Don't Mix Your Vocals Without These 7 Vocal Clean-up Steps

Regardless of whether you're new to the scene, a seasoned veteran or anywhere in between, something that is learnt and agreed upon is that preparation is key. Diving into the deep end and trying to compress, eq and make a vocal fit into a mix without any initial preparation can often result in raging headaches. Hearing too often about people's troubles is why I've put together these seven crucial steps that require attention before trying to "Mix-in" your vocals.

1. R E M O V E / S T R I P  S I L E N C E
Why: Room noise from the microphone in between passages of vocals shouldn't introduce itself to the mix. Unless it's a very exposed passage of vocals, unnecessary noise, isn't doing anything to aid the overall mix, delete it. Processing Method: Delete long phrases of silence and ENSURE to add fades at both the start and end of the clips with the remaining audio to prevent any clicks/pops. (Pro-tools Strip Silence Feature)

 

2 . D I S T O R T I O N
Causes: Bad gain staging during the recording or poor recording technique.

Processing Method: RX4 Spectral repair, DeCrackler, DeClipper

 

3. C L I C K S , P O P S ,  C R A C K L E S , M O U T H  N O I S E A N D O T H E R  A R T E F A C T S Causes: Previous bad edits. Equipment interference, poorly maintained equipment, bad microphone technique or brownouts during recording.

Processing method: DeCrackler, DeClicker. iZotope RX4 suite.

 

4. P L O S I V E S
Prevention; during the recording process is usually aided with pop shields

Processing Method #01: High Pass Filters; help removes the excessive bass typically produced by plosives.

Processing Method #02: In the editor, cutting the offending plosive. Dropping the clip gain and re-fade it back into the passage of vocals.

plosive; adjective, phonetics
Denoting a consonant that is produced by stopping the airflow using the lips, teeth, or palate, followed by a sudden release of air.

noun, phonetics
A plosive speech sound. The basic plosives in English are; t, k and p (voiceless) and d, g and b (voiced).

 

5. S I B I L A N C E
Causes: Dry mouths, vocal technique, microphone selection, microphone placement. Processing method: Typically the best tool in this case is a de-esser. I use, waves de-esser.

sibilance, sibilant; adjective, phonetics(Of a speech sound) sounded with a hissing effect, for example s, sh.

 

6 B R E A T H S
There are two kinds of breaths in vocal editing we come across. The former you should keep as it ads eb, flow and that "real human touch" to performances. The second, just go ahead and delete.

a) Emotional, evocative breaths which enhance the performance.

b) Distracting and unnecessary breaths which don't add to the performance.

 

7. P I T C H C O R R E C T I O N
Autotune is a contentious topic, but often we find our hands tied with an excellent vocal performance with some takes/passages that sound great but unfortunately are out of tune. Our first port of call will always be to find another take, but when another take doesn't sometimes suffice pitch correction is all that we're left to use.

This advice isn't a licence to auto tune like in Cher's single "Believe" but only to listen intently and make tasteful decisions as to when and where some pitch correction will help embellish the record.

 
 

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