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How to Fix Your Vocal Recordings – Clean Up Just About Anything in 5 steps

Mar 07, 2024

No studio? No problem! Professional-quality recordings are within reach for nearly every home producer. Here’s 5 ways to clean unwanted issues in almost any vocal track you’ve recorded.

Clean background noise and more from vocal recordings

Working with vocal recordings is no easy task. When humans record vocal takes, it’s inevitable that the microphone will pick up extra things we don’t want alongside the voice itself.

Whether – to name just a few possibilities – this is background noise, sibilance, plosives, or reverb, these problems can be the difference between a professional-sounding take and a messy, amateurish recording.

Fortunately, your initial vocal take doesn’t always have to be perfect in order to get a professional sounding end result. There are many different types of tools you can use to fix problem areas in vocal recordings, better yet, they couldn’t be simpler to use!

In this article we’ll show you how you can achieve professional-standard vocal tracks from sub par recordings by fixing a range of typical issues using your DAW and a range of specialized plugins.

Read on to learn how to…

In this article we’ll be using our own Waves plugins to achieve our vocal repairs, but there are many options available, and some DAWs even come with their own versions of some of the tools discussed in this article.

Removing Background Noise with Clarity Vx Pro

Unless you’re recording in an isolated vocal booth, it is almost guaranteed that your vocal recordings will have some kind of background noise.

Background noise can come in many forms such as pesky electrical noise coming from somewhere within your hardware setup. This could be caused by either your microphone or audio interface resulting in your recordings having a nuisance low level hum. You may not necessarily notice it straight away, but when you start compressing and saturating your vocals this electrical hum will become a lot more obvious.

Another common source of noise in vocal recordings is things in or around your environment. Such noises can include computer fans, air conditioning, street noise or even noisy neighbors. Any sound in your environment can easily be picked up by your microphone and go on to unfortunately ruin the quality of your vocal recordings.

Solving Noise with a Gate – Pros and Cons

We can easily remove background noise with an audio gate or other similar tool. Most DAWs will come with a basic audio gate. Noise gates only allow audio through when the signal crosses a certain volume threshold.

But gating is something of a ‘blunt instrument’ solution for noise problems in a recording. It can cause ‘choppy’ sound during speech, or even worse, can start to harm the audio you want to keep when settings aren’t balanced just right.

Solving Noise with an Advanced, AI-Powered Noise Reducer

At Waves we have a few plugins that allow us to remove noise from vocal recordings more accurately. Clarity Vx Pro – our advanced real-time noise reducer for voice, powered by AI – is one of these tools.

Here we have a vocal recording which has some street noise, and what sounds like a washing machine creating some unwanted background noise.

Clean background noise from vocal recordings

Now, we’ll load Clarity Vx Pro on our vocal channel. Clarity Vx Pro’s advanced neural networks make removing background noise from vocal recordings incredibly easy. Simply change the balance of the recording between Voice and Ambience with the plugin’s central dial.

Reduce noise in vocals with Clarity Vx Pro

Clarity Vx Pro introduces minimal artifacts, but as you push the dial further to the voice side you will notice the vocal loses some of its power. There are also multiple neural network types to choose from, each suited to slightly different contexts. For our vocal, Broad 1 sounds best.

Vocal background noise cleaned

Here’s how our vocal sounds now, after removing the background noise with Clarity Vx Pro.

You can download Clarity Vx Pro here. Be sure to check out Clarity Vx as an alternative.

De-essing with De-esser / Renaissance DeEsser / Sibilance

Sibilance is one of the other most common problems that regularly pops up in vocal recordings. This audio problem occurs when singers pronounce “ess” and “tee” sounds. These particular phonemes contain energy in the 4 - 10 kHz range of the frequency spectrum whilst other phonemes do not. These higher-frequency sounds contain a lot of energy and so can jump out of vocal recordings. Even though they aren’t necessarily louder than other parts of a vocal recording, they sound louder and can be harsh and unpleasant to the human ear.

De-essers are specialized tools designed to reduce the volume and harshness of sibilant frequencies in vocal recordings. Our de-esser Sibilance has a little more up its sleeve than traditional de-essers. Not only does Sibilance remove sibilance from vocal recordings, it retains the brightness and tonality of the rest of the components in a vocal recording.

Here’s how to use it to remove sibilance from your vocal recordings. Below we have a vocal take with some sibilance. Notice how loud the ess sounds feel to your ears, especially when listening with headphones.

Make a vocal sound less harsh

We’ll load sibilance on our vocal channel. Like a traditional de-esser, sibilance has a threshold, and a detection control. The threshold controls the volume above which sibilance is compressed, and the detection control determines how quickly the compressor reacts to the sibilance.

