Mixing Music Production

15 Ways To Improve Your Vocal Processing

The human voice is arguably the most powerful instrument at your disposal as a Music Producer. In this article we share some tips and tricks for improving your vocal processing.

Learning how to Improve Your Vocal Processing can drastically improve the quality of your music.

All technical decisions are driven by creativity in Dance Music Production and the number of techniques you can implement with vocal processing is truly head spinning.

Read on to discover 15 of our top tips for vocal processing, in order to help you get the most out of your vocal parts.

Contents

  1. Use Reverb In Moderation
  2. Sidechain Reverb To The Source Vocal Signal
  3. Remove Unwanted Transients With A Limiter or Volume Automation
  4. Apply A High Shelf EQ Boost
  5. Use A De-Esser To Remove Sibilance
  6. Use A Short Delay
  7. Remove Resonances With EQ
  8. Apply Saturation
  9. Send To A Chorus Bus
  10. Automate Channel Gain Manually To Better Sculpt Dynamics
  11. Get To Know The Attack Setting On A Compressor
  12. Create Space For Your Vocal In The Mix
  13. Get Creative With How You Combine FX
  14. Create Climactic And Interesting End Phrases Using FX
  15. Bookmark/Save This Article
Vocal Processing offers more space for creative and unconventional techniques compared to rhythm sections.
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1. Use Reverb In Moderation

Improves: ✅ Frontal Position in the Mix. ✅ Presence. ✅ Clarity.
Removes: ❌ A Drowned Out Mix. ❌ Excess ‘Floatiness’.


When it comes to vocal processing, one of the most common mistakes we see is overdoing it with the reverb.

With it being such a fantastic and powerful effect, it’s not surprising how producers fall into this bad habit.

Just remember that too much reverb pushes the vocal back in the mix, bringing it away from its crucial position at the front.

To avoid this, try increasing the number of early reflections on your reverb as opposed to the decay time.

You could also consider substituting the reverb for a short ‘slapback’ delay, which will give a similar and sometimes better effect.

Reverb is perhaps the most powerful and effective tools to use on a vocal, so time spent learning more about How To Use Reverb On Vocals In A Mix will certainly be time well spent.

Behringer Virtualizer 3D FX2000
MusicProductionNerds.com lists the Behringer Virtualizer 3D FX2000 as its top hardware reverb rack unit.
Perhaps its one to bare in mind for your future dream studio?

2. Sidechain Reverb To The Source Vocal Signal

Improves: ✅ Presence. ✅ Intelligibility. ✅ Clarity. ✅ Headroom.
Removes: ❌ Wet Signal From Source Vocal. ❌ Poor Reverb-Vocal Interactions.


If you decide to use reverb on your vocal, try this neat trick to help improve the way they interact and sit with one another in the mix.

  1. On the vocal channel, Set Up A Reverb On A New Send and apply the desired settings – be careful not to overdo the decay time.

  2. Add A Compressor After The Reverb in the FX chain on the send.

  3. Configure The Compressor to be a sidechain compressor, using the vocal channel as the input.

Reverb being set up on a new channel send in Logic X.
If you are looking to expand your reverb plugin library, check out Valhalla’s Free Reverb Plugin Valhalla Super Massive, it comes with some great presets and its totally free.
Sidechain Compression being configured on Logic Pro X.
Use a lower threshold or a higher ratio to increase the amount of volume ducking on the reverb when the vocal is playing. The attack and release times will determine how quickly the volume reduction comes into effect when the vocal triggers it. This can be used as a creative effect, for example a long release time will create a reverb ‘swell’ at the vocal tail.

The vocal will now cause the reverb volume to duck whenever the vocal is playing, much like how music is ducked on a radio station whenever the radio host is speaking.

This is done by a Sidechain Compressor with very aggressive settings so that it is practically acting as a limiter. See audio example below.

Example of Extreme Volume Ducking as a result of Sidechain Compression on a song, with the vocal acting as the Sidechain Signal.
Sound Engineer operating a mixing desk.
Sidechain compression can be used creatively to create a strong unique vibe in a track, check out Tea Tree Dancers by Flying Lotus in the video below.
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Flying Lotus frequency adopts aggressive Sidechain Compression in his work, in this example it makes up an. important part of the vocal processing too.

3. Remove Unwanted Transients With A Limiter or Volume Automation

Improves: ✅ Clarity. ✅ Intelligibility. ✅ Headroom.
Removes: ❌ Harsh Artefacts (Pops & Clicks).
❌ Dynamic Range (Be Careful).


