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RICHARD HUTCHINS

Struggling with vocals in the mix

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Hui,

I have a completed track and am now adding vocals. On the meter the signal seems fine, no clipping, maybe reading 12 peak. All by the book. But on playback its far too quiet, drowned out by other instruments. But the other tracks are all set ok with no peaking or distorting.

I can get the vocals louder but of course it is then in the red and distorted. Any obvious errors? ( I route the mike through a small Yamaha mixer MG82, and from there to a Steinberg interface, maybe that's a problem? I do this as my mike lead isn't a jack and doesn't fit the Steinberg input jack. ( Amateur hour I know)

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Sorry for ignorance, but the other volumes are set to be about 8db average with the odd 12db, which is how we are told to set them to avoid clipping. Surely its the vocal track that's incorrect? Or am I off beam here..

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Vocals are very vulnerable in tracking, small changes in mic distance, face direction, sibilants, etc. can make a big difference.

Not knowing what type of vocals we're talking about, what I would try is volume automation on the vocal track pulling the loudest peaks a little down, then EQ cut
the low end  somewhere around 50 Hz (depending how low your voice is, is there strong proximity effect etc.).

After that try again, with the backing tracks a little lower, and maybe  gently compressing the vocals.

A very common thing to do is also pulling the backing tracks a bit down only when there is vocal on top, but not drums and bass.

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Like all things to do with audio there are many ways to approach this common issue. We all end up with our own best practices. 

Mine

I use sub busses to group instruments - Bass-Drums-Keys-Guitars-Vocals as example. I can simply turn the instruments down and turn the vocals up. This also allows you to leave the tracks alone once you've say balanced your guitars or synths. It's a can of worms to have to go back to 16-30 tracks and fiddle with levels and effects sends. 

Compressor -  My goodness, I have soooo many compressors I never know which one to use. I'll even use the adaptive limiter on my vocal.  But this solves the issue of peaking. 

There are special plug ins for vocals that are worth a shot. I grabbed IZotope Nectar for free from Plug in Boutique last week. I have also used the Vocal Strip which is included with CbB. I really like the way the delay works. SImple. 

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Forget what you think the peaks should be.  You can pull all your tracks down by 20db and still have a ton of signal to noise ratio to make a good mix.

3 hours ago, Skyline_UK said:

Pull all the other track volumes down so the vocal track is comparatively louder?

This works!  Even if you lower the volume of everything to get the vocals to sit right in your mix, you can raise the volume back up to commercial levels when mastering the mix.  You have more headroom when lowering the volume than raising the volume even if you have an average converter.

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4 hours ago, Skyline_UK said:

Pull all the other track volumes down so the vocal track is comparatively louder?

Some things really are simple.

 

 

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2 hours ago, RICHARD HUTCHINS said:

Sorry for ignorance, but the other volumes are set to be about 8db average with the odd 12db, which is how we are told to set them to avoid clipping. Surely its the vocal track that's incorrect? Or am I off beam here..

Listen with your ears, not your eyes.

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23 minutes ago, bdickens said:

Listen with your ears, not your eyes.

Yeh, Stevie Wonder seems to do alright.

That said, personally I prefer an analytical approach. Keeping your tracks below -8 dB is a good practice, keep doing that. But as noted above, relative levels are more important than absolute values.

Back in tape days, we had to work hard to keep levels high in order to maintain a decent signal-to-noise ratio. But digital audio has (mostly) freed us from that concern. Tracks peaking at -20 or even -30 dB aren't necessarily a problem. Concentrate on getting the relative levels in balance first, then worry about bringing everything up in volume.

Another salient point is that volume perception isn't about peaks, but about average levels. You can easily have a track that peaks right up at 0 dB and still sounds too quiet. Or you can have a track that peaks at -18 dB and is still overwhelming other tracks that have higher peaks. A compressor (or limiter, a type of compressor) is used to raise average levels without raising peak levels. Compression is almost always applied to vocals, often quite aggressively in most popular genres. So once you've gotten your tracks reasonably balanced, add compressors before proceeding to the final mix. Don't be surprised if you find that you end up turning those compressed vocals down!

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2 hours ago, John Vere said:

Like all things to do with audio there are many ways to approach this common issue. We all end up with our own best practices. 

I totally agree with this!

My way to get a clear mix and all instruments and vocals audible is:

  1. Liberally roll off low frequencies of nearly everything (70 - 250Hz, depending on the instrument). Even if it sounds strange, but rolling off about 150 - 250 Hz of the vocals itself will makes them cut through much better.
  2. Define the prominent frequency range for each instrument/vocal that does not overlap with something else. Lower the other frequencies for the instrument/vocal or increase the prominant frequency range just a little bit. Define whether the bass or the kick drum gets the lowest range, reduce about 50Hz for the one and 140Hz for the other (this is very important).
  3. Place all instruments in a virtual semicircle. The vocals are usually in the center a bit away (reverb), the kick is normally also in the center, but nearer to the listener (only minimal reverb). Most of the time also the bass is near the center. Regard that there should be some instruments a bit to the left and right near the listener (minimal reverb) to achieve some deepness to the virtual sound image, to get some sort of room!

