Tips for Mixing Acapella Vocals

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Tips for Mixing Acapella Vocals

Hey, guys.

Matthew Weiss here — www.weiss-sound.com,
www.theproaudiofiles.com.

Coming soon, I’ve got a Mixing with EQ tutorial,
and there’s going to be a link right here

to that.

This is going to be a little precursor teaser
to that, but also some really, really valuable

information.

So, at the very least you’re going to learn
something, and at the most you’re going to

learn a whole lot depending on what you choose
to do.

But anyways, here we go.

What we’re going to be talking about is an
A Capella vocal.

Now, A Capella vocals are a unique and difficult
challenge, because there’s nothing to really

hide any of the imperfections of the recording,
and on top of that, we have to give the vocal

space, and if the space is not good, then
we might have trouble.

So, for example, in this particular record,
there were no room mics up.

[vocals]

Okay, so it’s a good recording.

The actual dry vocal is sounding pretty good.

My first move here is to – first, I just
want to figure out the vocal itself.

So, I’m going to take a compressor and just
do some compression here.

I think it hits on the bigger parts.

[vocals with compression]

And I have the attack set pretty long.

20 milliseconds.

I have the release set pretty long.

76 milliseconds here.

I have it in Opto mode, so it’s not the most
aggressive compression, but it’s also not

the least aggressive compression.

It’s sort of in the middle.

Just because this is a particularly dynamic
performance, and ideally what I would actually

do is a lot of rides, but this will also help
to thicken the overall vocal sound.

So then the next thing is going to be some
EQ.

There’s a lot of mid-range push in Barbara’s
voice here, like right around 1kHz.

It’s probably some kind of a Neumann microphone
recording her, which tends to have a lot of

that 1kHz, and she has a lot of that in her
voice naturally.

It’s also deficient in the treble range.

I have the analyzer turned on, so we’ll see
that right here.

[vocals]

So, as you can see, there’s a whole lot of
buildup in this upper mid-range area.

The buildup is not consistent, so what I’m
going to do – whenever there’s tonal inconsistencies,

my thought is multi-band compression.

So what I’ve got going on here is some compression
triggering from the upper-mid range so that

when she hits some of those strident notes,
it’s going to pull it down, but overall I’m

going to be boosting a little bit more of
it.

So, before.

[vocals]

After.

[vocals after multi-band compression]

So I get as much treble and upper-mid presence
in there as possible without making the voice

sound painful.

[vocals]

Sounds good.

Really good singer.

But now, it’s completely dry.

So what are we going to do?

Well, first thing we could do is we could
send off to a reverb.

So I’ve got a really nice software reverb
here.

A Lexicon Hall reverb.

Let’s hear how that sounds.

[vocals with reverb]

So, I don’t love it.

I don’t hate it.

I think it would be a really good sound if
I wanted to make this sort of like a pop type

of tune, like you know, if this was an A Capella
from like, Ellie Goulding or something like

that, I would love that kind of a reverb for
her.

It just goes with her for whatever reason,
and it sort of works with the pop aesthetic,

but it sounds very unrealistic.

It’s clearly an artificial reverb, and I don’t
know if I totally dig that.

So my next option is to use a convolution
reverb.

This is also a concert hall, but it is a convolution
rather than an algorithm, and it sounds like

this.

[vocals]

So, I don’t love that, and I don’t hate that
either.

I think of the two, I actually prefer the
algorithm, just because I think it’s a sweeter

sound, but the convolution is a little bit
more realistic.

That said, I’m not totally thrilled with either.

Do we have another option?

Well, there were some mics up on the piano.

The piano is not in use in this segment, so
maybe I can take the piano mics and turn them

into my room ambience.

Let’s hear how that sounds.

[vocal ambience plays]

Here’s with the vocal.

[vocals, piano mics up]

Alright, so that’s clearly the most realistic
sounding, but it sounds a little bit weird

because it’s resonating inside the piano,
but maybe I could EQ it in a way to make it

sound more natural.

[vocal ambience]

Alright, one more time, before and after.

[vocal ambience, before and after EQ]

So that’s sort of a difficult thing, but what
I’m doing here, and as you can see, this is

an absolutely batty curve, but what I’m visualizing
is what it sounds like before the EQ is a

couple of mics inside a piano, which is no
good.

It sounds like it’s in a weirdly dead space,
even though it’s clearly in a live room.

So what I’m doing is I’m trying to open it
up to make it sound as if the microphones

were placed in the actual room itself, and
I think I actually managed to achieve it.

So here’s one more time, before and after.

[vocal plays, before/after EQ]

That’s inside the piano.

Here’s out.

Nice.

Now let’s hear it with the vocal.

[vocal with ambience]

Without it.

[vocal dry]

With.

[vocal with ambience]

Okay, so now it sounds like Barbara is in
a three-dimensional space, so we’re getting

there, but we haven’t quite gotten there yet.

Why?

Because the space itself is kind of dead.

It’s not totally live in the most flattering
way.

So is there something we can do to add a little
life to it?

Yes there is.

One cool thing about having these short rooms
when you’re grabbing room mics, even for things

like vocals, which is why I’ll sometimes throw
up a mono room as well, even when I’m recording

vocals, is that they work really well with
echoes.

Delays.

So, here’s a copy of this track with a delay
plug-in set to it.

[vocal ambience plays with delay]

So, it adds extra tail to the reverb, which
makes the space bigger overall.