Vocal sounds way more smoothe

Sibilance also has a mode control which sets exactly which frequencies are compressed by the plugin.

Here’s how the vocal sounds after being de-essed.

You can download Sibilance here. Other Waves de-essers include DeEsser and Renaissance DeEsser.

De-essing beyond Sibilance

If you want to take taming of vocal harshness even further and with greater precision and ease, Silk Vocal, our latest dynamics processing plugin, made specifically for vocals, is well worth trying out. Silk Vocals provides seamless dynamics control and is the perfect tool for transforming raw vocal tones into polished sounding ready to produce toplines.

The best way to tackle vocal harshness

The main purpose of Silk Vocal is to improve the tonal presentation of… any vocal. It does this by detecting and addressing unflattering resonances with practically no guesswork. No matter what style of vocal you have, whether they feature harsh top end sibilance or low down muddy tones, Silk softens them all with outstanding transparency.

To learn more about Silk Vocal and to see how it can be used within a vocal processing chain, check out our article 4 Dynamics Processing Techniques for Better Vocals.

De-breathing using DeBreath

Singers need to breathe when recording vocal parts, and of course these breaths end up being picked up by the microphone they are using. Singers who are microphone trained are able to reduce the volume of breaths by moving away from the microphone to breathe, but most artists are not trained to do this.

Voices can be removed from recordings manually by cutting them out. However, this is time consuming. Fortunately, tools like Waves DeBreath make removing breaths from vocal recordings a quick and easy process.

Here we have a vocal part with a loud breath in between two phrases.

Reducing strong vocal breaths

With Waves DeBreath loaded on the vocal channel we can begin to remove the unwanted breath.

Waves DeBreath

DeBreath will automatically detect breaths in our audio. We can then set how much we want the volume of the breaths to be reduced by.

Here’s how the audio sounds now with the breath reduced in volume.

Download the demo of DeBreath here.

De-reverbing with Clarity Vx DeReverb / DeReverb Pro

It’s not just your microphone and your vocalist who define how a vocal recording sounds – the space you are recording in also has a big impact.

If your recording space is not acoustically treated, it is almost certain that your microphone will pick up some unwanted reverb.

It’s normal for producers to add reverb to vocal recordings to give them a sense of space, so you would be forgiven for thinking this reverb from your room is a good thing. If you are in an amazing-sounding space such as a cathedral, then you may want the room reverb to stay in your recording. However, if you are recording in your bedroom or home studio, your recording may benefit from the sound of the space being removed.

Here’s how you can remove the reverb from this vocal recording with Clarity Vx DeReverb Pro.

Vocal with baked in reverb

Like Clarity Vx Pro, Clarity Vx DeReverb Pro is AI powered and works with a simple to use single knob interface. Simply turn the knob up to remove more reverb.

It’s also important to select the best neural network – we’ve gone for Singing 1.

Waves Clarity DeReverb Pro

Here’s how that vocal part sounds now with the reverb removed.

Download Clarity Vx DeReverb Pro, or try Clarity Vx DeReverb.

Fade-ins and Fade-outs (Manual Editing)

This is a quick trick that can be applied to any audio recording, not just vocals. When trimming audio clips, you may notice clicks and pops appearing where you cut them.

This happens when clips jump from background noise to absolute silence, causing your speaker or headphone cone to jump position, creating a pop or click.

To avoid this you have to fade in and out of audio clips when you trim them. This is easy to do in all DAWs.

For example, Ableton Live automatically creates handles to add fades when you hover your mouse over the beginning or end of an audio clip.

How To Fix Vocal Recordings - Fade 1

Just drag the handle inwards and a fade will be created.

How To Fix Vocal Recordings - Fade 2

Some other DAWs such as Logic Pro will require you to select the fade tool in order to add fade ins and fade outs to your audio.

How To Fix Vocal Recordings - Fade 3

Taking your vocal mix further with StudioVerse

Try StudioVerse on your vocal mixes

Now you know the techniques and the tools to fix common vocal recording issues, you may now want to learn how to make your vocals shine with effects.

The simplest way to get any vocal mixed into any style of production is with our ever expanding library of StudioVerse mix chains. Simply load StudioVerse across any track, and with the powerful AI search, discover a world of production ready vocal chains that you can hot switch between in real-time. All the chains in StudioVerse are completely editable. If you find a chain that almost fits to bill, use the macros to dial in the perfect feel or the powerful plugin chainer to add, edit or remove plugins as you wish.

Explore StudioVerse today.