When building up a lead vocal track, we spend so much time focusing on dialing in the right settings that it’s easy to forget how boring a static vocal can be. Parallel processing and adding more reverb or delay can usually get a little bit more out of the take, but have you ever considered automating some life back into the vocals of your song?
Finding The Sweet Spot
The first thing you should really do before automating anything is going back through your track to find out where it’s needed, and to what extent. If you’ve got a dense vocal mix, sometimes you can take the less is more approach.
In this week’s In The Studio With JST, we ran into the opposite issue: a well-tracked, single vocal with minimal harmonies coming out of the second verse.Fluff’s solution was a simple one that really only took a few minutes of critical thinking to find: adding SideWidener to his vocal bus and automating the bypass to create a call and response style effect.
The end result is an attention-grabbing vocal that a listener can enjoy without overly obvious or cheesy processing.
Don’t Spread It Thin
When working with spatial wideners on vocals, it’s extremely important to avoid spreading your vocals too thin. By too thin, we mean literally shoving your vocals so far out to the side that you lose the center image when collapsed to mono.
Engineers and producers fall for this trap all the time in the studio, where wider sounds bigger and bigger = better. Unfortunately, any fans that go to listen to your mix on a laptop will tend to disagree with you.
The easiest solution to this is using mono-compatible spatial wideners, especially ones that provide a visual indicator when you’re losing center content. It’s for this reason SideWidener has been my go-to for this kind of processing. If you chose to take a different approach, be sure to flip your mix to mono or test on different systems to verify you don’t lose anything in your final mix!
More Than The Bypass
Fluff’s video just gets into the basics of what’s possible for automating life into a vocal take. By bypassing, you have an easy automation solution to throwing your vocal through the widener for effect before returning to its pre-processed state. But what else could you do with automation?
As you saw in the video, adding in a bit more width once you know which words you want to treat, but what if you wanted the effect to grow throughout the section? Adding automation the Width knob is an easy way to achieve it.
The same could have also been done with the tone knob to make the “response” portion of the line a bit darker than the “call”. In this particular instance, bypassing was enough to create the effect he was after, but in a denser mix, you may need to get a bit more creative.
Have your own Trick to Liven up a Lead Vocal?
If you’ve got a go-to method for avoiding dull lead vocals, share it in the Joey Sturgis Forum! We (along with the 8,000 other members) are always looking to collaborate on real-world solutions to the problems engineers and producers are facing in the studio.