Here’s how it all sounds together.

[vocals play with ambience]

Without the echo.

[vocals play with ambience, sans echo]

With the echo.

[vocals play with ambience]

Now that’s a subtle difference, but I think
it’s an important difference.

The difference being that it’s a grander space.

It’s a bigger, smooth space than what we got
before.

So what I’m going to do is I’m going to play
it dry, play it with the room verbs that we

just created, and then compare that to the
original algorithm that we would substitute

otherwise, and you’ll hear the difference,
I think.

[vocals play dry, with rooms, and with rooms
and delay]

Then what I can do is I can go in there and
smooth out the resonances that are in the

delay that show up at times, or work it just
a little bit more to really smooth it out,

but overall, that sounded pretty good.

Here’s the algorithm.

[vocals, Lexicon reverb on]

Not bad, but not this.

[vocals, with ambience/delay]

Pretty cool, right?

The voice sounds bigger when we use the actual
room, and that’s part of what I like about

it.

Anyway guys, I hope you learned something.

Check out the EQ tutorial, mixing with EQ,
and I hope to hear from you!

Take care.

Tips for Mixing Acapella Vocals

Instant access to every in-depth mixing course from Matthew Weiss: http://theproaudiofiles.com/members
Learn how to use EQ and get better mixes: http://mixingwitheq.com

A video on some of the challenges and approaches for mixing acapella vocals.

Transcript excerpt:

Hey, guys. Matthew Weiss here — www.weiss-sound.com, www.theproaudiofiles.com. Coming soon, I’ve got a Mixing with EQ tutorial, and there’s going to be a link right here to that. This is going to be a little precursor teaser to that, but also some really, really valuable information.

So, at the very least you’re going to learn something, and at the most you’re going to learn a whole lot depending on what you choose to do. But anyways, here we go.

What we’re going to be talking about is an A Capella vocal. Now, A Capella vocals are a unique and difficult challenge, because there’s nothing to really hide any of the imperfections of the recording, and on top of that, we have to give the vocal space, and if the space is not good, then we might have trouble.

So, for example, in this particular record, there were no room mics up.

[vocals]

Okay, so it’s a good recording. The actual dry vocal is sounding pretty good. My first move here is to – first, I just want to figure out the vocal itself. So, I’m going to take a compressor and just do some compression here. I think it hits on the bigger parts.

[vocals with compression]

And I have the attack set pretty long. 20 ms. I have the release set pretty long. 76 ms here. I have it in Opto mode, so it’s not the most aggressive compression, but it’s also not the least aggressive compression. It’s sort of in the middle. Just because this is a particularly dynamic performance, and ideally what I would actually do is a lot of rides, but this will also help to thicken the overall vocal sound.

So then the next thing is going to be some EQ. There’s a lot of mid-range push in Barbara’s voice here, like right around 1kHz. It’s probably some kind of a Neumann microphone recording her, which tends to have a lot of that 1kHz, and she has a lot of that in her voice naturally. It’s also deficient in the treble range. I have the analyzer turned on, so we’ll see that right here.

[vocals]

So, as you can see, there’s a whole lot of buildup in this upper mid-range area. The buildup is not consistent, so what I’m going to do – whenever there’s tonal inconsistencies, my thought is multi-band compression. So what I’ve got going on here is some compression triggering from the upper-mid range so that when she hits some of those strident notes, it’s going to pull it down, but overall I’m going to be boosting a little bit more of it.

So, before.

[vocals]

After.

[vocals after multi-band compression]

So I get as much treble and upper-mid presence in there as possible without making the voice sound painful.

[vocals]

Sounds good. Really good singer.

But now, it’s completely dry. So what are we going to do? Well, first thing we could do is we could send off to a reverb. So I’ve got a really nice software reverb here. A Lexicon Hall reverb. Let’s hear how that sounds.

[vocals with reverb]

So, I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. I think it would be a really good sound if I wanted to make this sort of like a pop type of tune, like you know, if this was an A Capella from like, Ellie Goulding or something like that, I would love that kind of a reverb for her. It just goes with her for whatever reason, and it sort of works with the pop aesthetic, but it sounds very unrealistic. It’s clearly an artificial reverb, and I don’t know if I totally dig that.

So my next option is to use a convolution reverb. This is also a concert hall, but it is a convolution rather than an algorithm, and it sounds like this.

[vocals]

So, I don’t love that, and I don’t hate that either. I think of the two, I actually prefer the algorithm, just because I think it’s a sweeter sound, but the convolution is a little bit more realistic. That said, I’m not totally thrilled with either.

Do we have another option? Well, there were some mics up on the piano. The piano is not in use in this segment, so maybe I can take the piano mics and turn them into my room ambience. Let’s hear how that sounds.

[vocal ambience plays]

Here’s with the vocal.

[vocals, piano mics up]

Alright, so that’s clearly the most realistic sounding, but it sounds a little bit weird because it’s resonating inside the piano, but maybe I could EQ it in a way to make it sound more natural.

More: http://theproaudiofiles.com/video/tips-for-mixing-acapella-vocals/

About The Pro Audio Files

Tutorials on mixing, mastering and producing music in Pro Tools with plugins from Waves, FabFilter, SoundToys, Softube, Sonnox, PSP, Slate Digital and more. Learn how to mix using EQ, compression and effects like reverb, delay, saturation and distortion on vocals, drums, guitar, bass and more.

Tips for Mixing Acapella Vocals

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