When working with raw and unprocessed vocals its common to find pops, clicks and other hidden artefacts that cause sharp, steep transients to appear in the waveform.

Image showing audio artefact from a vocal recording in the waveform.
These artefacts can be invasive for the listener and adversely affect the clarity of the vocal.

Transients such as these can be tamed with the use of a limiter.

Clearing out these unwanted transients gives your mix more headroom.

Start by placing a limiter on the vocal channel and slowly bring down the threshold until the limiter begins to activate when the transients are played.

Tip: For a visual demonstration, apply just the limiter to the channel and bounce the vocal in place so you can compare the two waveforms.

When done correctly you should be able to see the transients have been reduced significantly.

Vocal recording which features transients and artefacts from the recording stage.
A raw vocal part which features transients and artefacts from the recording stage.
The same vocal part from the previous picture after a limiter has been used to remove transients.
The same vocal part from the previous picture after a limiter has been used to remove transients, you can see how they have been destroyed. Be cautious not to limit the vocal too hard – in this example we used heavy settings to better visually display the effect of a limiter.

A nice way of understanding limiting is to visualise the waveform literally getting cut.

The line in which the waveform will be ‘cut’ is the limiter threshold, all of the audio above the threshold gets cut down to the threshold line, eliminating/reducing transients – see image below.

Visual display of how a limiter cuts transients down to the threshold line.
The ‘cutting’ of the waveform a limiter creates is displayed here, the limiter threshold is in shown in red acting on the left and right channels of audio.

As you can see from the examples above, limiting isn’t always the best way to remove clicks and pops, as the limiter will be affecting the rest of the signal uniformly.

If the clicks are embedded within the recording and sitting below the peak transients of the vocal parts, limiting wont even affect the click before it crushes the vocal.

In this case, limiting is really not ideal.

A solution to this is to write in volume automation to manually remove the artefacts as in the picture below.

The best way to remove clicks and pops from a vocal recording is to re-record the vocal and ensure precaution is taken to eliminate any possible causes that create the artefacts. If re-recording is not an option however, then vocal processing techniques such as these can help to reduce their prominence.
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4. Apply A High Shelf EQ Boost

Improves: ✅ Frequency Balance From A Poor Recording. ✅ Presence. ✅ Clarity.
Removes: ❌ ‘Boominess’ From A Recording.


Close proximity to a microphone accentuates lower frequencies and can make a vocalist sound boomier.

Vocals often benefit from a high shelf EQ boost, which can improve its clarity and presence.

Be aware when applying a high shelf EQ boost, you may also be pronouncing any Sibilance in the recording.

It is advisable to apply a low shelf EQ cut to vocals in order to remove unwanted sub frequencies. This can improve headroom in the mix and remove muddiness in the low end.

However, remember that each vocalist is different and might carry important tones in the lower frequency bands. Cutting at 100Hz to remove all frequencies below is a good place to start – it is rare to ever require frequencies below 100Hz in your vocal.

High Shelf EQ Boost on Ableton's stock EQ.
When applying a high shelf boost, listen carefully to the timbre of your vocalist in order to find the right frequency to shelf from. No two vocalists will ever be unique.
High Shelf EQ Boost and Lowcut on Logic's stock EQ.
Most vocals will benefit from some form frequency balancing or boosting made using EQ.
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5. Use A De-Esser To Remove Sibilance

Improves: ✅ Intelligibility. ✅ Clarity.
Removes: ❌ Sibilance (harsh vocal formants).


Harsh resonances, sharp tonal hisses and formants can be introduced by certain syllables when recording vocalists.

These harsh artefacts are referred to by Producers as Sibilance.

Applying a DeEsser will help to reduce the presence of Sibilance in your vocals if re-recording the vocal is not an option.

Target frequencies between 5-8kHz as sibilance is often focused in this band.

See Our Guide To Understanding & Combatting Sibilance With Vocals if you want to learn more about this topic and how to use a DeEsser to remove sibilance.

Making the right decisions when recording the vocal in the first place is the best way to combat sibilance. Choosing a suitable microphone (one which is not excessively sensitive to the 5-8kHz band such as a Ribbon mic, U67 or RE20), or altering the microphone position (slightly off axis, a few degrees away from the vocalists mouth in any direction) are the most effective ways to reduce sibilance in a vocal recording.

6. Use A Short Delay

Improves: ✅ Intimacy. ✅ Presence.
Removes: ❌ Over-Reliance on Reverb.


