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Polishing Spire Topline Vocals with Nectar 3

by Charley Ruddell, iZotope Contributor March 3, 2020
Toplining vocals is incredibly popular in today’s production trends.
Toplining vocals is incredibly popular in today’s production trends.

Record high-quality vocals anywhere:

Spire app for iOS

Let your vocals cut through the mix:

Nectar 3

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Writing catchy hooks and memorable refrains is one of the most valuable skills you can have as a songwriter. That’s why toplining has taken a hold of the music industry as one of the leading jobs in the field. Toplining is writing vocal parts over music that has already been produced.

We’ve previously discussed toplining in Spire Studio and why it’s the perfect tool for producers and artists of all genres. In this piece, we’ll explore what lies beyond toplining in Spire Studio by taking an original Spire project into our DAW for further treatment. We’ll take our toplined vocal track and venture into the advanced production capabilities of Nectar 3, your one-stop shop for all things vocal production. 

Using the assistive mixing features of Nectar 3, we’ll produce clear, present vocals for our mix in record time.

Let’s start from square one.

Toplining in Spire Studio

To get started toplining, upload your instrumental track in Spire Studio using the Import button on the home projects page. Then, plug in your mic of choice and set your vocal level using the Soundcheck button on your Spire Studio. Once your input level is set, you’re ready to record.

It’s important to note here that you’ll want to record your vocals without using Spire’s recording effects when intending to export Spire vocals to another DAW. You want to achieve the cleanest initial vocal tone possible for Nectar to truly work its magic. 

After you’ve finished recording, you can edit out any unwanted noise using the Trim tool in the Record screen. The Spire app offers two convenient ways to do this:

Cloud Sharing: Tap the Share icon and select Spire project, followed by Share via link. Open the download link on the same computer as your DAW. Click Download Audio, then All individual tracks to download a .zip file with audio files for ever track in your project, perfect for importing into your DAW.

Airdrop (Apple users only): Tap the Share icon and select Individual tracks, followed by Export unmixed tracks to share each track in your project from your iPhone directly to your Mac.

To export, select Individual Tracks from the options at the bottom of the screen. This will consolidate your instrumental track and vocal tracks into a compressed zip file. You can then send the file to the cloud!

Take a listen to our reference track that features a toplined vocal. We’ll also be using this track to compare and contrast the effect of Nectar 3.

Polish with Nectar 3

The production capabilities with Nectar 3 are vast—prepare yourself.

Nectar 3 comes with twelve vocal processors and hundreds of unique presets optimized to fit your own vocal needs. Features like “Follow EQ Mode” and “Auto Level Mode” detect any inconsistencies in tracking, dramatically cutting time spent on manual editing. It’s complete with all of the vocal feature essentials—compression, reverb, delay, EQ, pitch correction, de-esser—and boasts the machine learning prowess of Vocal Assistant.

Let’s start here to break down a few of the best Nectar features to use when polishing your Spire toplines.  

Vocal Assistant

Since Vocal Assistant analyzes your vocal tracks and creates custom presets based on the needs of your voice, it’s the fastest way to establish a solid starting effect chain for this—or any—vocal. Instead of spending time on corrective EQ tweaks, de-essing, and reverb engineering, using Vocal Assistant will let us stay focused on mixing our vocal within the context of this Spire project. 

When you select Vocal Assistant, it will ask you to choose a Vibe and Intensity that you feel will best suit your vocal. Your vibe options are Vintage, Modern, and Dialogue, the latter being aimed at spoken word vocal tracks. Your intensity options are Light, Moderate, and Aggressive. For our vocal track, we selected a vintage vibe to help the vocal fit the retro vibe of our song, and a light intensity to make sure Nectar 3 doesn’t apply overly-dramatic processing that compromises our song’s vibe. Take a listen below to find the difference between the Spire vocal and the Vocal Assistant vocal.

Vocal Assistant brought out a lower mid range EQ and added compression and gain to our vocal track. These edits add body and presence to the vocal in the mix. 

Pitch Correction

Pitch Correction is about as common these days as reverb when it comes to vocal production, and Nectar 3 offers a fast, intuitive Pitch module to quickly tighten up your singer’s intonation.

You can use Pitch Correction as a guide for your vocal track or for a full on auto-tune effect. We used a High Vocal Register to accommodate the pitch of our vocal melody, and applied fairly gentle correction since her pitch was already pretty accurate in the original recording.

Nectar 3 Pitch module
Nectar 3 Pitch module

Listen to the difference between our Spire vocal and the pitch corrected vocal in Nectar.

Harmony

The Harmony engine allows you to add voices on top of your vocal track to create lush vocal arrangements.  

Open the module and double-click in the field to add a voice. From there, you can pan the voice while adjusting its interval and gain. Add up to four voices and place them wherever they fit best in the stereo field.

Nectar 3 Harmony module
Nectar 3 Harmony module

We decided to add a group of harmonies in the second half of our vocal track that features harmony tracks of both higher and lower intervals from the lead melody. Take a listen below.

Reverb

Reverb is absolutely essential in any vocal mix, but it can be a challenge finding the right space for your vocal to sit properly in the mix. Nectar 3 rises to the challenge. While Spire Studio does offer a variety of spatial effects, Nectar 3 lets us be more precise in crafting a “halo” reverb, one that gently blends with the rest of our mix.

Nectar’s reverb is a stereo plate reverb that adds a natural space and character to your vocals. Use the Pre-delay, Decay, Width, and Saturation toggles to adjust the wetness and intensity of your reverb plug-in.

Note: Vocal Assistant can give you a suggested amount of reverb based on your vocal track’s placement in the mix.

Nectar 3 Reverb module
Nectar 3 Reverb module

We used Vocal Assistant’s suggested parameters and tweaked them a little further to make the lead vocal feel more spacious in the mix. Take a listen to our reference below compared to the dry Spire vocal track.

For our final vocal mix, we used Ozone 9 to master the full track with our Nectar vocal track to give our project the shine of a fully mastered track. The track below uses all of the Nectar modules we’ve covered here.

And here’s the Spire mix one more time:

While Spire Studio offers its own set of streamlined mixing tools, exporting dry audio files to your DAW for more surgical, intensive processing is a great way to get the most out of your music. The enhanced vocal track brings the entire project to life by adding character and depth with the unique combination of Nectar’s effect engines.

Conclusion

Using Spire Studio in tandem with Nectar 3 for a polished vocal mix is a production match made in heaven. The remote ease of Spire Studio eliminates the need for an unnecessary studio setup while capturing studio level audio quality. With a simple export to your DAW of choice, Nectar 3 brings the post-production magic that makes a topline vocal track feel clear and professional in any instrumental mix.

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