Vocals are about as universal as instruments come. Excluding instrumental/orchestral, most modern music has some type of vocal performance tied to it. How we treat and produce those vocals can vary greatly.
For a mainstream pop song, you might focus on harmonies and vocal stacks to give an over-the-top, huge sounding vocal. In rock, doubles tend to take the focus of production, as a double provides the thicker, more powerful sound needed to cut through the dense mix. Metal takes this a step further by adding in screams, and even doubled screams for emotional and sonic impact.
Regardless of your song’s genre, there are tools that every engineer should have available for their vocals. While some types of plugins are more suited for a particular voice or style, we’re going to take a look at the heaviest hitters in the JST lineup, and how they’re being used across every genre imaginable.
The Vocal Compressor To End All Vocal Compressors
It’s a big claim, but here we are years after release and my signature vocal compressor (Gain Reduction) is still the easiest way to get the vocal sound I want in nearly ever mix. I know what you’re thinking “If most of the stuff I work on is in one genre, wouldn’t that make sense?”
The thing is, I enjoy working outside of my comfort zone and working with new artists/genres I’m not as familiar with. I still find that the simplified layout of Gain Reduction gives me the results I want from a vocal compressor 99% of the time.
I don’t want this to come across as sales-y, because it’s my plugin… That’s not my intent here. Instead, I’m trying to say that when you find something you like that does what you need it to; it becomes a part of your process. It becomes your go-to, and your familiarity with it is what makes it the powerful tool that it is (more so than the algorithm behind it).
While Gain Reduction might not be the right fit for you’d prefer an overly complicated interface with a bunch of bells and whistles in the UI, if you’re looking for a simple compressor that packs a punch it’ll do just that. We’ve heard from engineers using it on country. pop & even spoken word to add a bit of cut to their voice – there are no limits.
Tape Delays Are For Winners
What’s better than a regular delay? A warm, gooey tape delay, duh.
Delays are some of the most powerful tools we have when creating a larger-than-life sound. Along with reverb, these two time-based effects lead the charge for the space around your song. They can either place you in the room with the singer or make them rise like a holy grail of vocal production.
With tape delays, you get to add a little (or a lot of) grit to your sound, while getting a result that’s surprisingly natural and clear.
Tape delays like SOAR give you control how much of that grit gets added to your vocal with control over the Age, Contour & Health of the tape. They let you decide how “good” or “bad” the quality of your tape is – something that a real machine wouldn’t allow for without buying reels of tape at varying levels of quality ($$$$).
I find that delays in the mix are one of the best places for mixers to take some creative liberties with a song. Experiment with various tape heads, delay rates & feedback. See what an out-of-sync delay can do sonically. There are no rules with tape delay, you just need to trust your ears.
The Proof Is In The Pudding
Hesitant to accept that these two tools can take any engineer’s mix to the next level? I could try to convince you of the flexibility of these plugins on my own, but there are engineers out there working hard every day that use these plugins besides me. Billy Decker was kind enough to share his approach to using Gain Reduction & SOAR in a modern country mix to share with you guys.
Even if you’re not traditionally a fan of the genre, I think everyone can take away something from this video to apply to his or her own mixes. Billy’s skills shine through on this country track. He makes it easy to hear how the mixing he’s doing could crossover to other genres with results that are just as impressive.
Time To Decide
Do you have what you need to produce and mix vocals that transcend genres? If not, what are you waiting for? A couple of plugins is all it takes to start down the road toward vocal perfection, regardless of the road you plan on taking.
If you’re looking for genre-specific advice, come ask for it in our community of thousands of engineers in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum on Facebook. Everyone in there has their own experience to share, and with such a large group, it’s not hard to find someone that can speak with about the things you’re working on.