Top 10 tips for better vocal production

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Record and mix vocals like a pro with these top tips for music producers.

The vocals of any song are the centre of attention, and therefore should be the focus of the track. Unluckily it’s hard to get away with any sort of poor sound when you’re recording and producing vocals.

It’s worth spending time getting the vocal part spot on as you produce your track. Here are ten tips to help get you well on the way to better vocal production.


Let vocals sit nicely in the mix with EQ

Make sure when EQing that you’re not making the lead vocal too loud – overpowering the other instruments. But don’t make vocals too quiet either, losing clarity. If you’re the singer and therefore mixing your own vocal, try not to be self-conscious – let your voice be heard!


Don’t bury the vocal

Lead vocals should generally speaking ring out clearly through the mix. Adapt the other instruments to the vocal, not the other way around. The key is to always give the lead vocal space.


Make the most of panning

Where you decide to position the vocals in the stereo field is going to make a big difference to the overall sound of the track. Typically, lead vocals will usually be panned directly in the centre. You need to give the impression that the vocalist is singing straight at the listener, addressing them directly.

Backing vocals meanwhile are usually panned hard left and hard right, and some producers like to add a third in the centre to add more depth. Cool effects can be created by playing around with vocal panning if you’re after an immersive, atmospheric effect.


Keep recording

Even if you think that incredible first take is The One, keep going for a couple more runs. The vocalist will be fired up and more confident for subsequent takes, and you might get an even better result now that they’re relaxed. Besides, it’s always good to have a backup recording just in case.


Get a sweet room setup going on

Spend a bit of time making sure the room you’re recording in at home is treated properly so you’re getting the best sound possible. See our tips on building a home vocal booth here.


Don’t sacrifice the character of the singer

Make sure the voice and style of the vocalist doesn’t get lost as you apply vocal effects plugins. The quirks of individual singers and the emotion of vocals is a huge part of what makes them compelling – the last thing you want is a bland lead vocal.


Always record vocals dry

Once you’ve committed an effect to the track, you’re stuck with it. Saying that, at this point an effect that can be useful is compression…


To compress or not to compress?

When it comes to applying compression to vocals, generally less is more. If you’re looking to smooth out a shouty vocal take, you don’t want to hear the compressor working. Use it to even out erratic levels and tame transients.

For an up-in-your-face vocal, adjust the threshold and ratio and play around to create effects and bring the vocal to the front of the mix.


Do you need every little line?

If you’re producing a track for electronic music for example, dropping in a select part of the vocal might well be more effective than using the full vocal. Don’t feel trapped sticking to a verse-chorus-bridge approach.


The mic is key

Deciding on a microphone is a subjective, personal thing. It’s well worth investing in a half-decent microphone if you’re a singer yourself or know you want to record vocals often.

A large-diaphragm condenser microphone is preferable for singing, and it’s a good starter mic in general for home recording. Dynamic mics are best for screaming singers and the harder, dirtier sound from a loud rock or blues vocalist.


There’s plenty more advice for recording and producing vocals online. So much depends on the singer, the setup and the sort of song that’s being produced. Use these vocal production tips as a starting point and soon you’ll be laying down your vocal tracks with confidence.

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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