This is a huge debate with vocal instructors. Some think you are limited to a certain vocal range that you were born with and others believe you can have a 5 octave range! I follow Brett Manning and he believes we are able to have that 5 octave range… male or female…it’s possible!
He is right because the number one thing that limits singers from having a big range is not being able to get out of their chest voice! I get it, it’s very natural to sing from your chest because that is where you talk from. All day everyday you are use to talking from your chest. This can definitely make things tricky for you. In order to get out of your chest and into your mixed voice, you need to practice resonance.
What is resonance? Let me explain…
When you hum a melody, your face should vibrate and almost give you a tickling sensation because of the vibrations. If you don’t feel the tickle, then you must practice humming. Many vocal exercises have you humming scales for a reason! If you can get good at humming or in other words….vibrating your face, then you can create great resonance in your singing voice. Resonance will allow you to hit those super low notes and those very high notes.
There is another factor though that some people still struggle with…. and that is vocal chords. When singing high notes you need to slightly compress your vocal chords to avoid strain. On low notes you need to relax them more how you would when you are talking. Don’t let this last part throw you off, practice resonance/humming and you will be surprised on how your range improves!
Have you ever pondered about why your mixes don’t sound quite as loud as other songs that you hear? That’s what is called professional mastering. The song was likely mastered by someone that understands frequency balance, how to control certain problem frequency areas, and knows how to get loudness without over-compressing.
I know what you’re thinking….you may not be a mastering engineer or even close to that level yet, but there’s another way to get it close if you are on a budget and can’t afford mastering. First off, with this method you want to make sure your mix is very very good. That’s the catch! It should be a very balanced mix that sounds good at low volumes and high volumes.
Do some light eq on your mastering chain. Roll off 20 hz and down, put a 1db boost somewhere in the sub lows, boost 0.5db somewhere in the low mids, and put a high shelf at 12 or 13k and boost about 1db. These are subtle moves that will make a pretty good difference. Now that you have done that, if you have a multiband compressor, place that next and select a mastering preset. Bypass the plug-in on and off to see if it tightened the frequencies up.
Now you are ready to grab 2 limiter plug ins. They can be the same limiter plug ins or 2 different. I use the Waves L2 first and the Waves L3 ultramaximizer second! Use your first limiter to do the heavy lifting. I normally can bring the threshold down to -6 without getting any gain reduction. The point of the first limiter is to make things louder without gain reduction. Second, grab your second limiter and pull the threshold down until you get 3 or 4db of gain reduction. If the mix sounds okay to push it a little harder then try it! At this point you have a very loud master. Make sure dither is “off” on the first limiter and “on” for the second limiter!
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.
Eq on vocals can be a bit hard at first. The main reason it’s hard is because of lack of ear training. It is very crucial to know what frequencies sound like, or else you will be playing a guessing game! It also helps to know the common problem areas in a vocal. Those problem areas are low mids and high mids. Low mids make the vocal muddy and high mids make the vocal harsh. When these two areas are controlled, usually everything else falls into place.
Find ear training online that can help you understand frequencies. I actually explain frequencies and what they sound like in my ebook called “The Ultimate Vocal Production Handbook”. Once you know what these frequencies sound like, you will be able to pinpoint the problems you are hearing. Another good thing to consider is that sometimes the vocals are lacking energy somewhere. Maybe they aren’t muddy or harsh but could still use some brightness or some thickness in the mids.
Mids can be a great place to experiment. At times I will boost a db or 2 of an area in the mids. I’ll find a spot around 600 or 700 hz and boost. Then I will byspass the plug in on and off to see if it was an improvement! Often times it is, but certain vocals don’t benefit from it. Watch this video about listening for eq problems here! Another great way to manage eq for vocals is to use multi-band compression! Watch this video for more info about multi-band compression!
Lately I have received a good amount of files to mix that have a lot of room sound to the vocals. While I can still make it work with some extra plug-ins that I will talk about soon, it is crucial to get an isolated sound.
A dynamic microphone can be a great way to have isolated vocals if you are recording from home and don’t have a properly treated vocal booth. Dynamic microphones like the Shure SM7b only really pick up what’s going directly into it. Make sure when recording, you are close to the dynamic microphone.
Another way is if you have something like a walk-in closet at home full of clothes. When I was in college for recording, my little studio apartment had a walk-in closet and it worked well for a vocal booth. Still be very close to the mic but make sure you are using a good pop filter. Another thing to be aware of is the microphone preamp level. If the level is set really low, the noise and room sound will be more prominent in the mixing process. Have a nice and hot level that reaches 3/4 of the way up the meter in your recording program.
Sometimes I have noticed that bands going for a really organic sound in the studio will be far from the mic and want a very roomy sound. While this can be cool, it can affect the pitch correction process. The vocal will have weird artifacts while pitch correcting with the room prominent in the vocal recording. If you do go for the room mic vocal set up, just make sure the vocalist is absolutely killing it! It should sound good with no pitch correction. I’m not going to lie, it’s rare that this works but for certain rock or bluesy sounds it may just work depending on the singer.
