Taming lead vocals
So you want to tame the lead vocals of a song. Fair enough. Why do you want to tame them though? Let me tell you something. In most cases, if something has to be tamed, it wasn’t recorded as well as possible to begin with. That’s the big secret to it. The rest is just trying to save the crap you’re getting from someone else. Let’s pretend. -.-
Get it right, right away
If you aren’t forced to work in the latter situation, you can take your time and record those vocals properly. What does it mean? Other than the obvious gain staging which we’re not going to discuss here, you have to make sure that the singer is at the right distance from the microphone. Also that he/she is at the right angle. This last one is something most people don’t take into the equation, so they end up buying new, expensive mics, pre-amps, exotic pop filters, cattle cock talismans, and who knows what else. You don’t need to update or buy any of those. You, however, need to listen to the sound you’re getting and adjust it accordingly. Either through a pair of headphones from a distance, or make a fairly short test recording, so the singer doesn’t get tired. Just so you can check the overall sound. If it’s rumbling in the low end, you’re getting too much proximity effect, so move away from the mic. If the top end is too harsh and sibilant, turn the mic (or the singer) slightly off-axis. If you check out the frequency response graph of most mics, they drop high end when used off-axis.
Polishing the turd
But what if your recorded lead vocal track is harsh sounding, thin, muddy, or it feels like it’s floating above the rest of the music? Or all of the above? Maybe you got it this way, or you screwed it up during recording. Anyway. For the thick, muddy low end, you can low shelf, high-pass the track, or use a combination of the two. It will also get rid part of the “floating above” feel. When battling a harsh, ice-picky high end, you can always drop a couple dBs with a high-shelving filter. Starting from somewhere above 5kHz. It will darken the whole track tonally. If you only want to get rid of the sibilant vowels, use a de-esser. What’s important is to not go light handed out of being afraid of ruining the track. Change as much as your ears tell you; so if your eyes end up seeing 9dB or harder cuts, it’s perfectly okay, as long as it sounds better this way.