Creating a perfect vocal chain is a very important step for any artist or engineer hoping to sound professional. Many artists take this as a chance to make themselves stand out amongst their peers, often taking unique approaches to their vocal chain.
While you should be encouraged to try all sorts of creative ideas on your tracks, there are still some baseline fundamentals to creating a perfect vocal chain. These are the 5 tips that will help keep your vocals clean and professional sounding when used in a mix.
Choose the right mic
The right microphone can really accentuate the vocals in a mix and help it stand out among competing instruments. Often, a great microphone can act like a supporting character in a movie to enhance the overall sound and performance of the lead role, in this case the vocal performance.
Whatever the case, always make sure to sort through your microphones and use the one that makes the vocals sound the best for your song or project.
Use a good preamp
Similar to a microphone, the choice of preamp can be an artistic choice depending on the circumstance. Just like the relationship between a guitar amp and electric guitar, the relationship between a preamp and the microphone is very important.
They can be used to create a vast array of sounds with only a few different combinations. However, analog microphone preamps are known to be rather expensive so don’t be afraid to experiment with digital recreations, or better yet, use them at a professional studio!
Use both detailed and smooth EQ
EQ is one of the most important plugins on a vocal chain and it is used to accentuate the good parts of your vocals and attenuate the bad ones. Specifically for vocals, we recommend using deep cuts with a high Q ratio for any extremely jarring frequencies, but use a smoother Q band when making minor boosts or cuts.
Additionally, if your vocal take is especially messy sounding, try experimenting with a low cut filter to get rid of any unwanted sub energy.
Use smooth compression
Compression is one of the trickier steps to creating a great vocal chain, however, it cannot be avoided as vocal recordings often have wildly different dynamics from section to section. While a lot of the legwork can be done through volume automation, this can be very time consuming.
Additionally, compressors slightly alter the tone of voice in a way that has become desired over time (particularly in pop music). One of the more common compression styles to use on a vocal track is what is known as “optical compression” or smooth compression (think LA2A).
Many software compressors utilize emulations of this style of compression and can be used to great effect on vocals making it instantly sound natural and professional.
Add saturation/ effects
Now that our vocals are sounding clear and professional, we can finally start adding effects to the chain. The most common being “Delay” and “Reverb” giving your track a sense of space and dimension and that they belong with the rest of your mix.
Another common vocal effect is called saturation. Saturation is the effect that can give your vocal a bit more tone and feel “thicker”. The result is an increased ability to cut through and stand out in a mix. Remember to not overuse any of these effects as it will make your vocal sound unnatural and heavily processed, unless that is your intent.
While these aren’t the only steps to take when creating a vocal chain, they are a solid baseline. These tips can get your vocal sounding perfect and clean that way you can start adding strange and uncommon effects without worrying about the overall clarity of your vocal track.
Even if you use just these tips alone, we’re sure that your vocals will come out sounding amazing every time!