Normally the first step alone makes your mix much better and easier to handle, but also the other 2 are necessary to achieve a satisfiable mix. Note: One mistake that most beginners tend to do (I did the same once), is that they try to get a balance with the volume level only (and maybe pan settings)!

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What I have found over time is that if you come up with a plan that seems to work stick with this and then your mixes will be consistent from song to song. This is why I use the sub busses.  I have a general idea of where those meters should be for each part. 

I totally agree with Marled above. I have always put the hi pass filter on every track. Seems strange to some to do this to kick and bass but these are places your levels can go right over the top and the song doesn't even sound very loud. I cut at around 95hz on the bass and 150 on the kick. And think about those frequencies on Vocals or even some guitar parts. You don't need them in a mix. Vocals will just have plosives. 

EQ is the next thing to master once you've got your head wrapped around things like Compression. 

And good point made by Dave about peak level is not what matters but Loudness does. Invest in a good LUFs analyzer like the You Lean or Span ( it's free ) and pay more attention to loudness not peak levels.  

https://youlean.co/       

 https://www.voxengo.com/product/span/

 

Edited by John Vere
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i use busses for the sub mixes, but those feed into 3 busses (think of them as "stems"): low, vocal, instrument. the low only has kick and bass, instrument has everything else (drums, parallel drums, guitars, keys, etc) high passed like @marled noted. and the vocal buss contains the lead and backing vocals. 

separate busses for reverbs and delays - room, vibe, vocals, instruments. this is then all passed to the master buss which has a -2db threshold on the ProChannel limiter (or what you might have), auto-release (most times) and a slight -1db cut @ 250hz on the PC EQ. this provides a very light limit/gain on the master with the limit cutoff @ -1db.

note: this approach leaves about 20 faders to manage the mix and general ambient/vibe effects even if there are 40-50 tracks behind it. so with the stem-like approach, moving the vocals +- 1-2db is easy, same for low and instruments, with the option to add side-chain compression to instruments so the vocals can turn down the instruments 1 or 2db, and same for ambience effects - those busses can be side-chained to bring the vocals a bit forward as well.

this seems to provide a reasonable level of final balance (again think "stems") using the 3 main busses and a decent output to the mastering stage (me - Ozone 9 advanced separately on the WAV output).

DAW template.jpg

Edited by Glenn Stanton
added template flow diagram
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First of all I would change your mike lead with a real mike lead.

Done this, I connect the mike directly to the Steinberg interface.

This is the way to start to record a vocal in a professional way.

You don't tell us how high  you hear your voice in the headphone during recording respect to the others tracks.

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The op is missing the point of mixing, or adjusting the relative level balance between tracks.  Or turn it up, as one of the first posters said.

Once you have recorded a solid track with no distortion that you don’t want, then you can lower the volume of those instruments (either individually or via busses that provide a single fader to control your overall drum levels, for example), you need to balance the music tracks against the vocal  tracks, thus raising its realities volume.

 

also, tracks can refer to either to complete songs - I heard a great track on the radio!  Or to individual audio tracks within your daw.  It also has a verb use in audio - I need to track guitars today, ie. record them.

dont be discouraged there is a lot to learn.  Recording is like an learning a new instrument and it rakes rime to understand thee techniques but also the lingo.

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This is some forum. I will work through all of the above. I am learning but its painfully slow, and of course like most musicians I want to be playing not learning, which is not really the way forward, as its a false economy. Thanks guys.

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I don't like this deleting of subtones and overtones. The end result is then a false representation. (Even if you can't hear it.)

And to delete anything lower than 150 or 250 hz?

"From wikipedia:  The voiced speech of a typical adult male will have a fundamental frequency from 85 to 180 Hz, and that of a typical adult female from 165 to 255 Hz. Thus, the fundamental frequency of most speech falls below the bottom of the voice frequency band as defined above."

Female Singer Type: SOPRANO/C4 - C6 (261-1047 Hz)   MEZZO-SOPRANO/A3 - A5 (220 - 880 Hz)   ALTO/G3 - G5 (196 - 784 Hz)

CONTRALTO/F3 - F5 (174 - 698 Hz)

Male Singer Type: COUNTERTENOR/E3 - E5 (164 - 659 Hz)   TENOR/C3 - C5 (130 - 523 Hz)   BARITONE/G2 - G4 (98 - 392 Hz)

BASS/E2 - E4 (82 - 329 Hz)

Explain yourself, please.

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I do this as my mike lead isn't a jack and doesn't fit the Steinberg input jack. 

 I just caught this. What type of mike and cable is this and what model interface? Most interfaces have XLR inputs, can't think of any that don't?  And it would be scary to think your mike doesn't have a XLR cable. That implies low quality hi Impedance. Or very old Shure. 

It's not the really the issue but seems odd. Nothing wrong with using a mixer. I used to always have a little Mackie in front of my interface. It has better pre amps and the headphones are easier to control otherwise I'm messing with Mix Control software. There should be very little difference as long as you use short good quality balanced cables. 

 

Kurre- I always say "This is the way I do it" I never say it's the correct way. It's what I have learned results in a mix that translates and sounds balanced on all other systems. What is the point of adding frequencies that most will not hear on a cell phone speaker. I leave plenty of low end which comes  across in a sub woofer. 

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