Learn Mixing | Mixing the Ultimate Lead Vocal, Part 4

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Last month, I waxed technical about using ADT effects and reverb to fatten a lead vocal track and put it in a cool virtual space. But ''verb can sometimes wipe out a vocal''s clarity and make it lose its chi. This month, I''ll show you how to launch your diva into orbit without sacrificing punch and power, using echo and multi-tap delay. I''ll discuss using filtered distortion for over-the-top effects. We''ll close our final chapter on vocal processing with advanced tips on using pitch processors to revive a track that''s dead on arrival.

Adding discrete echoes to your vocal track—as short as 50ms or as long as a full second or more—creates an illusory space without flash-flooding the dry focus that drives a song. A single long echo, panned to the same position as the dry track and with a smidgeon of feedback applied, can create a wonderful sense of depth. Multiple, variously panned echoes paint a broader expanse. For the most natural-sounding effect, roll off high frequencies for the wet signal.

To support your song''s groove, synchronize all echoes and multi-tap delays to your host DAW''s tempo so they repeat in time with your music. Lexicon Dual Delay (part of the Lexicon PCM Native Effects Bundle) and SoundToys EchoBoy are plug-ins that allow you to select the delay time for each echo or tap as a note value (for example, a sixteenth-, eighth-, or quarter-note) or its dotted or triplet variation. Set each tap to a different pan position and level for the biggest and most complex sound.

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Fig. 1 The SoundToys EchoBoy plug-in, with its floating Tweak window open.

EchoBoy uses a drum-machine-style grid that makes fashioning your own multi-tap delay patterns a snap (see Figure 1). Sync EchoBoy to your DAW''s tempo by engaging the plug-in''s MIDI switch. Set EchoBoy to Rhythm Echo mode. Open the plug-in''s Tweak window to program the number of beats per measure, the grid spacing (for example, 32nd notes), and so on. Then mouse-click on the grid in the left (“edit”) section of the GUI to place each tap on its own subdivision beat. Each tap will snap to a grid line and be represented by a vertical green bar. Drag up or down on the vertical bars in turn to increase or decrease the volume of each tap. Use the Pan menu in the Tweak window to set up preset panning patterns for the multi-tap voices.

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Fig. 2 Distortion-based effects are McDSP FutzBox''s forte.

To grab your audience''s attention, consider using filtered distortion on a one-line zinger sung during a full stop or breakdown. The McDSP FutzBox plug-in creates outstanding vocal effects using a combination of downsampling, resonant filters, distortion, and generated noise (see Figure 2). Excellent factory presets do the heavy lifting for you and provide radio, megaphone, and telephone-speaker simulations; kamikaze fuzz-tone breakup; and much more.

Even the most dazzling effects won''t breathe life into a fatally flawed vocal performance. Thankfully, several plug-ins bring moribund vocal tracks back from the dead.

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Fig. 3 Raise the Reverb-Reduction control on the SPL De-Verb plug-in to reduce reverb on any mono or stereo track.

Say the vocal track was recorded in a horrible-sounding iso booth, and the echo-y room tone is moving your lunch in the wrong direction. No problemo. Instantiate the SPL De-Verb plug-in, and boost its Reverb-Reduction control to diminish or eliminate that rotten ambience (see Figure 3). Unlike with mid-side processors, De-Verb will even dry up a mono track.

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Fig. 4 Antares Auto-Tune 7 can adjust the amount of vibrato for each note independently of the others.

Some singers execute too many glisses and use too much vibrato when trying to deliver a dramatic performance. The result can sound affected and phony. Antares Auto-Tune 7 and Celemony Melodyne Editor plug-ins can make it real. If the track has excessive vibrato on every line, lower Auto-Tune 7''s Natural Vibrato control to tame the entire performance. To reduce vibrato on a single note, use Graphical Mode to select it and lower the Adjust Vibrato control by the desired amount (see Figure 4).

Use Melodyne Editor''s Pitch Modulation and Pitch Drift tools to rein in excessive vibrato and glisses. Simply click with each tool in turn on any “blob” (note) that sounds pretentious, and drag downward with your mouse to curb or completely flatten any pitch fluctuations.

Maybe that 30-something chanteuse wasn''t the right gal to sing on your teen-angst-ridden pop tune. Don''t fret: You can make her sound younger using plug-ins. Melodyne Editor''s formant knob and zplane Elastique Pitch''s timbre control can each be goosed to “pitch up” the track''s formants and take off years. You can accomplish the same thing in Auto-Tune 7 by lowering the Throat Length control. (Make sure the Formant button is engaged first.) A setting of around 92% sounds natural and gets the job done.

If all your time-based effects aren''t doing the singer justice, try bypassing all that juice. Sometimes the best effect is no effect. Nothing moves further to the front of a mix more than a dry vocal.