Mixing lead vocals – do the least

Mixing lead vocals is one of the great divides of mixing. Many people get the grasp on mixing in general. Yet for some reason, they seem to be afraid of mixing lead vocals. And the results usually reflect that. But does it need to be that way? Of course not. You just have to know what to listen for and what to adjust if needed. Let’s check into these things.

Mixing lead vocals

How they sit: Yep. Because unlike Clarence, the mustard butt cat, lead vocals actually like to sit. On top of the rest of the music. Just on top of it. Make notes bro, cause it really matters. The gist is in the details, so to say. Because what a lot of people screw up while mixing lead vocals is, they make them fukken loud. Or way too quiet. So you have to operate with the levels first, as usual. If there’s a backbeat in the song, pay attention to how the snare drum hits behave. Level wise. Adjust the lead vocals so the backbeat remains clearly audible to drive the tune without getting too overpowering.

Mixing lead vocals

mixing lead vocalsCan’t understand a word: A good amount of amateur mixes suffer from this problem. Vocals in general have enormous dynamics. That’s the nature of our human expression. Fortunately, compression was invented. As well as faders to ride levels. So try to even out the more obtrusive level fluctuations by hand, using level automation. When ready, add compression. Don’t be shy! Lead vocals can take plenty of straight compression without sounding weird. You don’t even need to go parallel in most cases. Re-adjust levels.

Mixing lead vocals

EQ or not: When it comes to mixing lead vocals, beginners like to dive deep and EQ the living shit out of poor tracks. Then they end up sounding thin, muddy or gaining some weird resonance that wasn’t even there to begin with. Listen to the mix as a whole, with all elements up. If the arrangement is busier, you’ll benefit from taking away some low end off the lead vocals. You can use high pass, low shelf, even wide bell filters, but don’t ever go too high. The idea is to blend the tracks together nicely, not to separate them from each other. If it’s a simple thing like a vocal and an acoustic guitar or piano track, you might not need to EQ the low end at all. For the mids, make sure that the rest of the music doesn’t get in the way of where lead vocals need to cut the most. It’s in the high mids, somewhere around 3kHz. If you can’t make it work, consider making dips in the accompaniment at that point. Finally check the high end. Sometimes it comes off harsh and hissy, so you need a de-esser. Other times you only need to dip a couple dBs with the EQ. If it feels too rounded and muddy, give it some sizzle in the treble, somewhere around 10kHz and upwards.

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