Resurrecting A Buried Lead Vocal

Dense mixes happen. They can be a gift and a curse; on one hand you’re filling out all of the possible space between a listener's headphone, on the other hand, everything in the mix is fighting for its own space.

And this is where we find our vocal – buried in the middle of a dense mix. It’s not a bad vocal, and isolated it sounds like one of the most aggressive vocals you’ve ever tracked. But all bets are off when the wall of guitars, pounding drums and thunderous bass take over.

Luckily, there’s one simple way to bring your lead vocal back from the dead without heavily altering its sound or having to remix the entire song.

Adding Some Width to Mono

Your lead vocal collapses in on itself in a dense mix, which can happen with almost any mono source. I’ve lost snares and kicks the same way. Traditionally speaking there wasn’t much we could do to prevent it. Stereo tracks always had the option of going wider or being panned differently.

With a mono track that needs to be panned center, those options get limited. Trying to move a lead vocal around a mix is a risky game, because your listeners are used to listening for it front and center. Pushing it to the outside with an old-school spatial widener is also asking for trouble, since you risk losing the vocal completely when the song plays back in mono.

I’ve got good news for you though: not all spatial wideners are created equal which means your vocal can grow and expand without the risk.

The Mono First Approach

SideWidener is a first-of-its-kind mono-compatible spatial widener that works wonders on narrow sounds. I’ve used it to create faux doubling of guitars, to add some punch to my drums, and yes, to beef up my vocals.

The approach on a lead vocal changes slightly though. There’s no reason to push your vocal so wide that it sounds like you’ve done two takes. Instead, you’ll just want to add enough width for your vocal to sit right in the mix, finding the balance between buried and overbearing.

Fluff does a great job demonstrating the approach here:

As you can see, it’s a quick fix that takes less than 5 minutes to apply and makes virtually no changes to your mixed vocal sound. By giving it a subtle bump in width, you can make a buried vocal the centerpiece of your mix once again.

The best part is that SideWidener always puts mono first; meaning even more extreme uses of the plugin will maintain the center and definition of the source audio. That level of accuracy is something I would’ve killed for a few years back when using other spatial wideners.

Try It For Yourself

This fix is such a simple solution to a common problem; it just makes sense to try it on your own. Instead of just turning your next vocal up, play around with its presence using SideWidener and let us know how it comes out.

To share your experience, head on over to the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum and join the discussion!