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carol m

A Few Questions on Mixing Vocals

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I've read through Solidwalnut's lessons on mixing audio but I still have a few basic questions. I'm trying to get the vocals (4 tracks) to stand out from the backing track but still having the backing track clearly in the mix.

It's to do with getting 'prsesence' or clarity or bringing the vocals forward - making it sound 'alive' - sadly the vox recordings don't do this on their own! At the moment the vocal tracks are dry. The bt is multi-instrumental but I don't have any control over it except as a single combined track.

Q1. If I bring the vol up on any or all of the vox tracks to bring them 'out' to a good level, I get clipping in the master track. If I avoid clipping the overall master volume seems weak and I have to turn up the vol on the headphone source above what I normally use to listen to other music with. Is this because there are 5 tracks competing for vol space - would using only 2 vocal tracks give more vol flexibilty?

Q2. I have all tracks using stereo (but no panning yet) - does this take up extra volume space on the master track?

Q3. If I double the bt and pan left and right, does this take up more volume space?

Q4. If I use reverb on one or more of the vocals, does this take up more vol space? And the same question for compression.

Q5. When trying out EQing, I haven't a clue about where the vocals (different pitches) and the bt 'sit' in the frequencies, so how can I increase/decrease the mid/high/low sliders for the best result - currently I just go with what I hear, but it's very hit and miss.

Q6. If I want to use just one (or maybe 2) mixing effects to bring the whole thing 'alive' - would it be Compression? Or maybe EQ, or possibly reverb?

A lot of questions I know, but a few simple hints would be great - I really don't want to spend days and days mixing the thing - and ending up with mud anyway. Thanks in advance, folks.

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Carol,

If you are using any chorus or double up on vocal harmonies you lose the effect of up front.

Another thing, make sure you are recording in mono and not stereo.

That will help. Ease up on the reverb.

You also have a setting called vocal presence under the visual EQ.

Click on visual EQ in the vocal track only and the little pencil.

Click on

Click manual

Look for vocal presence.

Turn on analyzer

You can drag the line manually for changes in the different ranges.

Or send me the vocal file only lets see what you got. Dry no effects.

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Hey Carol

How are you?

A few things you could try:

Take the low frequencies out of the vocals -roll off those frequencies lower than 150-200 hertz.

You will generally find that you may have several individual tracks way below 0db, but the master should be going no higher than 0. or clipping will come in...which sounds awful in the digital realm.

To find which frequencies need adjusting, narrow the Q to its smallest point, boost it to the maximum db, and then sweep through the bands. You will hear very clearly the frequencies that just sound crap. You then cut those. 200 or 400 hz can be good to cut on vocals.

Another general principle with eq is to cut with a narrow Q and boost with a wide Q for a more natural effect.

And don't just listen in isolation to the effect. Sometimes a track may sound thin or weird or whatever in isolation, but great in the context of a track.

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Hi Scotty - I'm fine thanks. I'll try a few tweaks and see how I go. I'm not sure what your Q is - I have high shelf, low shelf and peak - is Q the same as peak? I know that you raise the low shelf to cut low sounds and lower the high shelf to cut the highs.

I have a book called Home Recording for Musicians for Dummies - it has a few hints I'll try as well.

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Hi Carol,

Q is the measure of steepness/narrowness of a filter. A filter with high Q means that the filter covers a narrow band and is very steep. Low Q would mean a wider range of frequencies effected and more gently rolling curves. So what Scotty is saying is to adjust the frequency range to very narrow (hi Q) to scan across the spectrum to find the frequencies that are causing the problem.

I hope that made sense . (I think I should have just let Scotty answer ;) ).

-Doug

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Thanks Doug and Eddie - I've found a great video series that lets you see and hear how it all works. Parts 5 & 6 are particularly useful for guitar and vocals mixing.

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Hey Carol

I was going to suggest a few links on Youtube, but it seems you have beaten me to it!

I also have a couple of books on recording - someone else has borrowed them at the moment but you are welcome to borrow them once I get them back.

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Thanks scotty - those vids have helped a lot. I spent an hour listening/watching, then 8 hours (at least) tweaking. Relistened next morning, scrubbed half of the tweaks and re-tweaked for another 2 hours. I think I understand the concept of getting each sound into it's own 'space' on the Hz band.

Where would most vocals be mainly situated vs low pitched drums/bass? I did it by ear but would like to know if my ears agree with what's usual/recommended. I'm not about to change anything now though. Enough is enough.

And I'm not confessing my results until I know I'm not a freak. ;)

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Hey Carol

it is ultimately subjective; if you feel you have achieved what you want that is all that matters.

