DIALLING IN THE EQ
Many people get carried away with EQ and try to use it to compensate for something that is lacking in a singer’s voice. This needs to be addressed first and foremost. Every voice is different and unique, and it is for that reason that the voice you are working with has been chosen. So, don’t try to add to it when it doesn’t need to be changed. The important thing to remember with vocal EQ is that you simply want to take out any harsh frequencies that don’t sit well with the rest of the mix. Don’t add, subtract. Find the offending frequencies by boosting the EQ sweep and then pull those frequencies out of the signal. The volume can then be made up afterwards for any resulting lack that occurs.
COMPRESSING THE ISSUE
As with the EQ, subtlety is the key with compression. You may well have compressed the signal on the way in to control the singer’s louder peaks and stop any clipping occurring, so now you simply want to refine the overall performance. If you drive the compression too hard, the vocals will tend to get a pumping effect over them and will jump in and out of the mix against other elements. Needless to say, this is bad. You just need to gently level out the vocals so that they command a stronger presence in the mix the whole way through the track. I know it may pain many of you to do so, but think about any Mariah Carey track for a moment. There are always moments when she is just about whispering into the microphone and other times when she is screaming her lungs out, yet the volume remains almost at a constant and the vocals sit right up front in the mix because of this.
CLOSING THE GATE
One thing that always bugs me is ambient noise form within a vocal booth as a singer shuffles notes, moves about or just generally breathes. All this has no real place in your mix, unless you are looking for that raw art-house kind of feel. So, why not clean up the dead air between lines and get rid of any unwanted noise. There was a time when I used to painstakingly edit vocal tracks to chop out every little segment between the words. And yes, you can do this, applying fades in and out of each section to make it sound natural, but it is really a lot of unnecessary work. Placing a gate effect over your vocal channel can do all this automatically with the correct parameters set. You simply need to reference from the quietest section of vocals and wind the threshold up until just before it starts chopping out lyrics as well as noise. Then, just get a subtle decay and a fairly aggressive attack to open the gate when the vocals fire up and you should be good.
Remember, vocal effects don’t have to mean applying special effects to your voice. There are a number of dynamic effects that all vocals need. If they are applied correctly, you really shouldn’t hear them, that’s what makes them so special. Only when they are removed you will hear how much they are needed. This is the same principle with applying reverb to your vocals. Most of the time, it is an absolute must. Unfortunately, most of the time it is used and abused to the point where the singer is almost drowning in their own reverb. More often than not, less is more when it comes to adding reverb. In reality, you don’t want to actually hear it in the mix, if you can, there is a good chance you have gone too far with it. What you want to aim for is a reverb level that goes unnoticed until it is turned off. Then you should hear the difference. When you take the reverb away, the vocal should sound empty and lifeless, but when you add it back into the mix, you really shouldn’t notice it to begin with. So, think about that next time you are treating your latest track to a reverb shower and maybe you might just result in a vocal sound that you really like.