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Bringing Out the Best in Vocals: My Vocal Processing Techniques

As a sound engineer, I've learned to aim for as little processing as possible on vocals. I used to add loads of plugins, but I've slowly realised that less is more. Every song is unique, and my process is never exactly the same, but generally speaking, it may look a bit like this:

I start by adding Waves' Vocal Rider to the vocals to balance out the level and delivery. I find that the Vocal Rider does a good job on its own, but I still write the rider movements to automation in Logic Pro X and manually edit any parts that don't sound natural.

Next, I add gentle dynamic EQ processing with Soundtheory's Gulfoss plugin. I use this plugin so much on all instruments and stems because it's quick and instantly improves the sound and gives clarity to it.

I then move on to de-essing and EQing the vocals. I de-ess first and then use EQ to remove frequencies before boosting anything. This helps to keep the original tone of the vocals whilst also cleaning them up. I find that dealing with the lower and mid-frequencies correctly can give the vocals the air, clarity, and shine that makes them stand out without having to boost any higher frequencies.

Compression is the next step in my process. I used to use heavy compression on my vocals, however, this can sometimes create some unwanted artefacts and distortion or clipping. but now I prefer to use several compressor plugins, each compressing peaks gently. In my eyes (or ears), this creates a more natural and smoother sound with fewer unwanted artefacts. However, I keep in mind that each song is unique, so sometimes heavy compression is necessary, especially with rap vocals.

After compression, I add more EQ if necessary, to fix any additional artefacts or boost specific frequencies that bring life and definition to the vocals within the mix. I then look to add any appropriate reverb or delay, depending on the style of the track, the genre, and the delivery of the performer. I find that I can add more reverb and delay to trap tracks with a relaxed delivery that features gaps and pauses, but I need to dial back the reverb and delay when working with rappers who are rapping consistently throughout the track.

To wrap things up, I route the processed vocals to a final bus. Here, I use equalization to make sure the vocals blend well with the instrumental and apply light compression to add cohesion to the vocals. The amount of saturation I add depends on the genre and overall style of the track, with some requiring more saturation than others.

In conclusion, I've found that processing less and more gently is giving me great results. I have a basis to start from when mixing vocals, but I still enjoy being creative and searching for new ways to improve the sound. Whether you're a seasoned audio engineer or just starting out, following a process like this can help ensure that your vocals sound their best.

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