Mixing Vocal Track: Step by Step Guide

I am going to show you how I mix my vocal track in one of my songs. Before writing this guide, I had read many articles and listened to podcast regarding vocal mixing. This article will be a step by step guide with pictures and effects tweaking that I applied to my audio file. Before mixing, let’s assume that you already got a very good and clean vocal recorded. About how to record a great sounding vocal track, it will be another post in the future. You will also find those articles and references that I studied to accomplish this task at the bottom of this page.

This vocal track is retrieved from my own composition:
Original Song: Earnest ????

For easy illustration, I only use a few clips out of the 4 minutes track which is appropriate.
Original dry track:01-original-track.mp3
Dry means there is nothing added to the track, no EQ, no FX, no tweaking or anything else.
The wave form looks like this:

Step 1: Cleaning Plosives

Plosives are the P and B wind problem. When there is Ph, B, or F sounds in the lyrics sung, a big puff of air comes out and hits the microphone. It sounds like a kick drum noise. Look at the wave form that consist a puff noise.

Try to minimize this problem during recording. Anyway, there will be some puff went through unnoticed. With just the puff selected, apply an EQ that cuts by about 12db or so below 300Hz or whatever sounds the best. If you catch it right, the nastiness will be greatly reduced without cutting the low end from the rest of the track. I did it with a low pass filter.

Puff noise: 02-puff-plosive.mp3

Puff reduced:03-puff-plosive-removed.mp3

Step 2: Cleaning Silent Clips

In order to reduce noise level, chop out the silent part of the vocal clip. The result won’t be significant. But if you don’t do this trick for every other audio tracks, the noise would be stacked up significantly. I never cut out the breath sound. It makes the singing more natural. If you listen to some Whitney Houston’s songs, you will notice her breathing sounds so clear and crispy in the recording.

Step 3: Smoothen the dynamics

There will be certain words sung unnaturally loud or soft making the dynamics sound uneven. You can smoothen the dynamic, but don’t overdo that it will take out the life of the vocal performance. There are two method to achieve this:

  • use volume envelope: I personally think that using volume envelope is more troublesome. But it all depends on your work habit and practice. Volume envelope can put in level gain or level cut and visually it is easy to achieve. It is also non-destructive. When you hear that the envelope is not appropriate, it can be deleted easily.
  • use easy level gain or cut function: select the softer part, and boost it up 3dB or you can cut those louder parts 3dB. Most audio sequencer has this basic function. I prefer this method because I can see the wave form smoothen out. Bear in mind that this function is destructive. You can make a copy of the original track before you edit it this way.

Find the louder part of the clip:
Cut 3dB and smoothen:

Listen to the smoothen clip:04-smoothen-clip.mp3

Step 4: Fade in at the beginning of the clip, fade out at the end

This step is not necessary. For some vocalist like me who can’t really control my voice at the end of a sustaining phrase, it would be a good idea to fade out. This make it sound nicer and reduce the glitch.

Dry clip:05-not-faded-out-clip.mp3
Fade out clip:06-fade-out-clip.mp3
I am sure that you can hear the difference. It is smoothen and more natural without glitch.

Step 5: Tuning the tone deaf

I don’t suggest that you record someone who is totally tone deaf unless you want to try your patience tolerance level. By the way, even the best singer sometimes sings a little bit out of tune. Nowadays, it is pretty easy to cure this out-of-tune disease with sophisticated effect plug-in.

Refer to the dry clip, you will hear that the first two notes are slightly sharpen. Even though it is hard to hear, but you can see it clearly in the Antares auto-tune FX.
Dry Clip:01-original-track.mp3
Use the FX to correct the pitch a little bit lower as shown by the yellow line

Tuned clip:07-tuning-sharpen-note.mp3

Ok, now you realize the secret why some singer can’t sing well live on stage but they sounds so perfect on the CD. In the studio recording session, all the vocals are fine tuned extensively before it is duplicated into CD.

