I’ve been asked a lot how I mix lead vocals. The thing is that every vocal sounds different, every recording is different, every song is different etc. So my process is never the same. Every track needs a different treatment but I will give you an example of a vocal chain I use a lot and which is a great starting point.
Step 1 Compression
I use different stages of compression on my lead vocal. What I mean is that I got a couple of compressors in my chain that all compress a little bit instead of one compressor that compresses heavily. The first compressor in my chain is usually the CLA-3A from Waves. It’s really easy to setup and immediately brings your vocal more in-your-face.
Step 2 De-Esser
The second plugin in my chain is usually the Pro-DS de-esser from FabFilter. What I like about it is that you got a lot of control over the frequencies it de-esses. You can set the exact frequencies and how broad or narrow the range your de-essing is.
Step 3 EQ
After de-essing you probably lost a bit of the top end. To make up for this I like to boost a bit of top end with a shelf EQ. I like to use the FabFilter Pro-Q for this. If there are any annoying frequencies I cut them with them Pro-Q as well. Also I low cut everything below 100hz and sometimes I boost some of the mids to give the vocal some more body.
Step 4 SSL Channel Strip
I like to use the ChannelStrip from my SSL Duende but the Waves one is also good. First I set the compressor (2:1 ratio) and let it compress slightly. Then I set the EQ to boost the “sweet spots” to give the vocal some character. To find the sweet spots I first boost the first frequency band to the max and move the Freq knob slowly back and forth till I hear the frequency I like, then I turn down the gain knob of that frequency band till I think it sounds right. Then I repeat this with the other three frequency bands.
Step 5 Muti band compression
To polish it up a bit and to make sure none of the frequencies get out of control at certain parts I like to multi band compress the vocal after the SSL EQ. For this I use the C4 from Waves.
Step 6 RVox
The last plugin on my lead vocal chain most of the time the RVox from Waves. Like the CLA-3A it’s very easy to setup and brings the vocal more in-your-face.
Step 7 Reverb
After I did all the processing on the vocal I create 2 busses of reverb. Both very soft, just to add a little bit of ambience to it. Reverbs I like are TrueVerb, D-Verb, RVerb, Focusrite Scarlett and Spring Reverb. Which ones I use depend on the song and the sound I’m going for.
Step 8 Delay
Sometimes I like to put a 1/4 or 1/8 Dynamic Delay on the lead vocal to fill the empty spaces. The AIR Dynamic Delay mutes while the lead is playing and only plays during the silences.
Use this chain as an inspiration to create your own sound that fits your track. The possibilities are endless, be creative!