Bad or poorly recorded vocals can kill your track faster than anybody saying “goofy”. Having a good vocal mix is essential to differentiate yourself from amateur songs.
At Support Hip Hop’s Instagram, we constantly hear vocal mixing issues when reacting to user’s music. This may be the top issue we notice from all new rappers’ music.
Although general techniques like compression do a good job, badly recorded vocals need a lot more detailed work to bring up the quality and mask the bad frequencies. Here is a list of things you can do to save your vocals.
Compress Original Vocals
The first thing you want to do with bad vocals is simply put the original vocals through a compressor to make the overall volume consistent. This will remove the difference in volume between the loud and quiet parts of the vocal.
New artists tend to jump around in the dynamic range which requires you to make the attack level shorter on the compressor. This will execute the compression faster. To compensate for the loss, you must increase the gain variable on your plugin.
Multiband compressors are made to compress only when the sound reaches a certain level. This is a great tool to maintain the body of the vocal since it only triggers when necessary.
When artists are too close to the mic, the track sounds harsh and their volume levels are inconsistent. You can use a multiband compressor to compress the specific region where the sound is harsh.
Too Much Compression
Sometimes when we add so many compressors or effects, we accidentally dull out our vocals. Many producers are quick to add compression to all vocals when working on a project. If you happen to receive a vocal recording that sounds too compressed, there is little you can do to save the vocals.
The one thing that can save your highly compressed vocals is an upwards expansion plugin. This focuses on the transients of your vocals and emphasizes its. This hopefully brings back some punch from the flat, dull vocals.
EQ: Remove & Boost Frequencies
Remove Bad Frequencies
Once you’ve added your EQ, add a band and adjust the Q parameter to make the band narrow. Increase the gain variable and sweep this band across the frequency spectrum while the vocal is playing. Once you come across a painful sounding section, dip the band until you are satisfied. Add a new band and repeat the process.
For harshness, sweep between 4 kHz and 7 kHz to find the most outstanding frequency. Most unwanted noise will fall between 75 Hz – 100 Hz so make sure you dip or cut away those frequencies. Nasal tones disrupt vocal clarity so it is important to remove these. They are located between 800 Hz – 1 kHz. Sibilance is also something you want to control. You will be able to find it at around 4kHz – 9kHz.
Boost Critical Frequencies
Similar to removing the bad frequencies, we want to emphasize the frequencies that play a critical part in our vocals. We can achieve that by making bands and narrowing them down along with increasing the gain. Next, sweep the bands across the spectrum to find areas that need love.
The areas we discussed before can be used for boosting frequencies as well. In the 100 Hz – 150 Hz range, we can add warmth and fullness to the vocals when we boost these frequencies. We can add clarity by boosting areas around 800 Hz – 1 kHz. To introduce more presence, we can open up our vocals by boosting the 3 kHz – 6 kHz range. If you want to add more air space to the vocals boost the areas that are above 12 kHz.
Remove Noise, Pops, and Hiss
There is a lot of unwanted noises in vocals that we might not have realized at first. This includes noises like lip smacks, pops, hiss noises and clicks. For removing hiss and other constant noises like headphone leakage, you must use a de-noise plugin. De-noise plugins are great for fixing background noises. Using headphones is recommended when performing these repairs.
De-clicking plugins are also great at removing unwanted noise. The difference between de-clipping plugins and de-noising plugins is that de-clipping plugins are highly intense on your computer’s processor. This means that it is best to render out the vocal bits and re-upload the edited vocals.
Add Reverb and Delay
Now that you have deconstructed and edited your vocals to your liking, lets now add some ambience and space to your vocals. Reverb and delay add these special attributes to your vocals to make them sound like a professional.
Add reverb with a bright setting to amplify the ambience in the vocals. Remember to remove sibilance on your vocal before adding reverb. Otherwise the reverb will make the sibilance sound harsh.
Delay adds space and depth to your vocals. Add some feedback to the delay and tweak some knobs to produce a wetter output. This may be just the trick you need to save your artist’s vocals. Slight delays and reverbs can truly transform your vocals to achieve a professional song.
Make Vocals Thick
Thickening the vocals will add even more depth into the sound. To add this depth, we will need to duplicate the vocal track and apply the same compression and effects. On the duplicate we will insert a pitch shifter that will give a little flare to the vocal. Adjust the Cents variable to around -19 and drag the Mix to 100%.
This concept can be applied to multiple things like kicks, synths and other instruments. Layering is a great technique used to thicken any kind of sounds. Making bad vocals thicker with more variation it will fill up gaps that will make the vocals sound full.
Mixing bad vocals can be tedious but it can strengthen your skills. Fixing little details can play a big part in making a song sound different than others. Think about mixing bad vocals as a fun challenge because there are always some way around the problems that arise!