Add Effects (FX)

Now the vocal track is completely edited. The next big step is how to set up the proper effect chain for the vocal track. I would like to emphasize that effect should be used conservatively and subtly. As shared by Brian Redmond, “Any constant effect loses its affect very quickly. Also, effects don’t have to be complicated.”

Step 6: Add Compression

Compressor is an effect which is hard to master. According to Joe Shambro, “Compression does two things for vocals. One, it can help a vocal track stand out better in the mix by sitting better within the overall mix itself. By compressing, you’re making sure that the loud and soft parts of the vocals are even. Without it, the soft parts will get buried in the mix, and the loud parts will overpower the mix. You want the vocals to have a nice, smooth sound in the mix. Second, compressing brings out the tone of the overall vocal sound better, allowing it to make a better impact.
In short, compressing a vocal track make it sound more “stable”, instead of appearing, and then suddenly disappearing at softer part.

It will need another post to explain how to use the compressor. Here is the setting I use:

Start with the ratio setting 4:1 would be fine. Lower the threshold. Remember to add some gain to compensate the level loss after compression. Compression effects is so subtle that it takes years of experience to master the parameter setting such as the attack and release time.

Compressed clip:08-compressed-vocal.mp3

Step 7: Equalizer or EQ

According to Joe Shambro,” When EQing, there’s two types of EQ. One is subtractive, where you’re removing a frequency to help others stand out better, and then there’s additive EQ, where you boost frequencies to help the overall mix. Personally, I prefer relying on subtractive EQ for the lower frequencies, since additive EQ on the lower end tends to color the other frequencies in a way that’s not too pleasing to the ear.
Different vocalist need different EQ. For mine, the setting is shown below:

Bear in mind that any EQ more than 6dB will sound odd. However, there is no rules on this. You can be as adventurous as you want. For me, I just boost a bit around 195kHz and cut some lower frequency.

Listen to the equalized clip:09-eq.mp3

Step 8: Reverb

We record the vocal preferably as dry as possible in an isolated room. But most of time we are listening to natural voices which are filled up with thousands of delay and echoes, which is known as the natural reverbs. So to make the dry vocal sounds more natural, adding some subtle reverb is a must.
I will write another post about reverbs effect in the future.

Listen to the clip with reverb:09-add-reverb.mp3

Generally, the two most important parameter is the “mix” level, and the predelay. Normally it is set to 10-30% wet. The predelay should be more than 100ms so that the reverb won’t blur the wordings.
Paul White taught me a great strategy on applying reverb to vocal,“Traditionally, vocals are treated using plate or room reverbs, but on
the cheaper hardware boxes and most plug-ins, the presets tend to muddy
the sound before they produce the desired thickening effect. One
strategy that I have found to work well is to use a reverb algorithm
where the early reflections level can be adjusted independently of the
reverb tail, then turn the level of the reverb tail down by around 6dB.
The early reflections have the effect of thickening the vocal without
making is sound washy, and by turning down the level of the reverb
tail, you can still get away with a fairly long reverb time (typically
around 1.8 seconds) without losing clarity. Up to 100ms of pre-delay
also helps add depth without clouding the picture, and you may even be
able to drop the reverb tail level further if you’re aiming for a more
subjectively dry sound. If you have a commercial recording in a similar
style, keep this on hand as a reference when you’re setting up the mix,
as it helps to compare general tonality and reverb settings.”

At last, now compare the unedited clip to the edited and FXed clip:
Dry unedited:01-original-track.mp3
Final product:09-add-reverb.mp3

Finally, I would have to declare that I am not a master in mixing music. Because of tight budget, I tried my best to DIY (do it yourself) my album. At the meantime, I love to share what I learned from the process.

You are most welcomed to share whatever you know or pinpoint any contrast opinion about my approach. Thanks!

