How to Mix Live Vocals

Thursday, January 10, 2013
In almost all cases the vocals in a band setting should sit on top of the mix. Nobody leaves a show humming the beat of the kick drum.
First, choose the right vocal microphone. Spend some time learning the differences in singers as well as the different characteristics of vocal microphones. This can go a long way to accomplishing the best sound.
Set your gain structure properly. Before you even turn up the fader, set your incoming gain. There are different schools of thought here, and it really depends on the application. If you are going for smooth or there is spoken word, don't push the gain all the way up to peak. Keep it in the green and out of the yellow. On some more driven applications it is OK to push the preamps a bit more as some "distortion" can be used for good. Peaking is always bad. Use compression or limiting to keep more dynamic vocalists from peaking.
Avoid using too much compression or effects. Unless you are going for a particular effect keep it natural sounding. Use compression, delay and reverb only to make a more natural sounding vocal, not to fix bad sound or singing.

Don't boost the EQ. It is a common beginners mistake to boost certain frequencies on the board to get more clarity or more body. This is almost never the right starting point. Start with cutting frequencies. If it sounds muddy find and cut the mud causing frequency. If it sounds harsh, find and cut the harsh frequency. Sometimes it is useful to boost the gain on a frequency and sweep the frequency dial until you find the offending frequency, then you know where to cut. Don't cut too wide or it will cut too much and have an unintended effect.
Your fader should be near or just below Unity (unity is at a different level on digital boards than on analog boards). There are different schools of thought on this as well, but unity is always a good starting point especially if you are just starting out. We will dive into the unity theory and gain structure as a whole later on. The very high level basic idea is that you don't have you head gain really low and your fader really high, or vice versa. You want to let the sound through rather than significantly boost or cut it.


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