Mixing with Neutron 2: Vocals

This blog post is part of a series on mixing with Neutron 2 Standard. If you missed a tutorial, click on one of the topics below to catch up:

  1. Mixing vocals
  2. Mixing drums & bass
  3. Mixing synths

Vocals are the most important component of a mix. Even if everything else in a mix is absolutely perfect, if the vocals aren’t right, the mix won’t sound right. In this tutorial, we will take a look at sthree common vocal mix problems and walk through how to rectify them with Neutron 2 standard.

One thing to note: from here on out, we’re going to use the shorthand Neutron 2 to refer to the Standard version of the plugin, not the advanced version of the plugin.

1. Inconsistent vocal tone

Have you ever gotten a vocal audio file only to find that the vocal tone is inconsistent throughout the song? Maybe multiple takes were stitched together or an antsy vocalist kept moving moving back and forth, toward and away from the mic throughout her performance.

Fortunately for us, we can solve such problems using Neutron 2’s dynamic EQ mode. A dynamic EQ either cuts or boosts a selected frequency range (band) when the audio signal passes a certain threshold.

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Here are some tips to use a dynamic EQ to solve vocal tone inconsistencies: 

  1. Take a listen to the vocal once or twice through.
  2. Use the spectrum analyzer in Neutron 2’s EQ module to see which frequencies fluctuate the most. Sometimes this can be quite obvious, for instance you may be able to easily pick out that a vocal is brighter or rounder during different segments.
  3. Once you have identified key areas of interest, move Neutron’s EQ bands to the “problematic” frequencies and turn on dynamic mode.
  4. Now depending on the issue, you might want to select between down or up modes. In down mode, the EQ will cut the frequencies beyond a certain threshold, and in up mode, it will boost the frequencies beyond a certain threshold.
  5. Next, adjust the band’s gain to cut or boost accordingly. If you set the dynamic EQ to down, and you cut the band’s gain by -8.0dB, you should expect that the dynamic EQ will automatically cut the frequency to a maximum of -8.0dB after exceeding the threshold.
  6. Once you’ve set up the dynamic EQ bands for the problematic frequencies, you should have a more consistent vocal tone without splitting the vocal to different tracks and EQ-ing using static EQs.

2. Flat sounding vocals

If your singer’s having an off day or you’ve only got a cheap microphone to work with, you may come across another common problem: dull vocals. Dull vocals tend to have little or no dynamics. They may also lack midrange presence or high end, leading to a muffled, draggy feel. With Neutron 2’s exciter and transient shaper, you can bring-flat sounding vocals back to life.

 

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  • Fire up Neutron 2 and place the exciter as the first module in the chain.
  • Use the learn button to let Neutron 2 intelligently separate the bands for you. Alternatively, split the bands up so that you have the low band up to around 1Khz, the middle band between 1Khz and 5Khz and the high band from 5Khz onwards.
  • Since most of the vocal activity happens between 1 – 4Khz, you generally want to excite the middle band first. Slowly push the drive up on the middle band and play around the XY pad to see which exciter mode sounds best.
  • Next, to give the vocals some intelligibility, excite the high-frequency band. Adjust the drive setting to achieve the level of crispness you’re going for.

Now it’s time to give the excited vocals some dynamics and movement using Neutron 2’s transient shaper.  A transient shaper is great for modifying the attack of a particular sound. In our case, we’re tweaking the attack of the vocals so that the singer sounds more dynamic.

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  • Load the Transient Shaper after the exciter that you set up in the previous step. Then set up the three bands to be similar to what you have set up as the exciter.
  • Now, reach for the mid-band and slowly increase the attack to hear how that sounds. We recommend choosing a smooth curve so that the effect is a little more subtle.
  • You can also transient shape the high-frequency band if you like, but watch out as it may sound a little too sibilant.

And this is how you bring a lifeless vocal track back from the dead!

3. Sibilant vocals

Have you come across vocals with a lot of sibilances — those prominent “s” sounds that are harsh on the ear? They’re easy to tackle in Neutron 2.

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  • First, load up the compressor module.
  • Split the bands into two different bands. Have one of the bands cover the sibilant areas, usually between 6-9Khz.
  • On that sibilant band, set the ratio to 2.0:1 and adjust the ratio until the desired amount of sibilance is cut.
  • If the vocal performance is quick and dynamic, I recommend setting a short attack of below 20.0ms and a quick release of below 85.0ms.

Now you can confidently tackle three common vocal mix problems with one powerful tool.

October 6, 2017