Reference for vocal mixing:

Tracking and Mixing Vocals
Mixing with Ed Cherney: persistence is as important as gear
Pandora Mixing Vocal Podcast

Other related mixing tutorial:
How to Fatten a Sound in a Mix

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About The Author


Online Musician, Pianist, Song-writer, Vocalist, Music Arranger


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  • Prince

    Reply Reply November 17, 2007

    i love mixing vocal track than money (smile) see u

    • Quick learner

      Reply Reply January 6, 2011

      Hi I am trying to learn the ins and outs of Eq ing mixing and mastering. Do you think it is too much to ask if you can give me steps or tips on how to do this?

  • rahulvictor

    Reply Reply December 22, 2007

    Hey man I’m curious to know which sequencer program and effect plugins you are using for this tutorial? thanks

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply December 23, 2007

      I am using Sonar and the built-in effects

  • Dawg

    Reply Reply May 9, 2008

    yesh great tute.. but again how do you find the “sequencer” or the “volume envelope” in Sonar? if they are a separate pluggin.. I would like to know the name of the plugg! thanx

  • Ali kiani

    Reply Reply October 10, 2008

    thanks for your help , i want to be in touch with you more if it possible send me mail .

  • dani

    Reply Reply November 6, 2008

    men u really rok and i love ur tutorials they are very easy to grab thanks and ill live to learn more about mixing love you.mail me if you can.

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply November 11, 2008

      great hearing that ..
      I am just sharing what I know

      • lilblue310

        Reply Reply January 7, 2010

        great turorial thank you very helpful…. when can i email you for more info???

  • Emmanuel Linsford

    Reply Reply January 6, 2009

    Hey i am a producer and will like to learn more abt music.

  • Lil Riley

    Reply Reply January 15, 2009

    Just Need Help Editing

  • Pisethkong

    Reply Reply May 4, 2009

    want to lern

  • Samchel

    Reply Reply May 25, 2009

    I am a producer but I have a problem with mixing and mastering. could you please give me some assistance?

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply May 28, 2009

      @ Samchel,

      I don’t know where to start to giving you info. Can you be more specific of what you need?

  • shah

    Reply Reply June 17, 2009

    Hi ,I have recorded a dry vocal and my music…..so how do i mix these two in final output 1-2 using what kinds of effects ?

  • ally

    Reply Reply July 11, 2009

    does anyone have the link of this software for me to download..

  • Sunil

    Reply Reply July 31, 2009

    I use Nuendo and am not so satisfied with the mix I did. Could you please help me? I have plug ins too. Sometimes the vocals is small and at other times some instrument has too much reverb. And finally when getting the audio mixdown two different songs will have 2 different levels. All the tracks are at 0db and i play around with the input gain to mix. Is it fine? Please advice.

  • JimTheOne

    Reply Reply August 2, 2009

    Hello, great tutorial..

    b About how to record a great sounding vocal track, it will be another post in the future./b
    Where is this tutorial?

    I dont know but my vocals sound a little like frozen.. Maybe do you know why?


  • chris

    Reply Reply August 25, 2009

    cool, I will try some of this when I get home, the vocal mixing is hard

    did you buy a compressor plugin or is it standard with your software?

  • Joshua Matonga

    Reply Reply September 19, 2009

    it really helps, the tutorials i mean…can you send me some more…?

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply October 15, 2009

      Thanks for your feedback!

  • Walan G

    Reply Reply October 4, 2009

    Hi, if you don’t mind, can I refer to this guide for a report for my music class?
    It’s really hard to find a decent guide on mixing digital music.

    Thanks in advance.

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply October 15, 2009

      Definitely, you cite our website as a reference.

  • G-rated

    Reply Reply October 8, 2009

    WOW!!!! I loved this tute man! Off da chain bruh! You really clarified alot of things for me for vocals. Cld u please send me or post the links to your other tutes? Compression, Equing, Reverbing, ect… THANK YOU KClau

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply October 15, 2009

      I haven’t got any other recording tute.
      Hope to post more in the future.