Adding a Delay with a very short decay is a technique used to help make a vocal more intimate and can even substitute and do a better job than reverb in some cases.

Here are some settings we recommend as a starting point on your plugin:

  • Take the decay time right down to very small (1/32 or an even bigger fraction of a note).

  • Around 40-60% feedback – this may need to be higher depending on how small you make the Decay time.

  • 20-30% of the signal as wet.


Delay Plugins with Short Decay Time for Vocal Processing. Replika by Native Instruments and Logic X Stock Echo Plugin.
Replika and Replika XT by Native Instruments are great delay plugins, the XT version gives an excellent visual display of the delay you are designing.
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7. Remove Resonances With EQ

Improves: ✅ Intelligibility. ✅ Clarity.
Removes: ❌ Resonant Tones. ❌ Harsh Artefacts.


Resonant tones can significantly reduce the quality and clarity of your vocal.

With a trained ear, you may be able to identify resonant tones in your vocal without any audio or visual aid.

Otherwise try these two methods for identifying resonant tones:

Comb through your vocal with a high Q factor EQ boost and listen out for overpowering volume on harmonics as you sweep.

High Q EQ Sweep on Logic X's Stock EQ.

You can use a visual frequency analyser to spot any overbearing harmonics.

Once you have identified some resonance, experiment with an EQ notch and reduce the tone to different levels to test what sounds better.

When doing this, it’s highly advisable to not use a high Q factor when reducing a resonant tone.

The reason for this is explained well by James Wiltshire in his F9 Audio article titled 6 Common EQ mistakes in DAW production:

“Only the very finest digital EQ’S are capable of such Hi-Q notches and even then there are phase artefacts that are doing more damage than good to your audio.”

James Wiltshire – F9 Audio

Digital EQ’s cannot perform high Q values nearly as well as their visuals suggest, so keep those Q values at 4 or less.

Remember that resonance is a natural part of all vocals and an important part of what makes it sound natural, but sometimes acoustics, recording or performance technique or microphone choice can accentuate resonances and create problems.

Its this problem you are fixing, so be careful not to overdo it and completely remove an important harmonic from your vocal.

8. Apply Saturation

Improves: ✅ Headroom. ✅ Presence. ✅ Power.
Removes: ❌ Dull or Weak Vocal Presence.


Saturation will help to bulk out a vocal by introducing new harmonics across different frequency bands.

We recommend setting up a send to your Saturation or overdrive plugin of choice, fed by 10-60% of the original signal.

Saturation is a subtle form of distortion, designed to replicate the pleasant-sounding harmonics introduced by analogue equipment.

Saturation is a an effect that combines two effects: Harmonic Generation and Soft-Knee Compression.
The effect can be used creatively to create a sonically pleasing character in vocal processing.
Check out J37 by Waves if you are looking for a good saturation plugin.

9. Send To A Chorus Bus

Improves: ✅ Stereo Image (Width). ✅ Position In The Mix. ✅ Presence. ✅ Clarity.
Removes: ❌ Monophonic Presence and Fidelity (Be Careful).


Chorus is a popular and powerful tool in vocal processing, a send to a wide chorus can transform and significantly improve a vocals presence.

It is also brilliant at separating harmonies, ad-libs and chorus parts from the lead vocal when used with even gentle settings.

Be wary of too much chorus on the lead vocal as it can cause problems with the mono fidelity of the track – i.e. how well the mix of your song translates to being played in mono.

Chorus Stock Plugin on Logic X set to preset Mega Wide Chorus.
A wide chorus with a low rate value on a send can add a great effect to some vocals.
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10. Automate Channel Gain Manually To Better Sculpt Dynamics

Improves: ✅ Dynamic Range Control. ✅ Presence. ✅ Clarity.
Removes: ❌ Specific, Targeted Dynamics from The Vocal.


The compressor is an excellent tool available to the producer for controlling and sculpting dynamics, but there is no way more precise than to draw in the volume automation yourself.

The advantage to this is that it gives you total control to sculpt and manipulate the dynamics of your vocal, as opposed to the whole signal being affected unilaterally by a compressor’s settings.

Though time consuming, consider experimenting with this method for better dynamic control and your vocal could benefit.

Writing In Automation Manually For The Channel Volume Of A Vocal Part In Logic X.
If you are already working with processed vocals, such as those from a Sample Pack as opposed to a raw recording, its less likely there will be much work to do with the dynamics.

