Indie vocals are some of the most interesting places to experiment with different mixing and post-processing techniques. Unlike some other genres that become very formulaic in some aspects, the canvas is blank for indie music. Even songs that fall on the pop side of things can benefit from a bit of creative processing.
But as much flexibility as indie pop artists have, there still seems to be some hesitation about how much to use. Too much processing can make things sound artificial and can make a vocal hard to sit right in a mix. Too little and things fall a bit flat – sounding underwhelming or unpolished.
The perfect balance for vocal processing is a constantly moving target with each song, but understanding what makes those vocals so great will set you on your way to a well-produced indie pop vocal track.
What Defines An Indie Pop Sound?
Ask a dozen different people what they think makes a song sound “indie” and you’re going to get a dozen different responses. The one thing they’ll likely have in common is that a very particular sound comes to mind (even if it’s not the same sound in each of their heads).
I think for most people, the easiest way to sum up the indie pop sound is that you know it when you hear it. It’s not any one characteristic or instrument and it’s not any one performance style. It’s just “that sound”.
As a result, artists often carve their own path into the genre and get rewarded for sounding familiar, yet unlike anything we’ve ever heard. Look at indie artists in recent years – artists like Lorde, Foster The People, Gotye, Hozier… These are all massively successful musicians with very distinct sounds.
The thing is – no matter which artist you pick on that list, you can find pieces of their music that are extremely pop-oriented and other aspects that are not. Moreover, their exploration into new territory carved out a whole niche for similar sounding artists. So whether it’s a baritone vocal in an otherwise standard mix or a soft-spoken vocalist against a sparse, ambient background, you can be sure that a successful style is going to be replicated and reproduced.
Effects & Style
As you mix indie vocals, effects are going to play a major role in your overall sound. A simple reverb and/or delay can be mixed in with just about any vocal to add some space, but indie vocal producers take it to another level.
Spend time with your automations and delay throws – especially is a sparse or acoustic mix where there aren’t a lot of other instruments fighting for space.
A great example of how to use complimentary effects with an indie vocal track can be seen here:
As you can see, the effects aren’t overdone or overpowering. They stand out in the mix, but not enough to wash out the lead vocal track or mask any of the other instruments. This careful approach of adding enough (but not too much) is a key component of indie tracks – especially if you want them to maintain a pop appeal.
Vocal Production Layers
No matter how great a vocal sounds on its own, nearly every production can benefit from some harmonies, doubles, or background vocals. This is where vocal producers tend to shine – adding input when more is needed to fill out a vocal mix.
Get the secrets behind every great vocal mix with The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Handbook!