  • kitcha

    Reply Reply November 19, 2009

    Fantastic and elaborate article. It would be great if you happened to record a video out of this material. Of course, it is very good as it is but that the image would have made more of an impact.

    Infact I do follow this kind of vocal chain already. Compression>EQ (to add presence)>EQ (to smoothen vocals) in the Inserts and Reverb>Delay>Chorus(only if needed) in the Sends.

    I kind of go this path most of the time. I only got to tweek each of these setting based on the overall mix for each song but the chain remains the same. Thanks for the post.

  • Frank

    Reply Reply January 19, 2010

    I am a begginer on this and i found your article very useful. So thankful.
    I was wondering if you could send me the parameters of the preset you used for reverb. I already have the same reverb plug in and i loved the way your preset sounded.
    Thanks in advance

  • robert wangondu

    Reply Reply January 23, 2010

    thanx alot i need to more inbox

  • Rolando Mitchell

    Reply Reply February 11, 2010

    Thanks alot! Im a music producer myself but Ive always worked by ear. Its just good to know that Im doing everything the right way. Seeing a real producer teach what Ive been doing all along definately influences me to take my skills to the next level. Again, thanks alot!

  • Tayo

    Reply Reply February 18, 2010

    I saw youpost they are really tight, i will like you to send me how to make a dynamic mic sound just like a condenser mic during recording, I mean the Ex to use.

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply February 19, 2010

      I dont have much experience with dynamic mic.
      You can try Antares mic modeller

  • Bill McDonald

    Reply Reply March 30, 2010

    I enjoyed your post and got alot out of it and I’am looking forward to more of your post.Iam also a recording producer, and I learned long ago what ever a producer knows theres always more to learn thanks again

  • Abedi Sango

    Reply Reply March 31, 2010

    Am very grateful for your genorousity. You have sharpened me and even given me confidance in what I do. I’d also like to get tutes on Orange vocoder settings and multband compressors. Your illustrations are great. You’ll make me a renown producer in my locality. Thanx KCLau.

  • Johal

    Reply Reply May 30, 2010

    Plz mail me all these sample used step by step to produce mix.
    And ill make it flash tutorial with only single click file.

  • Runa308

    Reply Reply June 9, 2010

    Thnx now wit yo help i can do som mixing but i use cubase do the some settingz still apply

  • MsTrisBeats

    Reply Reply August 4, 2010

    Hey Hey.. this is a well written tutorial.. I am new to vocal mixing, and your techniques have already helped me with the 1st verse. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll be back to check out more of the site when I have more time. Thanks so much

  • sony

    Reply Reply August 10, 2010

    Thank for your help !!!!!!

  • Daniel

    Reply Reply August 27, 2010

    Can this be used on Cool Edit Pro 2.0? i been searching for a year and a half for quality like this and i can only aford CEP.You think you can help me out? it be very nice of you.Can you use these to for hip-hop/rap vocals? a reply will be nice,thank you

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply August 27, 2010

      I think you can do the same thing using Cool Edit or any other audio editing softwares that come with plugin mentioned – compressor, reverb etc ..
      Of course the quality depends on the quality of the plugin and your software.


      • Daniel

        Reply Reply August 28, 2010

        thank you very much,helps much,thank you again

  • T-A

    Reply Reply October 8, 2010

    Am in a crew. I mix our songs but i alway feel am not doin enuff bcos i believe am lackin sme plugins which i cant get. Can u link me up wit real studio softwares? but to tell u d truth am not dat boxed up to pay for it. Thanks reply

  • Alfoms

    Reply Reply November 7, 2010

    thanks … great article..
    hope for mixing drum n bass tute.. ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Mr fire

    Reply Reply November 21, 2010

    thanks man u are doing a great job,more inspiration,more idea.mixing is all about listening that is your ear,do u have a forum were everybody can discuss? RECORD_MIX_MASTER it is not an easy task.