I understand the approach of enough is enough. I have been somewhat silly at times in the past (and present) with fiddling with things to the nth degree... and probably not having much more to show for it than when I had done the first mix.

Where to place the cut depends on the other instruments present in the recording, and what their function is within the mix. Even with bass and kick drum you need to choose which will be the lowest instrument; so the bass drum may have 65hz rolled off for instance, so that the bass guitar carries the bottom end. Or they may be swapped. Cutting the lower frequencies on the voice - perhaps 150-200 hz, can help free up the space. The vocals may sound a little strange in isolation, but in the mix they may sit very well. Acoustic guitar can benefit from having a lot of lower eq cut out too.

It is hard to give definite answers as everyone else has different ears/opinions/instruments/intended purpose for said recording.

Perhaps a Google search on 'subtractive eq'? Never done that myself but it may turn up some interesting results.

Good luck with it!

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Well for better or worse I posted it in Members Recordings. It's So Long Goodbye. Too late now!:)

(Don't take it personally - the title that is.)

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I've read through Solidwalnut's lessons on mixing audio but I still have a few basic questions. I'm trying to get the vocals (4 tracks) to stand out from the backing track but still having the backing track clearly in the mix.

It's to do with getting 'prsesence' or clarity or bringing the vocals forward - making it sound 'alive' - sadly the vox recordings don't do this on their own! At the moment the vocal tracks are dry. The bt is multi-instrumental but I don't have any control over it except as a single combined track.

Q1. If I bring the vol up on any or all of the vox tracks to bring them 'out' to a good level, I get clipping in the master track. If I avoid clipping the overall master volume seems weak and I have to turn up the vol on the headphone source above what I normally use to listen to other music with. Is this because there are 5 tracks competing for vol space - would using only 2 vocal tracks give more vol flexibilty?

Q2. I have all tracks using stereo (but no panning yet) - does this take up extra volume space on the master track?

Q3. If I double the bt and pan left and right, does this take up more volume space?

Q4. If I use reverb on one or more of the vocals, does this take up more vol space? And the same question for compression.

Q5. When trying out EQing, I haven't a clue about where the vocals (different pitches) and the bt 'sit' in the frequencies, so how can I increase/decrease the mid/high/low sliders for the best result - currently I just go with what I hear, but it's very hit and miss.

Q6. If I want to use just one (or maybe 2) mixing effects to bring the whole thing 'alive' - would it be Compression? Or maybe EQ, or possibly reverb?

A lot of questions I know, but a few simple hints would be great - I really don't want to spend days and days mixing the thing - and ending up with mud anyway. Thanks in advance, folks.

Hi Carol!

I hope you're well today. Yep, nothing like diving in and playing with mixing. It's really a great way to be creative and to make music visual.

I posted a link back in September in this sub-forum that was an Interactive Frequency Chart. You know, the kind that shows "a violin is in this frequency range" and "female vocals are in this particular frequency range", but when I went to check on it it didn't work anymore. Quite the bummer it was a great looking chart. I'm currently out of town and maybe the problem is just this computer. Try out the link: Interactive Frequency Chart. But here's a link to a similar chart: OneFryShort Frequency Chart

I'll get back with you later about some of the rest. All the best with this! I'll check out the recording fairly soon.

See you later,

Steve

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I've read through Solidwalnut's lessons on mixing audio but I still have a few basic questions. I'm trying to get the vocals (4 tracks) to stand out from the backing track but still having the backing track clearly in the mix.

It's to do with getting 'prsesence' or clarity or bringing the vocals forward - making it sound 'alive' - sadly the vox recordings don't do this on their own! At the moment the vocal tracks are dry. The bt is multi-instrumental but I don't have any control over it except as a single combined track.

Q1. If I bring the vol up on any or all of the vox tracks to bring them 'out' to a good level, I get clipping in the master track. If I avoid clipping the overall master volume seems weak and I have to turn up the vol on the headphone source above what I normally use to listen to other music with. Is this because there are 5 tracks competing for vol space - would using only 2 vocal tracks give more vol flexibilty?

Q2. I have all tracks using stereo (but no panning yet) - does this take up extra volume space on the master track?

Q3. If I double the bt and pan left and right, does this take up more volume space?

Q4. If I use reverb on one or more of the vocals, does this take up more vol space? And the same question for compression.

Q5. When trying out EQing, I haven't a clue about where the vocals (different pitches) and the bt 'sit' in the frequencies, so how can I increase/decrease the mid/high/low sliders for the best result - currently I just go with what I hear, but it's very hit and miss.

