How to Get Your Vocal Levels Perfect Every Time
Getting a vocal sit perfectly in a mix is arguably one of the hardest parts of the craft to learn, especially if you're mixing your own music. If your vocal is too loud, the rest of your mix can sound weak and quiet. If it's too quiet, listeners may not hear the lyrics and you could fail to get the emotion and message of the track across as effectively. In this post I want to quickly share a technique that's helped me to get them spot on every single time.
Before you do this, get your vocal roughly balanced with the instrumental and apply all of the processing that it needs, including reverbs and delays. Here's how I approach vocal processing.
In my opinion, there are three elements of a mix that should share the same perceived level to ensure that it sounds balanced. These are the kick, snare and vocal. Knowing this, we're going to use a simple trick to get the vocal balance perfect.
When mixing we often put a huge amount of focus onto the sound of the vocal (especially if it's your own voice), so we'll have it just a little too loud without realising, so that we can hear the details. On the contrary, some feel conscious of their voice and bring it too far down so that some of it is masked by the instrumental.
To make sure you're not making either of these mistakes, bring your monitoring volume right down on your audio interface, so that you can barely hear the details of the track. I'm talking as low as you can go while still being able hear the song. Now, listen carefully to the kick, snare and vocal. These three elements should be the most prominent and they should sound like they're balanced at the same level. If you're not 100% sure what to listen for, try this with some popular songs or any reference tracks you have.
Carefully adjust your vocal level until the balance is struck and when you bring the volume back up, your mix will sound full, loud and impactful, with the vocal sitting perfectly within the instrumental. Of course, every song is different and there will be situations that require a different approach, but in my experience, this will work on nearly every occasion.
If your song has no drums, you do have a little bit more leeway, but usually you can apply the same technique to make sure you're not missing the mark by a long way. Instead of balancing it with the kick and snare, try using the attack of a finger picked guitar part as your reference, or maybe the initial strike of piano chords. For example, listen to Rainbow by Kacey Musgraves. When you turn it right down, her voice balances really nicely with the attack of the piano. Or, in Shiver by Lucy Rose, the same principle applies with the acoustic guitar strumming.
Joe Gilder has a great video on YouTube demonstrating this exact technique. Check it out:
I hope this technique helps you out! If you'd like some unbiased feedback on your mix, I'd love to help you out. Drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.