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The Vocal Mixing Checklist

Every song, singer, and room is unique. What works in one room may not work in another. The
deciding factor in any mix decision (cut or boost, how much, where, etc.) is what sounds right to
you. Additionally, do not feel obligated to use every piece of audio console functionality. For
example, expanders and duckers are nice but I dont always use them. Use what you need.


Preparation and Goals

Aim for a vocal sound that fits the genre of the song and the bands unique sound.
Plan to mix for style expectations (what the people are used to hearing).
Plan to use appropriate vocal effects - don't give a 150-seat room a mix meant for a
40,000 seat arena.
Learn the original professional song recording mix and what is done with the vocals.
Take advantage of first impressions - make note of what stands out, what emotion
comes from the vocals, and where the vocals might suddenly sit back or sound different
in the mix.

Recognize Vocal Characteristics

Respect the uniqueness of each singer's vocal timbre; their unique tonal coloring so they
sound different from another singer when singing at the same pitch and volume.
Use the singers natural volume as a quality of their voice. Don't mix against it.
Enable the singer to own their dominate frequency range so their voice isn't fighting
another voice or instrument.

Vocal Microphone and Monitor Usage

Pick a microphone with the right polar pattern to prevent feedback and capture only the
singers voice as best as possible.
Pick a condenser microphone for improved frequency detection.
Pick a microphone with a frequency response which best sculpts the singers sound for a
better sound from the source.
Make sure singers hold the microphone up to their lips, at a 45-degree angle. - copyright 2015

Monitor Mixing
Give the lead singer, who also plays an instrument, their instrument and their voice in
their monitor. Also, add snare drum and high-hat to keep the tempo.
Give the lead singer, who doesnt play an instrument, their voice and a good lead
rhythm instrument (usually an acoustic guitar) and a bit of snare.

Setting Vocal Volumes

Set the lead vocal louder than instruments, loud enough to understand the lyrics.
Test the vocal level by muting it, listening, and re-engaging to determine if it's too loud,
too soft, or just right.

Cleaning Up Vocals
Engage the High Pass Filter (HPF) and adjust to remove excess low end without
negatively affecting the vocal sound.
Cut offending frequencies with a narrow bandwidth cut. Apply a narrow cut and sweep
through the mid-range to find the best spot.
Gate the vocal channel to reduce stage noise in the channel without compromising the
vocalist's singing dynamics.

Mixing Vocals
Apply compression for volume control without sucking out vocal energy. Start with
quick attack time (30 ms) and slow release time (300 ms).
Carve out frequency space in the instruments so the lead vocal is out front. In case of
having backing vocals, carve out the backing vocals for the lead to shine through. Note
the vocal ranges below as a place to start:
Soprano: C4 C6 (261 Hz to 1046 Hz)
Mezzo-soprano: A3 A5 (220 Hz to 880 Hz)
Contralto (Alto): F3 F5 (174 Hz to 698 Hz)
Tenor: C3 C5 (130 Hz to 523 Hz)
Baritone: F2 F4 (87 Hz to 349 Hz)
Bass: E2 E4 (82 Hz to 329 Hz)
*Letter/number combinations represents the note location whereas C4 would be
Middle-C on a piano. - copyright 2015

Consider the important vocal frequency bands:

100 Hz 300 Hz : Clarity / Thin (Good for cutting these frequencies)
100 Hz 400 Hz : Thickness
100 Hz 600 Hz : Body / Warmth
100 Hz 700 Hz : Muddiness (Good for cutting)
400 Hz 1,100 Hz : Honky / Nasal
900 Hz 4,000 Hz : Intelligibility
1,000 Hz 8,000 Hz : Presence (I told you the ranges could be wide)
1,500 Hz 7,000 Hz : Sibilance (Start in the 3,000 to 5,000 Hz range)
2,000 Hz 9,000 Hz : Clarity (Compared to the 100 to 300 range for cutting, this is
good for boosting)
5,000 Hz 15,000 Hz : Sparkle (who makes up these words!?!)
10,000 Hz 20,000 Hz : Air / Breath-iness
Imagine how you want it to sound and work accordingly - have a reason for every knob
you turn, fader you move, or button you press.
Smooth out the vocal line by focusing on the mid-range frequencies.

Effects Processing

Use expander to control rate of vocal fade.

Use ducker to automatically reduce volume of an instrument when lead vocal starts.
Apply reverb to soften a harsh vocal, add depth to the mix, and add emotion to a song.
Consider which type of reverb sounds right; room, hall, or plate.
Use delay to fill short time gaps in a song or produce vocal depth without the lasting
time of reverb.
Use de-esser to reduce negative levels of vocal sibilance. Use as the last part of vocal
mixing. - copyright 2015


Mix to meet the song arrangement with regards to how backing vocals are used:
Alongside the lead.
Behind the lead.
Separate times from the lead where they take the prominent role.

Monitor Mixing
Give singers a monitor mix so they hear each other, themselves, and something to set
the time like a rhythm guitar. They also need to hear the lead singer.
Mixing Backing Vocals
Place all backing vocals into a mixer group for controlling as a unit.
Blend the vocalists together to create a cohesive sound like an instrument, not like xnumber of unique singers.
Roll off some of high end frequencies.
Back off the lows.
Apply compression for a more even sound if one singers starts to sing overly loud. A
little variety within the vocalists is ok.
Separate the lead vocal from the backing vocal by using reverb on the backing vocals or,
in the case of reverb on both, use a different type of reverb on the backing vocals.

Do you need help mixing the whole band? Do you find this checklist overwhelming? If you said
yes to either question, take the next step and check out the complete guide to church audio
Audio Essentials for Church Sound - copyright 2015