If you are a mixing engineer and you run across this problem of too much room, one plug-in I use is SPL De-verb. This plug-in is designed to eliminate reverb or room sound from a vocal track. Use can also use Waves Rvox and use the gate slider on the plug in to gate out some of it in between words.
Overall it’s just very important to record the voice with no background noise or room so that when you send to the mixing engineer, he or she can effectively pitch correct, compress, eq, and add their own effects to the vocals.
I want to share with you some great insight! You may overlook free plug-ins or not realize that there are free plug-ins but you shouldn’t sleep on this! I use a mixture of free and paid plug-ins every day and I definitely need both! I could even get by with just the free plug-ins if I wanted to! There are also included or some say “stock” plug-ins that come with your DAW that can be very useful!
First I want to go over a few very valuable free plug-ins! TAL Reverb is a free reverb that I use on every single mix. I don’t know what it is but I love the sound. I also love how basic it is. So many reverbs I’ve used have been so complex and it’s a struggle to get the sound I want. TAL reverb is a plug and play! Another free plug-in is TDR Nova. This is a dynamic EQ. Pro tools doesn’t come with any dynamic eq plug-ins so I tried this one out. Needless to say, it is awesome and I’m not the only person that raves about it! This plug -in gives you the ability to compress certain frequencies with a narrow or wide q setting. It’s very flexible. Even more flexible than a multiband compressor like a Waves C4.
Next I want to talk about included plug-ins for Pro Tools. AIR Enhancer is a really great plug-in that boosts harmonic content! This can be great to brighten up a vocal or even add lower harmonics to thicken up a vocal. I went years without taking advantage of this plug-in and now it’s in almost all of my mixes! The Pro tools EQ7 is also a highly talked about eq amongst audio engineers. It’s great for cutting frequencies and it’s very flexible. Even Pro Tools DVerb reverb plug in has come in handy many times! Especially when going for a cool “hall” distant vocal effect. Feel free to share any free plug-ins that you enjoy in the comments!
Have you ever thought about this? Why should someone hire you instead of someone else? It’s important to know your strong qualities and really use them to your advantage. Maybe you are great with lyrics and add value by suggesting small changes while working with artists. Maybe your like me and you have a really good ear for vocal harmonies. You could be very talented with mixing and know just how to give that finalized sound. There is a long list of possible skills you could be great at, but it’s important that you sort of niche down. Instead of trying to be the best at all of them, just try to do the best and push hard at what your strong with. You will find that passion comes into play because you are working hard on the things you ENJOY doing not the things you are just trying to get good at to compete with the competition.
When you figure out what makes you special, and why someone should work with you…use that when talking to a new client. Paint the picture for them that you can add a large amount of value to what they do that may be hard for them to find elsewhere. It’s out there for them, but convincing them that you can fill that void will eliminate them having to go on an endless search for the right producer!
Someone who I work closely with asked for criticism today. She asked how she could be a better producer. She wanted my complete honesty. This my friends is called humility. She will now grow rapidly because she was open to my criticism. Everyone always has a mentor or someone they look up to and learn from. If you think you have arrived at where your knowledge needs to be….my friend you have lost and others will surpass you.
Find podcasts that you can learn from, spend some time on youtube seeing how others do your craft, and even instagram can teach you a lot. I’ve spent some time on instagram under hashtags like “mixing tips” or “producer tips” and I have found some really helpful stuff! Be like my friend and be hungry for criticism! Don’t let it be discouraging but instead uplifting. Find a mentor or an online influencer!
So here’s an interesting topic…can a singer’s mood affect their vocal performance? It absolutely can! I have worked with singer’s before that were going through things that weighed heavy on them and they really couldn’t find the technique anymore. It’s like the singer had a wall constraining them from singing.
This is sad to see, but it also shows me how much mind power singing takes. Is singing more of a physical thing in your throat or does your brain drive the bus? It seems to me that singing is 85% mental and 15% physical. While this may seem extreme…think about how much better you sang when you weren’t afraid or nervous, when you weren’t angry or sad, or when you weren’t questioning if you were a good singer or not. Your mind plays a huge part in your performance. It’s important to be well rested, well meditated, spiritually prepared, and overall happy when you hit the studio!
So everyone preaches “make sure the level isn’t too hot because of digital clipping”! While this is true, what I believe can be worse is a level too low. When your vocal signal is low it has a bad signal to noise ratio. Meaning when you compress the vocal to maximize it in the end, it will have a tremendous amount of hiss! This destroys recordings. You can try to use a noise reduction plug in but it takes a ton of frequencies out of the vocal that you need.
With that being said, lean towards a hotter level. No you don’t want it to go into the red, but if it goes into the red once or twice and there is audible clipping….I’ve used the plug in called izotope de-clipper and it has really done the trick. I have only really ever used it on recordings that I didn’t record because I pay close attention to levels while recording and redo the take if it digitally clips. I’m just saying that I have found that fixing clipping can usually be an easier fix than a bunch of hiss in your tracks!!