A friend sent me a private message on Facebook asking me about a recording problem he was having. He had recorded the music for a song, and that sounded great. Then he went ahead and recorded the vocal track, and that, by itself, sounded pretty decent too. However, he reported that the vocal was too up front in the mix. It didn't blend in with the music, so they didn't sound like a cohesive performance. He asked me if I had any ideas for getting the vocal to blend in better with the music. It turns out that I do:-P. Below is the advice I gave him:
Hi Ric! Yes, I do have a couple of ideas for you to try. The standard answer is to add reverb. You don't have to add much to make it seem a bit further back in the mix. In fact sometimes you can get the "pushing further back" effect with so little reverb that you can't really hear the verb in the mix. If you solo the vocal, you can hear it, but when all tracks are playing, the effect is simply to make the vocal seem a bit further away.
However, as with anything, the best way is a bit more involved, doing several things, but doing them in small doses, so that it's the combination of several small things that create one subtle but significant effect (I'm always amazed at how similar cooking is to mixing). So here are some things to add to the act of applying just a pinch of reverb.
- Obviously, you can just turn the volume down on the vocal track. But then you might have trouble hearing the softest words/phrases.
- In that case, add a compression effect to the vocal track to even out the dynamics.
- Also, "ducking" is an awesome way to get the vocal to sink more into the mix. Here is an article I wrote about ducking: https://www.homebrewaudio.com/what-is-ducking-in-audio-recording/
- Then to fine-tune things, I recommend listening to the mix in the car and on an iPod/iPhone through headphones. Check for notes that pop out a little too loud or that are maybe too soft to hear, and make notes. Printing a lyric sheet and taking that with you to make these notes is highly recommended (yeah, I do this a lot:)). When you have all the notes, go back to your software and put a volume envelope on the vocal track. you can use that to quickly raise or lower just certain syllables or short words.
If you do just a smidgen of ALL of those things, you'll probably be quite happy with the result.