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4 Dynamics Processing Techniques for Better Vocals

Dec 21, 2023

Are you ready to go beyond basic compression? Discover these more advanced skills to get extra control over the vocals in a song for a more professional sound.

How and Why to Use Serial Compression

Vocals are an essential part of almost every musical genre, and the most directly human element of any song. Vocals are also the element that our hearing system pays most attention to, making it easier for listeners to hear when something’s not quite right. Clearly, vocals are an essential thing to master for any producer.

Getting the vocal dynamics right on a consistent basis is essential for being taken seriously as a producer or mixing engineer, but there are a lot of variables that play into how you should tackle mixing vocals. The singer, the performance, the microphone, the recording equipment used and of course the other elements of a composition all impact the kind of vocal compression you might apply.

In This Article

  • Fixing noisy vocal recordings with Clarity Vx
  • Managing Muddiness and Sibilance with Silk Vocal
  • Tackling extremely dynamic vocals with Vocal Rider
  • Adding body to vocals with Renaissance Vox

1. Fixing Noisy Vocal Recordings with Clarity Vx

Unless you have access to a properly soundproofed and acoustically treated recording space, recording high quality vocals at home can be a little tricky. You might have a busy road nearby, the relentless hum of electrical appliances, or sometimes even the noise of your own audio equipment trying to get in on the recording. Often, you might not notice the extent of the problem until you’ve finished recording. The good news is, there are tools such as Clarity Vx and Clarity Vx Pro that can seamlessly detect unwanted noise in a vocal recording, and subtract it from the signal with just a few clicks.

Here we have quite an intimate vocal recording that was perhaps not recorded loud enough. It contains an unwanted electrical hum, which is exacerbated by turning up the overall level of the recording. It’s also quite a dynamic recording, but before we start to adjust the level and dynamics of the recording, we want to attend to the nasty hum, otherwise we’ll just be making the hum more noticeable.

Place Clarity Vx on the vocal recording, then start to turn the Main Control Knob up in the center of the plugin.

Vocal Clarity 80

You’ll hear that this starts to reduce the ambience or noise within the recording, leaving us with a nice and clean vocal that’s been isolated from any background noise.

As well as being able to hear the difference, Clarity Vx gives us a Waveform FFT Display on the right of the plugin, which shows us the input signal with the white line, and the gain reduction in the pink areas underneath.

Clarity Vx also comes with three separate Neural Networks to choose from. Each of these is best suited to a different scenario. You can find out more about each Neural Network by hovering your cursor over the dropdown button.

Vocal Clarity 80

It’s best to try each Neural Network on your signal to see which is the most effective for your given situation. In our case, the Broad 1 network gave us the cleanest signal overall.

Clarity Vx is designed to be a very simple and effective plugin for quickly tackling unwanted vocal noise. If you want to take even more control over noise reduction in your signal, Clarity Vx Pro uses the same powerful Neural Networks as Clarity Vx, but adds on an additional Neural Network for even more noise-reduction power. Clarity Vx Pro also gives you six bands of multiband control, a reflection control for reintroducing some natural room noise into the signal, and further analysis tools.

2. Managing Muddiness and Sibilance with Silk Vocal

Now that we’ve cleaned up our vocal recording of unwanted background noise, we can move onto removing unwanted sibilance and resonances within the vocal itself. This is made particularly simple with Silk Vocal, a one-stop-shop for managing vocal dynamics and removing unpleasant frequencies from the signal.

Place Silk Vocal on your vocal and select the Full Reset preset from the preset drop down menu, this gives us a blank canvas on which to apply processing. Start by selecting the appropriate voice type from the drop down menu, ensuring that the High Band is in DeEsser mode.

Silk voice type

The most obvious issue that we need to address in our vocal is the sibilance, particularly during the words “place” and “inside”. Sibilance is most commonly found in the upper frequencies, above 5kHz or so, so we’ll use the high frequency band to tackle those. As you slowly bring up the high band’s Process Amount Knob, you’ll notice Silk Vocal spring into action and begin reducing troublesome frequencies in that area.

Silk high band

To fine tune the processing we’re applying to any given band, we can solo it by clicking on the headphone icon at the bottom of the Process Amount Knob. The Delta Mode button lets us listen to only the reduced signal, so we can hear the exact difference we’re making as we apply the processing.

Silk solo delta

In addition to the sibilance that was previously present in the signal, there was also some unwanted muddiness that is likely to cause issues when mixing it with other low end elements, such as a kick or bass. To tackle this, we can use the low band’s Process Amount Knob.

Silk low band

There is still a small amount of hum that can be heard between certain words and phrases in the vocal recording. Within Silk Vocal’s Expanded View panel, we can use the inbuilt Gate to eliminate those last bits of humming from the recording.

Silk gate

Check out this full overview of Silk Vocal’s features and how it can take your vocal mixes from amateur to professional with ease.

3. Tackling Extremely Dynamic Vocals with Vocal Rider

This particular vocal performance is pretty dynamic. It sounds like the first half of the phrase was delivered further away from the microphone, causing the second half of the phrase to be considerably louder. This is visible from the audio’s waveform, too.

Audio waveform

There are a few ways to remedy this. We could use volume automation to manually level out the vocal, but it can be time-consuming and challenging to make it sound natural. Secondly, we could use compression, but this doesn’t always grant us the same level of control as we sometimes need. Finally, a tool like Vocal Rider is a kind of combination of the first two solutions; it automatically makes volume adjustments based on the level of the incoming signal and the settings that you input.

Place Vocal Rider after the existing processing that we’ve already applied, plus any equalization, but before any further dynamics processing, such as more general broadband compression. The first control to set is the Target fader. To do so, look at where the loudest part of the signal peaks and set the Target fader there.

Vocal Rider Target

Now, set the Vocal Sensitivity so that the Ride button is lit up when the vocal is audible within the signal. The Idle button should be lit up when there are other extraneous noises such as breaths or any remaining background noise.

Vocal Rider sensitivity

Because some of the louder elements of the recording come on quite quickly, we want Vocal Rider to respond to them as quickly as possible. We can achieve this by setting the Attack speed to Fast.

There is a little bit too much level adjustment being applied at the moment, which causes the vocal to sound slightly unnatural. We can dial back the amount of level adjustment being applied by adjusting the Range controls. There is no one-size-fits all setting for this, as it will depend on your vocal recording and the result you’re aiming to achieve.

Vocal Rider range

4. Add Body to Your Vocal with Renaissance Vox

The last technique we’ll look at here is just as simple to implement as the first one, and uses the vocal-focused member of the Waves Renaissance family of plugins. Renaissance Vox is just as quick to use as other Renaissance products such as RComp and RBass, with its core control located in the center of the plugin. In the case of RVox, this vertical fader controls the overall compression amount by simultaneously adjusting the threshold and ratio behind the scenes.

Renaissance Vox

Bring the fader down until you achieve the desired amount of compression. In this case, 2dB to 4dB of gain reduction is enough to make the signal sound more full and cohesive.

With these dynamics processing techniques added to your arsenal, you are one step closer to polished, radio-ready vocal mixes. For a fast track to professional sounding vocals, whatever genre you’re working with, you can also check out these Tips for a Faster Way to Mix Vocals or The 6 Cs of Vocal Mixing.