Having trouble getting your vocals to sit in a very busy instrumental?

I was mixing a song today for a hiphop artist and I did a technique that I have to do from time to time. The instrumental had some really driving synths and tons of high mid frequency energy throughout the track. When instrumentals don’t leave room for the vocal it can be a challenge to mix the vocal in.

There are a few ways to go about this. First of all, if you have the beat stems…which I did not, you can easily turn down the element that’s getting in the way or eq that certain element to make room for the vocal. Most of the time when working with hiphop I don’t have the stems and I am forced to work with the stereo track. That was the case for the song I mixed today.

So what you can do in this scenario is put an eq on the instrumental track, use a narrow Q setting and try cutting out some high mids. I like to start around 3 or 4k and cut by 3 db or so. Make sure its not taking away from the attack on the snare too much. Normally the snare can afford a cut in the high mids and will still be okay. If that cut still isn’t leaving room for the vocal, then try another cut either above 4k around 5 or 6k or below 3k around 1 or 2k. If you want the vocal more pronounced with lyrical content, go with 1 to 2k. For a brighter vocal cut a few db of 5 or 6 k in the instrumental.

Another method I use from time to time is a plug in called Trackspacer. This plug in will duck down the frequency in the instrumental every time the vocal is going. To set it up, insert Trackspacer on the instrumental channel,choose a bus in the Trackspacer plug in, then use an aux send from the vocal channel to send signal to that same bus. Now every time the vocal is going, the instrumental will duck out a bit. When the vocal isn’t going, the instrumental is untouched.

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