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3 Things to Keep in Mind When You Produce and Mix Vocals

Alex Quill is an experienced, enthusiastic and dedicated writer living in Argentina.

Using FL studio to produce vocals

Using FL studio to produce vocals

Tip #1: Explore the Voice Spectrum

As a producer, your main task is to find and highlight the most original and beautiful part of the vocals you're working with. Or at least that's what you should be doing in the most of the cases, unless you're looking for experimental weird sounds. If that's your purpose, then this guide is definitively not for you, although remember that the era of the experiments with vocal sounds ended in the late 80s, so you might have a hard time gathering an audience.

For the rest of you who actually want to achieve a professional vocal sound, please consider doing the following step.

Grab a band-pass filter, reduce the band width, and play around with the frequencies you are allowing to pass. Try to figure out which frequency range comprises the essence of the vocals you'll be working with. I'd recommend you look for the part which exposes the breathiness or any other kind of unique vocal texture. Grab several vocal samples of the same singer where they sing different musical styles, different notes, and with different tempos. Then try to find the frequency range which changes the least. That's the frequency range you'll be boosting in the future.

Band-Pass filter, FL12

Band-Pass filter, FL12

Tip #2: How to Properly Pitch-Correct Vocals

I've worked with many vocalists who have a golden ear. I'll be honest with you: I sing from time to time as well. I've got a vocal potential and a normal, developed ear. That said, no matter how hard I try I'm no match to some lucky people who have an inborn musical talent. I've worked with some singers who are nearly perfect note-hitters. I will be completely honest with you and confess that sometimes I feel a bit jealous. C'est La Vie...

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Personal opinions aside, it's always recommended to pitch-correct any vocal samples you will be working with. Even if 99% of the notes are being hit right in the spot, the remaining 1% will make your song sound a little bit amateurish. I encourage you to check the transitions from note to note as well, since some vocalists don't always respect the transition speed, specially when it comes to fast-paced songs.

What else should you be paying attention to? The vibrato - FL Studio's Newtone allows you to either reduce or enhance the vibrato of any note. A couple of well-placed vibratos can possibly be the cherry on the cake. Also, not all of the voices sound good with vibratto, so even though every singer I worked with naturally implemented that technique, some of the voices sounded way better without it.

Besides Vibratto, a well-rounded software like Newtone allows you to edit the volume fade in and fade out values of each note. You can use that feature as a manual de-esser.

Newtone in FL Studios 12

Newtone in FL Studios 12

Tip #3: Choosing the Right Compressor

I'd love to give you my personal advice on the compression method you might want to consider using.

I'm a zealous FruityLoops Studios user, so don't expect me to name any ProTools or Cubase plugins. That said, I'm sure that your DAW (digital audio workstation) will have a couple of alternatives which might be even better than the ones I'm using right now.

  • Compressor: Plain and simple, it makes the whole sound louder and then it lowers the loudest parts, reducing the overall dynamic range. While a common compressor works great with many instruments and sound effects, you shouldn't be using it when producing vocals. There are many reasons why a common compression is not enough for vocals. Long story short, as mentioned in step 1, we want to highlight the frequencies we were looking for. We don't want them to get lost among the other frequencies the compressor will bring up.
  • Compressor + EQ: Compress it first, then add your EQ's and you might get a better result, specially if first you add a high-pass filter and then a peaking EQ to boost the desired frequencies. The problem with this setting is that somehow it still won't sound as professional as desired.
  • Multi-band Compressor. A Multi-band Compressor splits the spectrum in 3 bands and applies a different compressor method to each of the bands, which allows us to highlight the desired frequencies while enjoying an overall compression volume gain. That said, not every multiband compressor have a good output sound quality. I've tried many and ended up chosing the stock FL Studios multi-band compressor. It's all about trial and error.
A Multi-Band Compressor

A Multi-Band Compressor

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