  • Jose Peter

    Reply Reply May 2, 2011

    Thank you so much for your tutorial. I did some mixing but the results were not good but after your lesson I am comfortable that I can make mixings with a good result. Thank you again.

  • N.E.O.

    Reply Reply June 3, 2011

    I was curious:

    Its just EQ
    and thats it….

    For someone like…Antohony Kiedis….what might a MASTER ENGINEER, put his EQ, compression, Gate, andmore at…

    Lets talk RAL mixing hear, not fantasy stuff, lets talk about how to get a good rocording done with little….

  • Kenny

    Reply Reply July 11, 2011

    Am using wave bundles for my voice effect,which one do u think is best for rap vocals and audio mastering.

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply July 11, 2011

      I think it depends on the technique and skills, more than the tools.

  • sam dlamini

    Reply Reply July 12, 2011

    im still using the tape multitrack machine for recording,apparrently is like you are helping in the digital part of mixing voices, however the procedure is the same.i am actually encountering some challenges because in my studio in swaziland,all the units that you have mentioned above is there and the problem is that i have to know how to adjust the perimeters and presets of each machine and also the hassle of sending the signal using the auxilary.

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply July 12, 2011

      It is true that it is quite troublesome to use outboard gears nowadays.
      Software version does sound “digital” but the convenience and speed just make it worth using afterall.

  • Ali Makhmal

    Reply Reply August 6, 2011

    hi.Many thanks for this helpful article.
    i need to know more about mixing vocals in the song.

  • t wave

    Reply Reply August 14, 2011

    Can I follow u on twitter for more post… Ur shit rock but is there any fodar mastering aftering waving ur final mix? If der is any plz teacH us…thanks man.. Frm timi in nigeria

  • Binnel

    Reply Reply August 27, 2011

    y kindly give me some mastering steps using wave lab 6 and izotope4

  • Marwen

    Reply Reply October 16, 2011

    what is the name of this programme ??

  • casy

    Reply Reply October 25, 2011

    u tha man!i record using cubase n master in t racks deluxe 3.yo techniques jes make my work soo perfect n clean,heavy n loud.kip up ma man.one gud thng bot yo techniqs is i kn use em in any software e.g adobe n ableton live wic i wek wit.

  • lito

    Reply Reply November 13, 2011

    I am a producer and I record and mix wth cube base but I am not satisfy with the result can some one help me please or any video tutorial for me please.my email lito2nice@yahoo.com

  • murphy gabriel

    Reply Reply December 3, 2011

    one of the best briefed tutorial in hundreds i’ve read. kip it up. and please mail me for new update. i don’t actually use sonar but i use the plugins as vst in nuendo. thanx

  • Danny chuks

    Reply Reply December 21, 2011

    I want to knw if does effect works well wen u group ur channels and i nid som tips on balancing instrument on nuendo pls email me….

  • Daniel green

    Reply Reply February 6, 2012

    I nid fresh tutorial fr me to learn hw to mix vocals on nuendo 3 n cubase 5…am new to d system i nid ur help email me.bigdaddy4real2001@yahoo.com

  • Kosi Tim-Efobi

    Reply Reply February 8, 2012

    God bless you 4 sharing. Someone like me, I’m on a less-than-tight budget so i appreciate the tips above. Thanx again.
    from 9ja (Nigeria)

  • Godwin Linus

    Reply Reply February 21, 2012

    Pls mr. Tutor can you help explain steps on mastering your work? I’ll appreciate it sir

  • cheng lip kiong

    Reply Reply February 21, 2012

    Hi, just want to say that your tutorial here is very helpful. I am currently using Cubase 5. Do keep me posted on any update.

  • mathias king

    Reply Reply February 25, 2012

    Wil really need assistance on hw the autotune works. Tanks

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