Learn

How to Mix Vocals from Start to Finish

November 1, 2018

Let your vocals cut through the mix:

Nectar 3

Repair and restore your audio:

RX 7

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Conquer vocal mixing from start to finish with a comprehensive walkthrough of the prep and mixing stages of vocal production. We use some of the production tools in Music Production Suite 2 like RX 7 Standard, Nectar 3, and Melodyne 4 essential.

Prepare your vocal for mixing

The first stage is preparing the vocal for mixing by combing through the tracked vocal with our eyes and ears, paying special attention for clicks, pops, hum; any number of sonic anomalies that should be dealt with before we start mixing. The best environment for this kind of work is the standalone editor in RX 7 Standard. This unique visual environment gives me way more information than a waveform display would in a typical digital audio workstation.

To import audio into RX, open the application, head to file, open and choose the file you want to import. Maybe the issue that stands out is some breathiness in a specific section and wind-rustling on the mic. We should take care of it before it hits a compressor or limiter in the mixing stage, which will certainly bring attention to it.

Clean Up

I’m going to turn on instant process mode and choose gain as my processor. Choosing gain as my processor means that when I set the gain module’s parameter to, let’s say, -30 dB, anything I select with one of the tools here will go down by -30 dB. Now that I’ve chosen on my settings, I’m going to start brushing away at where I think the breathiness is.

Because RX is a bit like an image editor for your audio, I can choose the brush tool and start painting away the breathiness.

As a tip, if you encounter an issue like this in your tracked vocal, it’s well worth it to shuttle over to similar parts of the vocal performance (say, other choruses in this song), where this problem could be repeating, so you can tackle it.

Breath Control

To take care of breaths, I’m going to use RX 7 Breath Control, which intelligently detects breaths in dialogue or vocal recordings and suppresses them. Removing and reducing breaths in recordings can be a time-consuming process for music producers, but more often than not it’s a procedure that has to be done. Luckily, Breath Control can help reduce the time spent on repetitive editing without sacrificing the quality of your dialogue or vocal recordings. I should mention that included in Nectar 3 is the plug-in version of this module, so if you want to use Breath Control in real-time on your track, simply head to your plug-in folder in your DAW of choice, navigate to the iZotope plug-ins and look for RX 7 Breath Control.

Let's use Breath Control to identify and attenuate breaths. The parameters here are really simple: Sensitivity dictates how aggressively the plug-in is looking for breaths, the target level is how hard we’re pushing the identified breaths down. 

You’ll have to find some settings that work for you, and the vocal your working on, but a great way to check and make sure that the module is only picking up the sound of breaths, and that you have your parameters in place, is to use the ‘output breaths only’ function, you'll only hear what the module is detecting. It’s always a good idea to go back and listen once you’ve rendered the file, so make sure everything’s sounds great.

Mouth De-click

Mouth clicks and pops are very common, especially when a singer is delivering an intimate performance where words are slowly and carefully articulated. It can also be the case that the singer has performed a number of takes and might be slightly dehydrated as a result. Let’s use Mouth De-click to tackle this problem. I’ll find it over here on the right. And you’ll notice a familiar feature: "output clicks only."

Just like Breath Control, if you want to use this module across the entire audio file to remove all the mouth clicks, just make sure to have a listen post-processing to double check that all the clicks have been removed as sometimes loud clicks mask quieter clicks and the quieter clicks will need an extra rendering to be removed.

Melodyne 4 essential

I’ve imported my vocal track into my session, and now I need to do a little tuning work.

Tuning a vocal is a common step in preparing just about any track featuring vocals for the market, and lucky, Melodyne 4 essential is bundled with Nectar 3, meaning Nectar 3 owners get access to industry-standard time and pitch correction software used by pros the world over.

Thanks to ARA which stands for Audio Random Access, Melodyne and in this case, Logic, work more closely and efficiently together. All I have to do to start tuning this vocal is open Melodyne on my vocal track.

Note Location

A great way to see where the notes should be according to the scale Melodyne automatically detected when you played audio, is to go to Options, Note Editor and then click "Show Intended Notes." When you’re doing your tuning work, this feature can be a helpful visual guide, in addition to using your ears, of course.

To correct the pitch of the sung notes, the one way for me to do this is to select some notes that I feel are out of pitch with the rest of the track by clicking and dragging them to the correct position using my eyes and ears.  

I’m going to go through the rest of the vocal track, using my eyes and ears to determine what else needs to be tuned, but the great thing about ARA is that when I’m finished with my tuning work I don’t have to bounce or print the track before I can keep mixing, I can keep Melodyne ARA parked on the track with no latency. Let’s started mixing with Nectar 3.

Nectar 3

Now that your track is prepped and tuned, it’s time for mixing. I’m going to open Nectar 3 on the insert below the Melodyne ARA, and jumpstart the mixing process using Vocal Assistant. It’s always a good idea to run a pass of Vocal Assistant over a portion of the vocal that has a lot of energy.

Unmask

We can eliminate the EQ guesswork and use the new Unmask feature in Nectar 3 to help automatically create a pocket for the vocal.

For unmask to work, it requires a source of masking. Unmask can hear where masking is occurring between the vocal and the source and introduce an EQ curve. 

Unmask listens to the selected source and the current vocal track and compares them to detect the presence of masking. If masking is detected, a static EQ curve will be applied to the instance selected in the Unmask dropdown.

Insight 2

Insight 2 is a comprehensive metering suite that’s included in Music Production Suite 2. If you click on the Layout tab you can see that you've added.

This layout is ideal if you’re keeping an eye on loudness patterns in your track, and if you want to keep an eye on the overall frequency composition of your track.

Insight 2 is totally modular and resizable, so if I want to add a few different modules to this layout, I can simply click. I can even resize the whole module or the modules contained within the main window.

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