Your vocals are already front and center, but if your mix is too dense does that even matter?
There are dozens of reasons why even a perfectly centered, full frequency spectrum vocal isn’t going to cut through your mix correctly. The pocket they’re sitting in could be collapsing on itself if the stereo instruments aren’t mixed in a way that gives them room to breathe. Your snare, bass, or any other center-panned instrument could be masking it, making it hard to hear and harder to understand.
If you’re struggling to get your vocal to sit just right you should never jump to changing other elements of an otherwise decent mix without trying this simple solution first.
Wider Vocals for More Presence
If you’re in a session with only one vocal, it’s not like you can use any double tracking to reinforce the voice’s performance. Those that try to use time-shifting and other effects to fake a duplicate usually find that the risk of phase cancellation often outweighs any benefit of a perceived denser vocal.
Instead, using a mono-compatible spatial widener is a great fix for vocals that are fighting for their own space. By using a tool like Sidewidener, mixers can help a vocal pop out in front and spread out across the stereo field without any risk to the center image of the vocal.
This great little trick should be used subtly – there’s rarely a reason to spread a single voice across both speakers. Try tweaking the widths and widening modes to find your sweet spot. Usually 30 – 40% is the sweet spot for me.
Adding Some Sizzle
Once you’ve got your vocal sitting where you want it, adding a bit of bite and body is the perfect way to finish it off. In order to do this, parallel dynamic processing is a must. Start out with your favorite compressor set to a heavy ratio and mix it in underneath the unprocessed track (a Mix knob is a huge time saver here). Once you’re comfortable there, feel free to experiment by moving up to a limiter or peak clipper if you’re looking for some really interesting results.
As you can see in the video below, Nick’s able to use JST Clip to add some parallel clipping to an aggressive scream:
The combination of spatial widening and parallel clipping was enough to take a vocal that sounded thin and distant and give it enough attack and presence to cut through the mix. Similar results can be achieved with many other mono tracks from clean vocals to snare drums.
Improving as a Vocal Producer
Vocals are one of the most temperamental elements of any mix. They demand an added amount of attention, and they’re the most likely piece of a production to be called out by the average listener if they’re not sitting just right.
Even the best vocal producers can use some guidance when it comes to mixing around the vocals and incorporating different techniques into their mix workflows. JST VIP members get access to a whole collection of tutorials, plugins, and personal mix critiques to make sure they’re on the right path.