11. Get To Know The Attack Setting On A Compressor

Improves: ✅ Control Of Position In The Mix. ✅ Presence.
Removes: ❌ Transients At Fast Settings (Be Careful).


Though many producers focus on the Threshold and Ratio settings of a compressor, the attack setting is also as important and capable of significantly affecting your vocals transients and position in the mix.

In the video featured below, Fab Dupont of pureMix concludes: “You have to train yourself to hear the difference between over-compression because of too much compression, or over-compression because of too much attack.”

He also gives some valuable insight into Compressor Attack, with audio examples – be sure to use some good headphones or monitors in order to hear the detail in his examples.

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Becoming more familiar with compressor settings and training yourself to hear its settings and when certain controls are being overdone will drastically improve your vocal processing.

Be mindful that when using very fast attack settings (<10ms) the transient will get killed and create less presence and texture in the vocal.

Consider experimenting with attack settings yourself and train your ear to make the distinction Fab explores in the video.

12. Create Space For Your Vocal In The Mix

Improves: ✅ Centre-Stage Mix Presence. ✅ Clarity. ✅ Intelligibility.
Removes: ❌ A Cluttered Mix.
❌ Incomprehensible / Drowned Out Vocals.


Vocals typically occupy a very broad frequency band and as a result tend to compete for space with other elements of the track.

Try modifying the output all of these elements that clash with the vocals to a bus, then apply EQ to subtly reduce the relevant frequency band.

If the problem lies in one element in particular (such as a synth or snare), consider changing or removing this element to give your vocal the centre stage it needs.

You could also pitch drum parts to a different tone so they don’t clash with the vocals.

EQ Plugins in Logic X.
EQ or Multiband Compression are the best tools to use to free up space in the frequency spectrum for vocals.
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13. Get Creative With How You Combine FX

Improves: ✅ Track Quality. ✅ Your Own Signature Style.


Delay will likely always hold a top spot alongside Reverb and Chorus as one of the go-to FX plugins for Vocal Processing.

It just sounds great on vocals straight out of the box.

For this reason it’s easy to apply simple settings, be happy and move on.

Next time, try experimenting with combining your delay with a glitch or stutter FX plugin such as Fracture by Glitch Machines (Free Plugin).

It may take some experimentation, but as a result you can create a far more interesting and ear catching moment that will separate your tune from the crowd. Check out the audio example given below.

Vocal With Delay + Subtle Glitch FX At End Phrase.

14. Create Climactic And Interesting End Phrases Using FX

Improves: ✅ Track Quality. ✅ Transitions. ✅ Your Own Signature Style.


In most cases you will want your listener to understand your vocal and the message of the lyrics.

So it’s often a good idea to shy away from extremely heavy processing, but that doesn’t mean there is no space for it.

Consider automating FX fills in the final phrase or word of your vocal verse as in the example below.

Vocal With Delay At End Phrase.

Delay is commonly used to pronounce the end of a vocal verse, but the sky is the limit as to what you could use.

Test some of these ideas out to inject some sauce into the end phrases of your vocals:

  • Sudden Heavy Distortion and Flanging.
  • 100% Wet Reverb + Delay on a send.
  • Glitch Stutter FX + A Reverb Rise.
  • Ping Pong Delay + Chorus.

FX fills are also a brilliant technique on rhythmic parts, especially drums and a common feature in our Sample Packs.

15. Bookmark/Save This Article

Through what is likely to be the result of tireless experimentation and hard work, some artists manage to develop their audio processing techniques into unique avenues that we conceive as their own signature sound across their work.

Music production is akin to a more technical form of painting or a similar creative artform, where your imagination is truly your limit.

It is also true that, the more time you put into the craft, the more a true and consistent sound of ‘you’ will emerge.

For the most part, you won’t want to overload the listener with creative FX on your vocal if you want the lyrics to be heard and understood clearly.

Unless you are looking to use vocal processing as a unique and signature sonic imprint in your work – a feat well demonstrated by artists such as Apex Twin and Burial.

When processing vocals, it’s important to be selective with the techniques you adopt, in order to get the best out of your vocal part without smothering it with too many FX.

If you find yourself having to really heavily process a vocal before it sounds good you are likely working with a bad vocal – so consider revisiting the recording or sourcing an alternate vocalist for your track.

The key with vocal processing (and as an extention, the craft of Music Production as a whole) is to understand the tools well and the principles behind them so that you can create without hindrance.

We hope this article has helped you with this!

If you enjoy what you read, consider bookmarking it for future reference.

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