One of my favorite things to find in our industry is a hard rock or metal band with women absolutely killing it when it comes to their music production. As many of you know, my wife’s band Conquer Divide is an all-female group filled with insanely talented musicians. Each member of the band takes their craft super seriously and they push each other to get the best possible productions for each and every song they work on.
The results speak for themselves when you have that many talented & motivated individuals working together. The band is signed to Artery Records, nominated for a Kerrang Award for Best Song in 2015, and has millions of streams from fans around the world. They’re a success story that any band should strive to replicate.
That success wouldn’t exist without clean vocalist Kia Castillo and screamer Janel Duarte – both of which benefit from a modern vocal mixing approach to help take their performances in the studio up a level. Let’s take a look at how the processing for each type of vocal differs.
Clean Female Vocals
Clean female vocals in rock and other heavy genres are completely different than just about anywhere else in music. Whereas a Top 40 pop track might have a soft-spoken singer on top of a basic drum loop and pads, heavier genres need a bit of grit to cut through dense guitars and massive drums. Yes – in rock, even the clean vocals are a bit dirty.
Compression is an essential part of getting your clean female vocals to get through to your listener. It’ll help tame various peaks, but above all else it’s going to help your push that voice forward in the mix. I love driving a clean vocal hard into a vocal compressor like Gain Reduction 2 where I know it’s going to saturate without too much distortion.
As a word of caution – beware that the harder you push the vocal track, the more sibilance is going to start jumping out as well. Be ready with a de-esser or EQ to address any issues or use a compressor with built-in sibilance controls for a simpler workflow.
Whatever your mix approach is, a lot of the work that needs to go into clean vocals should happen on the front end of the project. Work with your singer to get all of the possible takes you could need to comp together the vocal track. Don’t hesitate to use doubles or harmonies for a fuller, more complex vocal mix. Most bands don’t spend enough time on their vocal production upfront and they final mixes end up suffering because of it.
Unclean Vocals & Scream
Unclean vocals also deserve attention during the production phase, but mixers tend to be a little more flexible with how they go about fitting them into the mix. A great unclean vocal or scream track is one that takes processing easily, which often means a solid performance into a dynamic microphone. When tracking unclean vocals, it’s all about the energy of the singer – the grit of their voice should come naturally.
Because most singers tend to stay in a particular range when screaming, it can be easy to identify a frequency range that suits them and carve it out of other instruments like guitars where they might be competing to be heard. Just like with clean vocals, EQ can be there to help you shape the vocal and mold it into your mix while a compressor will help your bring the best parts front and center while reducing any transients or louder sections jumping out in front.
Lots of singers train to learn how to control their air in a way that helps them belt out notes. Just listen to any female-led rock band on the radio today and you’ll hear a strong, powerful voice singing at you. Even blues and folk rock bands have started to take this approach.
Knowing how to perform this way is key, as Alla Bulgakova explains in her demonstration of Gain Reduction 2:
Practice Makes Perfect
Whether you’re a singer or vocal producer, knowing the main ways to achieve a full and dynamic vocal mix is the first step toward getting a radio-ready song that you can be proud of. Especially in the genres we work with, you need to be prepared to mix clean & unclean vocals in contrast in your mixes. You need to know when and where to stack vocals and when to leave your vocal mix sparse.
All of these techniques are covered in our eBook, The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Guide, which is available to JST VIP members on their dashboards.