How to Edit Vocals Like a Pro
One of the hardest parts of music production is getting a professional sounding vocal. It relies on skill, attention to detail and experience at every stage of the process. The power of great editing is often overlooked, but it’s just as important as the initial recording and the mixing stage. In this blog post I want to share some techniques and tips for editing vocals like a pro.
Chop out the blank space
One of the first things you’ll want to do with any multi tracked vocal take is chop out the blank space. When you’re not singing, there are tons of different sounds that can get in the way and creep into your mix. No one wants to hear headphone bleed, hiss from the microphone or shuffling sounds as you play air guitar over the instrumental. Try to leave breaths intact for now, I’ll tell you how I deal with those later.
Use fades, everywhere.
Now you’ve started chopping things up, you need to make sure that the edits are clean. At the start and end of every clip, you need to apply a short fade and if you edit two clips together, you should use a crossfade between them. If you don’t do this, your vocal will become riddled with pops and clicks.
Dealing with breaths
The way in which I edit breaths depends entirely on the song. On dynamic, intimate songs you might want to leave them alone, whereas on super produced pop tracks, you might cut them out. That said, on most tracks it will be a case of simply turning them down. In Studio One, I do this by separating them and reducing the clip gain to taste, but it may work differently depending on you DAW. If there is a big gasp at the start of breath, it can be a good idea to fade into it.
If you take breaths away too much, the vocal can sound unnatural and broken up, but if they’re too loud, they can be off putting and the vocal can sound unprofessional. Think about what’s right for your song, experiment and use your best judgement.
De-esser plugins are great, but for me, nothing beats a manually de-essed track. To reduce S’s, T’s, P’s and other obtrusive syllables, I separate the sound and bring down the clip gain in the same way I do with breaths, but volume automation works just as well. Be careful not to go too far with this.
No one likes hearing mouth noises
Mouth noises, or “mastication” if you want to be scientific, can be particularly present on quieter songs and some listeners hate it. In fact, there’s a genuine condition called “Misophonia”, which causes people to experience extreme feelings of anger when they hear these sounds. Probably best to edit them out then…
Sometimes these occur just before breaths and can be chopped out easily with a simple edit, but often, they’re over certain words or lyrics, which can make things difficult. To solve this, I use a plugin called “RX Mouth De-Click” by iZotope. I rarely tweak the settings, just slap it on the track and it works wonders. An alternative is Waves X-Crackle, which is designed for removing dust crackles from vinyl recordings, but actually does a great job of removing these mouth noises.
Automate the level
Before you use heaps of compression, automate the level of your vocal track to make sure every line, word and syllable is as clear as it should be, making sure nothing is falling behind the track and nothing is too loud. Taking the time to do this will result in a much cleaner mix later on!
Use tuning and timing correction
Tuning your vocals and tweaking the timing is okay. Don’t be a purist, out of tune vocals and poor timing don’t add “character”, they sound bad. I’m not talking about making you sound like a robot, but listeners these days have been nurtured to expect perfection, so even just making tiny adjustments can work wonders for your entire mix - it’s the small details that count. Melodyne is a great tool for this, but most DAWs will have some sort of tuning/timing feature built in, like Logic’s Flex-Time and Flex-Pitch.
Edit with some compression.
When I’m editing, especially with breaths and sibilance, I like to put a little bit of compression on the track. Compression will bring these sounds up in level, so by using some while I’m editing, I have a better idea of how my edits will affect the final vocal mix.
I hope this helps you to create better vocal recordings! If you’d like me to take a listen to your track and help you out, just email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. If you need help with recording your vocals at home, check out my blog post here.