If your vocals sound good but they’re struggling for clarity in the mix, there are dozens of options at your disposal to give them more presence. The most common option is to turn them up, but that’s not ideal for every situation, especially on a more dynamic vocal track.
Maybe instead your reach for a compressor to level out the audio before trying to make adjustments, but what happens when you’ve compressed your vocals and it’s still just not cutting it?
Don’t risk ruining your vocals by over-compressing, over-EQing, and over-thinking. Instead, use our 5-minute vocal trick to bring some brightness back to your vocals, making them ring out clearly in the mix.
Isolating Our Treatment
When adding air back into our vocals, it’s one of the times the “less is more” cliché applies so brilliantly. We already like how our vocals sound and where they sit in the mix, we just need some bite to make the enunciations really pop.
To start, you’ll need to copy your track (or tracks) that we’re going to treat. If you’re far enough along in the mix with enough vocal harmonies, this might mean copying a summing bus as well. Since this trick is so subtle, it will work on busses as well as it will on individual vocals in most scenarios.
Next, we’ll want to bypass any processing happening on the copy so that we’re working with source-quality audio. We don’t want to be treating an already-mixed track that might have filtering changing the audio that we’re treating.
Pro Tip: We strongly advise bypassing previously used plugins on your copy as opposed to removing them completely. While DAWs vary in the way plugins affect latency, a bypassed plugin is the most universal solution to maintaining perfect phase alignment with your original track(s).
Roll Off The BodyThe next step to prepare your vocal copy is to roll-off the unwanted content. This can be done with any EQ by enabling the high-pass filter (or low-cut filter if you want to be argumentative about tools that have more than one name).
The settings will vary based on the vocal track and amount of high-end content you’re looking to boost, but for this trick to work we’re after the sibilance. In the example below, the frequencies we wanted were above 10 kHz, which is where we set our cut-off frequency.
Processing the High-End
Now that you’ve got the air and sibilance of your vocals isolated, it’s time to get creative. In order to get the right level of compression and saturation we’re after, a multi-purpose tool like Gain Reduction Deluxe works wonders.
We’re not after a pretty soloed sound, but it’s usually easiest to approach this task in solo mode. Because of the frequencies we’re working with, it’s going to sound more like harsh whispers than a professionally recorded vocal – and that’s perfectly fine.
We then need to play with the gain of the plugin in search of a “sweetened hiss” to the sound. Your final product on this track should be something aggressively compressed that pops out when layered into the mix. It’s really one of those “you’ll know it when you hear it” sounds, but for a general idea, listen to the vocals around the 5:45 mark in the video above.
Combining Your Work
Once you’ve got your high-passed track where you want it, it’s time to pull it all together! Since we’ve already mixed the main vocal in, we should be able to listen to the full mix and hear the main vocal come into focus as we raise the processed track (and the sibilance that comes along with it).
The result? A vocal with subtle bite and presence, without going overboard with any particular effect.
Isolation can do wonders for a lot of post-processing, but it’s important that it gets approached with a specific goal, or you risk ending up biting off more than you can chew. By isolating the high frequencies and processing them independently, we mitigate that risk and end up with a quick & effective trick to bring attention to our vocals.
Ready to Give It A Try?Try this trick out the next time you need to bring a vocal out of a dense mix and let us know what you think. Using this approach with Gain Reduction Deluxe works exceptionally well for vocals, but don’t be afraid to try it on other elements of your mix that share similar characteristics (read: brighten your cymbal mix).