Parallel Vocal Processing

Mixing vocals into a thick and densely tracked can be quite the challenge. In a song with fifty or more recorded tracks, there’s a lot of instruments and voices but there’s only a finite amount of space to give each element within the mix. Human hearing typically only ranges from 20Hz to 20kHz, and for most people that range is even smaller, and that’s all the space you have in the frequency spectrum of human hearing to give every element their space to live without negatively affecting the other elements. In the simplest example, the kick drum will take over the ultra lows around 40-70Hz, and the Bass guitar will live within the 80-180Hz range, and the Vocals will live anywhere between as low 700Hz to as high as 2kHz.

Now something to consider is that all these instruments have different aspects to their track. For example the Kick drum has the ultra lows as an element to its sound but it also has the beater or the “click”. So although the kick drum does take up real estate from 40-70Hz, it also lives in the 2k to 5k range. Having more presence in the 2k to 5k range will make the Kick drum sound very “thin” and it will help the Kick drum cut through the mix, especially on lower quality speakers, such as laptop speakers, that can’t reproduce frequencies below 150Hz.

This fundamental idea that a track has multiple elements that are present in different ranges of frequencies is why you are able to make vocals sound bigger and thicker using a trick, known as Parallel Vocal Processing.

With Parallel Vocal Processing you have a single lead vocal track and instead of the output of that tracking going directly to your output or an auxiliary submix you can send that track out to a certain designated bus in your DAW (Pro Tools, Logic, Ableton). So let’s say we send out the vocal channel to Bus 1. You would then make three to six auxiliary channels. These auxiliary channels are going to represent different elements of the vocal. For example in a recent project here are the names of the 5 Aux tracks I used for parallel processing the vocal along with the affect each Aux track contributes to the vocal.

  • Clean
    • Simple straight forward EQ and Compression
      • Plugin Chain
        • Slate – Virtual Mix Rack (Using a Neve Preamp Emulation)
        • Waves – DeEsser
        • Waves – REQ2
        • Waves – API 550 EQ
        • Waves – Aphex Aural Exciter
        • Waves – CLA-76 Compressor
    • This helps the vocal take up the typical mid-range (700Hz – 2kHz) that it normally does by itself
  • Dirty
    • Cutting a lot of the lows, but keeping the low-mids and adding a lot of distortion
      • Plugin Chain
        • Avid – Trim
        • Soundtoys – Dacpitator
    • This gives the vocal a more of a Radio element and gives more presence in the low-mid range area as well as the 3kHz to 5kHz are
  • Whisper
    • This a modulation effect that makes the vocal sound like it’s a whisper.
      • Plugin Chain
        • Avid – Trim
        • Waves – REQ4
        • Waves – Morphoder
        • MellowMuse – EQ1A (Free Plugin!)
    • This gives more air to the vocal and lets the vocal take up more high end
  • Low
    • This is another modulation effect, that drops the vocal down an octave
      • Plugin Chain
        • Avid – Trim
        • Soundtoys – Little Alter Boy (Pitching Vocal Down)
    • This process gives the vocal more room to take up in the lower-mid range
  • COMP
    • This track is simply a very over compressed vocal
      • Plugin Chain
        • Avid – Trim
        • Waves DeEsser
        • Klanghelm – MJUCjr Compressor (Free Plugin!)
        • Native Instruments – Transient Master
        • Waves – REQ 2
    • This overall gives more energy to the vocal it works as a pedistool to put the vocal on.

Once all of these channels are up and running you can mix and match them. I typically send all of the tracks out the same bus and have them all come back in on another Aux channel labeled “Vox Sum” So if there’s any finishing touches I want to put on the vocals I can add the plugin on the Vox Sum track. When you’re mixing all these tracks together, typically the clean vocal is the loudest. After that you can get creative with shaping the sound of the vocal. It’s important that too much of one of these tracks can make your vocal sound very unnatural so start with the non-clean tracks all the way down and mix them in until they over modulate the vocal. Now you have a vocal that has many options for real estate it can occupy for a mix. Often during a mix I’ll automate the volume of the tracks so during the bridge there’s a breathier vocal (turning up the whisper track) and during the chorus there’s a more dirty vocal (turning up the dirty track). So now you have control over a vocal that has the potential to take up a lot of room to make itself bigger. You also have dynamic and timbre control of the vocal with the levels of the tracks.

Thank you for reading and I really hope this trick helps you thicken up your vocals for some tunes!


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