Making vocals sit in the mix is essential if you want your recordings to sound polished and professional—especially if you're recording vocals at home.
It's one thing to capture the perfect take, but getting them to sit well within the context of a complete track is an entirely different skill.
Assuming you've captured a stellar performance, there are many techniques available at your disposal to help make vocals sit in the mix and sound like they belong to the track.
Using the techniques in this guide, you'll quickly understand how to mix good vocals that sit up front and blend in perfectly.
Making Vocals Sit in The Mix
If you listen to any good recording, you'll notice that the vocals usually fit perfectly within the rest of the arrangement.
The lyrics are intelligible, the dynamics are even, and everything sits in harmony; the sum is greater than the individual parts.
Reference tracks during mixdown are your friend here. These are a godsend when you're trying to see how your productions stack up against other commercial material.
Find a track with a similar vibe or sound and load it into a blank track in your DAW. Switching back and forth periodically as you go will give you perspective on how your mix is taking shape.
How to Make Room for Vocals in a Mix
So what can prevent vocals from sitting properly within your track? Let's go over some audio theory concepts before we get into mixing ideas.
Frequency masking refers to when multiple tracks occupy a similar frequency range. Often, tracks overlap and essentially cancel each other out to a degree, leading to muddiness, lack of clarity, and an indistinct sonic image.
Pretty much every instrument has some level of midrange. Some, like vocals and guitars, live almost exclusively in these mid frequencies.
The best way to combat this type of masking (there are others as well) is to use decisive EQ moves to carve out space for each element to exist without stepping on the others.
You can also use techniques like sidechaining. This will duck certain tracks while others in a similar frequency range are active so that the one you want the focus on is more apparent.
Getting the right phase correlation is one of the most critical elements of any good recording. While it's usually when you're recording a source with multiple microphones where phase issues creep up, it's something you should also keep in mind when recording and mixing vocals.
Take manual double tracking, for instance. It's a common technique to record the main vocal twice and blend the two tracks together.
This has a lot of benefits. It adds thickness and liveliness, and can be a great way to fix a pitchy vocal without having to add any tuning correction.
When you're doing manual double tracking, you're recording something twice. This means there will be subtle differences between each take - which is the point.
But if your vocalist doesn't have great microphone technique, it can cause phase issues. For example, if one take is recorded with their mouth right up against the pop filter or mic and the double is recorded half a foot away, the sound is hitting the capsule at two minimal but different times.
It's subtle, sure, but you still might find yourself having to manually align the waveforms in your DAW. This can compound if you're triple or even quadruple tracking the vocals. It's common to stack vocals like this, especially background vocals.
It's not always the production where phase issues lie. Some processing can introduce phase issues. Stereo "wideners" can be notorious for this. That's why it's always important to check the phase correlation with a metering tool throughout the process.
While tracking in the same room isn't as common as it once was, bleed from other instrumentation can be a factor in making vocals sit properly during mixing.
It can definitely help the vibe of a recording if everyone is performing in the same room, but bleed can make mixing the vocal a nightmare if you have snare hits and cymbal crashes all over it.