress on the de-esser.
This all ends up funneling down to a vocal track ready for mixing that I’d challenge you to pick out of a blind test versus one recorded with a pop filter.
Maximizing the Results
Processing your vocal to clean it up is really only the start: it’s what you do with your vocals after they’re under control that counts.
If you’ve found that your vocal is lacking some higher frequency content (which is all too common with dynamic microphones and cheap condensers), try injecting some air with a vocal compressor.
Build space around your vocals; don’t bury them in the mix. Engineers that know how to use delay and reverb to their advantage have a serious head start over those that play guessing games with time-based effects.
Vocal production is an absolute must-have skill for engineers and producers looking to stay relevant today. Too many mixes suffer from weak, anemic sounding vocals that end up getting buried in the mix, even when the singer might have an incredible voice.
By teaching yourself to create bold, powerful vocals, you can bring them to the front of your mix with confidence.
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