How to make space for the vocals in the mix

Don’t!

That’s right – don’t make space for vocals in the mix. When assembling a mix, there are roughly three scenarios you might encounter when working with vocals:

  • The vocal is the main foreground instrument. In this case, the best results will be had by starting the mix with the vocal. If you’ve already got a mix that you’re trying to shoehorn a lead vocal into, it’s too late. Start again. Make the vocal really shine. Make sure it sounds exactly how it needs to, and then bring the other instruments back in around the vocal. The vocal is the most important part of the mix and the song – don’t compromise it by jamming it into a sans-vocal mix.
  • The vocal is a background or supporting part. In this case, the vocal is not the most important part of the song. It might be background vocal harmonies, or inconsequential samples in an otherwise-instrumental dance track. For these situations, don’t carve up the mix to accommodate the vocal – instead you should carve up the vocal to fit in the mix. Often this means reducing the low mids (to make the sound smaller) and applying stronger compression (to flatten the envelope).
  • The vocal actually doesn’t fit in the mix, or isn’t appropriate. In this case, the vocal is probably masked by another foreground instrument. Don’t waste your time trying to perform an impossible task – you’ll wear yourself out and destroy your mix in the process. Instead decide whether the vocal is important enough to keep (that is, it falls into one of the above scenarios). If it is, you need to identify and remove the elements of the mix that are masking the vocal. This is usually quite easy to do – mute the tracks one at a time and listen for which tracks make the vocal clearer. Once you remove the elements are masking the vocal, you can then follow the approach in one of the first two scenarios above.

Vocals are an important part of many songs, and have a distinct recognisable quality that’s unlike any other instrument. When mixing a song with vocals, it’s critically important to understand the role of the vocals in the song. This understanding will guide you toward the best approach to making them work in the mix.

-Kim.

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  1. This is going to sound like bad comment spam but I really like the advice on your site. Plain, simple and to the point. Cheers!

  2. Thanks Tiger! Glad you enjoy it.

    -Kim.

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