Q6. If I want to use just one (or maybe 2) mixing effects to bring the whole thing 'alive' - would it be Compression? Or maybe EQ, or possibly reverb?

A lot of questions I know, but a few simple hints would be great - I really don't want to spend days and days mixing the thing - and ending up with mud anyway. Thanks in advance, folks.

Carol--

I just had a listen to this tune. I really like it. I like your vocals and I like the back track. It's a great tune.

One thing when going about learning how to mix--don't get hung up on trying to learn it all. Only learn what you need for the song and keep applying that on your next song...

The big thing that I heard on this tune was that there was alot of energy on your vocal tracks. What I mean is that there was alot of useless low frequency energy in your mix.

Scotty had already mentioned this earlier. Usually, you want to roll off (cut everything below 100-250) on most tracks except the bass drum and the bass guitar. What happens that the low freq energy really adds alot of sound energy and makes the meters clip before you want them to when trying to increase volume. As he says, you might listen to the voc's or any other track that your done this roll-off and they might sound thin in isolation but when you add them all together, that's where they need to sit in the mix.

As Scotty also says, it's all so subjective. There's not a ton of one-size-fits-all answers. Mostly I just think what exact instruments and vocals are going to be in the mix. What instrument needs to be in the forefront and what can be behind? Is it a guitar-driven song or a keyboard driven song, etc.

Of course the vocals have to stand out (at least the lead vocal). So then think about the volume space, eq space and pan spacing to give each their own space in each realm, etc.

Most songs that I do are guitar-driven, but they are still mostly rock and folk songs so I want a strong kick drum and bass guitar connection, so I roll off all guitars on the low end so they don't compete with them. That's the key, so each element doesn't compete.

I hope all is well!

Steve

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Thanks for that Steve - a lot to take in - it'll take a couple of days. I posted the song on a Recording forum and asked for an assessment of the mix. A studio from Alabama replied with his views - similar to yours of course! I posted his reply on the song thread in Members Recordings.

Oh yes, I did roll off the bottom end of the vocals but raised the low end of the bt - I think he picked up on that as well, although I had no way of changing individual tracks in the bt. I did notice that my 2 lower pitched vocals (what I thought was lead) seemed to sound clearest at about 170-700 with the peaks around 380. And the higher pitched tracks seemed to sound best at around 100-200 right where I was supposed to cut them! Maybe that's what you hear? Frankly I couldn't hear anything much at all after tweaking it for a few hours, but by then I just wanted to get it done and dusted.

edit: I also raised all the tracks above ~1600 - is that a waste of space?

Thanks for the feedback.

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I checked with that interactive frequency chart, and my ears didn't do so badly after all. Just the higher pitch vocals peaking too early - the story of my life. :huh:

That OneFryShort EQ tutorial is brilliant! The best part is: Lead Vocal vs. Background Vocals - Cut between 3 kHz and 4 kHz on the background vocals to give them an "airy" sound and increase the same frequency on the lead vocal. - I did that, amazingly.

Great links Steve, thanks. I remember you linked to that interactive one ages ago and it was all a foreign language to me then, now only ~1/3 is. I must be learning something along the way - thanks again to my little band of helpers....sounds like the name of a band maybe?

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Found this today:

Hi Carol--

Great set of charts!

In a previous post, you mentioned that your vocals sounded best where you thought they needed (or might be needed) to be cut. And that after a while you couldn't tell much of a difference and you just wanted to get it done. Well, no rules, you know. If you want the tune to feature the vocals at those frequencies, you can do that. It's just that it's a give and take deal, because the vocals will compete with the drums/bass at the lower freq's. But hey, it's your tune!

The other part is that the ear gets so tired after just a short while that it's good to take breaks or to get away from it entirely and then attack it the next day with fresh ears.

Steve

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...It's to do with getting 'prsesence' or clarity or bringing the vocals forward - making it sound 'alive' - sadly the vox recordings don't do this on their own! At the moment the vocal tracks are dry. The bt is multi-instrumental but I don't have any control over it except as a single combined track....Q4. If I use reverb on one or more of the vocals, does this take up more vol space? And the same question for compression.

Another couple of thoughts in regard to bringing elements forward/backward in a mix: Since you know that lower level frequencies take up a good chunk of volume space and that competing frequencies tend to either wash each other out or can become cloudy to the listener and you handle those areas, there's a further enhancement you can do in these areas.

The first is to get to know the real sweet spot of frequencies for a given guitar or vocal and carve out a place for them to sit in the mix at those frequencies and remove most of any competing frequencies from the mix. I know we've already mentioned that, but there's a few tricks so you can take it a step further if you're not getting the results you want.

