How to Improve Your Vocal Tracks

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Image: Gratisography

With GarageBand and decent built-in microphones coming stock, it seems like the music world is opening up to everyone with an instrument or a voice. This new wave of potential musicians has led to some of the best new artists and groups coming out of obscurity, recording demos and releasing them sans-label on YouTube and Soundcloud. Which is great — it pushes the boundaries of music; what used to be a battle between hard-lined genres like Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country has turned into a world full of blended sounds that can’t even be described.

But this wave of small artists putting out demos can result in some less-than-great quality recordings. Everyone starts at the beginning, and eventually learns how to improve, but laying down quality vocal tracks seems to be the biggest challenge in the introductory record makers. Instead of pushing out a single or album with low quality vocals, here are a few tips from Jessie Cannon that might help you improve your sound.

Drop the Bass: There is a constant back and forth between bass and treble. Too much of one can overpower the vocal track, and potentially make them inaudible. Generally speaking, artists tend to use too much bass and add too much treble. The easiest fix to this is actually removing bass and not adding treble to the vocal track. After taking out bass that isn’t necessary, then focus on adding treble – not too much, or your track will start to thin out.

Control Your Reverb: Another common problem is the ambitious use of reverb. It’s okay to add depth to your vocal track, because you don’t want it to sound dry. However, too much decay on your reverbs will make it sound like you recorded in a church. Most of the time, it’s better to use a shorter decay time than a longer decay, unless of course that is your intention. Along with shorter decay times, lowering your reverb mix can remove distraction from the vocals, but still add the necessary depth. If you do want to try another effect, short slapback delays can offer something similar to a short-medium reverb trail.

Use the Right Auto-Tune: These days, auto-tune is on most recorded tracks. After T-Pain started to purposefully use auto-tune as an effect, it became a craze. But there are also many of musicians out there that are using the wrong type of auto-tune. Graphical auto-tune allows you to tweak everything on your own and find a more natural feel.

Pop Filter Check: Okay, pop filters help. They reduce the ‘pop’ noise that occurs when the microphone picks up a ‘P’ sound. But they don’t always work to perfection. Make sure to check and double check for pops. They have a very harsh sound on the ear, so if you’ve applied a pop filter and have reduced the bass and are still hearing the pop, try it again.

Turn Down the Gain: The most common problem in recording music is too much volume. Too much volume can easily result in too much gain, leaving you with a dirty and distorted vocal mix. If you aren’t going for that distortion, make sure to turn down the gain. You can always adjust after during mixing with compression and individual fader volumes. The distorted sound will cause your vocals to not cut through the mix, and in a lot of cases, be hard to understand.

Perfect the Vocals: If you can’t hit your intended notes, that’s okay. Take a few minutes to record a MIDI track to listen to during recording. Pump that track through your headphones and sing along – odds are, you’ll find yourself hitting those high or low notes more consistently.

It’s Not Just About Your Vocals: Sometimes, changing your vocal track just won’t cut it. You just might find that the one thing that will have the biggest effect on your entire mix is lowering the volume of… well, everything else. Taking the instrumental tracks out of the way of the vocals will act as though you’ve boosted the track. You can always improve volume problems during mixing with compression, EQ, and boost, but lowering other volumes might be the fix to improve your drowned out vocals.


Drew Evans

Drew is a Seattle-based freelance writer. He spends too much time playing music, binging on Netflix, and watching his beloved Philadelphia sports teams.