Vocal Effects In Your Mix

It goes without saying that you will want to use effects (fx) in your mix. We all like to hear a little reverb, maybe some delay, or any number of creative fx tools we have available to us in audio land. In fact, many of your favorite songs have an effect that is instantly recognizable such as Peter Frampton’s “Show Me The Way”, or any T-Pain song. It's hard to even imagine what certain songs would sound like without the creative use of fx in the mix. While we have discussed topics such as using reverb and delay in the past, I want to show you some new tools now available in Pro Tools that will really speed up your work flow and help you with complex routing and documentation.

First off to recap, remember that you usually do not want to place any effect directly on your audio track. Doing this would mean that you would always hear your audio signal (vocal, guitar, drums, etc…) playing through the effect and you would not have the ability to creatively blend the signals together. For this reason, engineers many years ago realized that if we split our audio signal and make the split go through the fx processor, we now have control of both signals independent of one another. This means we can control how much of the audio signal we are hearing and how much of the fx we are hearing. As technology evolved through the years, mixing consoles started to give engineers the ability to split the audio signal to many different locations usually known as an “Aux Send”. With Pro Tools, we have the ability to do 10 different “Sends” per track. This means that you can split your vocal track to go to 10 different effects all while still having the original unaffected signal also going to the outputs. These 10 sends are labeled “Sends A-E” and “Sends F-J” and can be shown or hidden from the “View” menu in Pro Tools for both the Edit and Mix Windows,

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Internal routing within a mixing console is done via a “Bus”. Just like a bus in your city (console), you can get to any other part of the city by getting on the bus and arriving at your destination. Within Pro Tools, you have 256 (128 Stereo) busses available to you in order to route your audio signal to different parts of the console. We took a look at how to accomplish this in a previous article Let's All Get on the Bus. Over the years I’ve found a few basic tricks that offer a great starting point for almost any song, especially in working with the vocals. These are no secret and you can find plenty of other interpretations online of how other engineers work. First, I usually add a little bit of reverb to the vocal by adding my first send.

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By utilizing the “new track” feature from the send menu, Pro Tools will allow me to automatically create a bus send and create an Aux return track named whatever I choose to name it:

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This now gives me a new Aux return track labeled “voxverb1”. Also notice that it automatically named the bus “voxverb1” and also routed the input of the new Aux return from “voxverb1” - when you do this you’ll notice that a Send Window will now appear:

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The default in Pro Tools is that Send outputs launch with the fader at -, and by option + clicking on the fader with the mouse, it snaps the fader to 0.0 db. This shortcut works for any button in Pro Tools as well as inserts. It snaps the button back to it’s default zero setting.

By going to the Insert section of our new voxverb1 Aux return, we can choose which reverb plug-in we want to launch:

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Like with any effect, once you dial in the setting you want, adjust the fader to sit in the mix where it sounds good to you.

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Now that we have some reverb, a little bit of delay is always called for. Let’s repeat the same process we just did, this time going to a new send point, selecting “new track” and creating a delay return:

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resulting in our session looking like this

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I’ve gone ahead and launched the built in Long Delay of Pro Tools because it has a really great feature I like from my delay- it has independent controls for the left and right side:

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Another great feature of most plug-ins is the ability to read your session tempo, in this case 130 bpm, allowing you to lock the plug in time to the tempo of your session. With a delay, this is especially handy since we can now do 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, etc… note delay and it will be in time with our music. By utilizing all these features, I’ve created an 1/8th note delay on the Left channel, and a 1/16th note delay on the Right channel. You should try this! It’s a very quick and easy way to make your vocals sound more dynamic (or “more like what you hear on the radio).

These two simple tools can really make a world of difference in your mix. It can take a vocal that is sitting flat and make it full of life and energy. Furthermore, you should never forget that you can do the same thing to any instrument in your song. Try this same technique with guitars, snare drums, or even percussion.

If you want to see this technique demonstrated, check out our video:


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