One is reverb. Generally speaking the less instruments/voices that have reverb, the more the reverb will enhance the mix rather than wash over the mix and make it muddy. It's good to only choose one or two elements of a mix to have reverb. Like choosing the vocals, for example. If a guitar has to have it, make it a different type of a reverb and perhaps dial it down so it doesn't stand out as much. It's good to have the contrast of a dry track next to a track with some 'verb. Even a dry lead voc next to wet back voc's or vice-versa.

The next thing is that the right type and amount of reverb can be used to set something further back in a mix to help other elements stand out. It's always a trial by fire and a cook-to-taste situation!

You mention the uses of effects in a mix. Of course reverb is one. Generally you don't want but maybe one or two more different types of effects overall, but that depends on when you use them and if the effects are used only as a cameo or on certain parts of the song. If the effect is going on all of the time, listeners tend to tire of it unless the effect means something to that part of the song or unless the effect is really enhancing the overall part.

Compression CAN be used as an effect, but it's general use is to help pump up a track volume-wise. There was a thread about compression a while back (I saw that you had posted as well) where I posted a 'mini lesson' on how to control a compressor. Whenever you get the chance, play around with the compressor on a couple of tracks and experiment. There's also a couple of links there for more info.

Of course you don't want to compress everything, but mainly the important tracks to make those stand out. In this sense, you'd use compression as conservatively as you would any other effect (salt to taste, of course!).

Steve

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I recently produced a CD for a vocalist - all tracks had been done elsewhere so I recorded vocals and then mixed and mastered it for her.

A tool I found to be very useful for this was the Waves Vocal Rider. Waves have a trial period of 30 days/30 uses - you simply need an ilok which I know you have Carol.

Waves | Plug-ins | Vocal Rider has some information on this plugin.

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I'm trying to track down the source of that pdf I posted. Meanwhile here is another good link

Getting Your Mix to...mix, Part One, EQ as event security. - Mixing and Multitracking - Home Recording Studio Help

Also here: the '70 free articles' tab

CD Mastering, Audio Mastering - The Ultimate Digital & Analog Services at Vestman Mastering Studios

with other links at the foot of the page.

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Ok I've found the source of that pdf. It's from the forum where I posted the So Long Goodbye track to be 'bashed'.

Home Recording Forum

It was posted as a link in an answer from an audio technician from a studio in the states, but his website is purely commercial and has no recording or mixing tips on it. It's probably from his in-house resources.

He said when he started out, he made recordings 'even more awful' than mine, so I guess I forgot about him immediately (but used his info of course :D )

The Home Recording Review is a really useful site for almost everything you need to know about recording such as Equipment reviews, and how to choose your interface etc - plus the forum. I don't think i'm being disloyal by posting a link to it - hope not anyway. ;)

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Hi Steve, I'll check out that thread on Compression again. When I tried a small amount of reverb on one of the 2 lead vocal tracks, it disappeared! Muffled and 'out in the hall'. In the end I went with only EQing and panned the 2 lead vocals a bit left and right. It seemed to sound 'good enough' so I just stopped there.

I did wonder about trying to use compression (I haven't used it before) but will try on the next tune I do. Do you use/try it before EQing or after? I assume on individual tracks, not the whole thing.

I was having a bit of trouble keeping all 5 tracks 'in the mix' and as clear as possible without the master track clipping - would compression give me more 'room' to manouvre, or less?

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Hi Steve, I'll check out that thread on Compression again. When I tried a small amount of reverb on one of the 2 lead vocal tracks, it disappeared! Muffled and 'out in the hall'. In the end I went with only EQing and panned the 2 lead vocals a bit left and right. It seemed to sound 'good enough' so I just stopped there.

I did wonder about trying to use compression (I haven't used it before) but will try on the next tune I do. Do you use/try it before EQing or after? I assume on individual tracks, not the whole thing.

I was having a bit of trouble keeping all 5 tracks 'in the mix' and as clear as possible without the master track clipping - would compression give me more 'room' to manouvre, or less?

The signal chain really depends on what it is you are hoping to achieve - so some will place eq first, others compression. I personally use compression first in the chain most of the time; have a read of this Q. Should I EQ first or compress first?

Compression can be used on both individual and corporate tracks, and I often compress individual tracks, along with eq, panning, reverb, etc, then mix down to a stereo file, which I then add further eq and compression to, with perhaps some spatial effects or a maximiser.

Once again, it depends on the final result hoped for.

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