One of the questions I frequently get these days is; “can you please do a tutorial about mixing vocals in Cubase …”
So, this means that there’s a lot of people who still believe that mixing vocals with stock plugins is different from using third-party plugins. The last time I checked, 500Hz on a stock plugin is still the same as the 500Hz you get on a third-party plugin.
Or am I missing something here? Let me know in the comments below.
Anyway, I finally decided to just do the tutorial to show everyone who sends me a message how to professionally mix vocals in Cubase, using stock plugins only.
One thing that everyone needs to understand is that the listener or music consumer is not going to be able to tell if the music was mixed with analog gear, stock or expensive UAD plugins.
What matters is whether the end results sound awesome and if the mix can compete on a commercial level.
Some people think that they’ll understand the process better if someone explains it using stock plugins, that’s not true at all.
One more thing, the one thing that could be preventing you from getting a professional sounding vocal is if you didn’t get the right sound straight from the source.
That is why I always stress that you should spend a lot of time in recording and sound design, the rest of the process will be a whole lot easier.
So, always remember that if you put garbage in, you get garbage out.
With that said, I want to give you a case study, instead of giving you a general tutorial I’m going to show you how I mixed the vocals for one of the projects I’m currently working on.
Mixing Vocals In Cubase Using Stock Plugins
Saturating The Vocals
The first thing that I did was to add the Magneto II tape emulation plugin to add some sonic character to the vocals. This also gives the vocals some analog warmth so that it doesn’t sound too digital.
Basically, this effect simulates the saturation and compression of recording on analog tape machines.
The goal is to add a small amount of saturation just to generate some overtones, you don’t want the effect to be too obvious or distort the signal. Just enough to get the old tape effect.
Equalizing The Vocals
After adding some analog sonic characters to the vocal, the next thing I did was equalization. The reason is simply because I want to EQ into compression.
This way, the compressor will be sensitive to the frequencies that I boost. It will change the overall frequency spectrum of the signal, control the peaks and reduce harsh frequencies.
It will also help me use less de-essing. This works well if you want your vocals to cut through a dense mix. This mix is not dense so I’m just going for a particular sound that the compressor will give me.
The vocals already sound harsh so if I EQ after compression I’ll make the vocals too harsh. I learned this technique from Chris Lord-Alge so all credits go to him, neat trick.
All I did for the EQ settings was to remove low-end rumble below 60Hz, cut out muddiness at 313Hz, removed some nasal quality (honkiness) at 3.5kHz, added presents and air at 8kHz with a shelf boost.
Compress to Impress
I remember saying this phrase “compress to impress” at a workshop where I was teaching mixing and only the ladies laughed because they understood it and they’re naughty.
If you understand this phrase, let me know in the comments section 😀
Anyway, as I’ve already stated above, the compressor in this case will take care of all the harshness, loud peaks, sibilance and change the frequency spectrum of the vocals.
You’ll need some hard compression to achieve this sound, a slow attack to let the transients go through unaffected, a fast release, gain reduction of about -8dB and a ratio of 4:1.
De-essing The Vocals
One thing you don’t want is to choke the vocals with a lot of compression.
Now because I didn’t want to over-compress the vocals, I decided to add some minor de-essing to take care of the harshness and sibilance that the compressor might have missed.
It’s just a tiny amount of de-essing to make sure that the vocal doesn’t become dull or make the singer sound like they have a lisp.
The next step is to add a 3-dimensional feel to the vocal by using time-based effects.
We’ll start with the reverb.
The sound I was going for was a plate reverb effect. I wanted a plate reverb sound because it has a very recognizable sound which blends well into a mix, and it doesn’t overpower the dry signal.
I also used a pre-delay of 10ms to make sure that the transients go through without getting affected by the reverb. This will keep the vocal punchy and upfront without getting pushed further at the back of the mix.
Sidechain Delay Effect
To add more depth and excitement to the vocals I added a delay effect, but the delay effect has a sidechain compressor.
The sidechain compression is there to make sure that the delay doesn’t overpower the vocals.
So, every time the singer is singing the delay will get ducked by the compressor and when the singer stops singing then the delay effect will kick in.
This creates really great ear-candy for the listener while still keeping all the words clearer without the delay getting in the way.
The Slap Delay Effect
Finally, what I did was to add another delay plugin to create a slap delay effect.
This adds more depth and width.
The slap delay gives the listener the illusion of thinking that the vocals are wider in the mix. All you need to do to achieve this is to use a stereo delay and make the left side delay time different from the right.
Also make sure that the feedback parameter is at zero on both channels because you don’t want the delay to have any repeats.
That’s how you mix vocals in Cubase using stock plugins. A similar (if not the same) process applies even if you’re using analog or third-party plugins.
The main goal is to have a vision and particular sound that you want to achieve. The tools don’t matter at all.
No one cares if whether you used a $2000 plugin, all that matters is whether the music sounds good or not. So, don’t be afraid to use stock plugins especially if you use software such as Cubase, Logic, Reaper, Reason or Ableton Live.
I trust that you found value in this tutorial, if you found it useful please share. Leave a comment if you have any questions and I’ll get back to you.
Happy vocal mixing.