Here’s something many of you won’t want to hear: vocals are EVERYTHING.
Like many of you, I started out as a guitarist and just wanted to record my own songs at home. So I get it– tweaking guitar tones until the sun comes up is fun. I could spend all day trying out new IRs and notching out a few dB to find that perfect balance of clarity and grit.
But the fact of that matter is that 99% of people really don’t notice or care about guitar tone, or anything else other than the vocals.
This is largely due to biology- our brains are programmed to fixate on other humans’ voices. Think about it: have you ever once heard someone who wasn’t a guitarist or producer comment on any tone in a mix? (OK, aside from the St Anger snare) Probably not- but what they DO comment on are the lyrics, the melody and the singer’s voice.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t care about other parts of the mix, because you most certainly should. Everything matters, and people will subconsciously notice all the elements in your mix. My point is simply that people CONSCIOUSLY pay attention to vocals and therefore you’ve got to focus an inordinate amount of your attention on them.
If you need to level up your vocal game, I’d highly suggest you pay attention to Andrew Wade (The Ghost Inside, The Word Alive, Neck Deep), who’s one of the best in the business when it comes to vocal production, from arrangement to tracking to mixing. Check out this clip from his Nail The Mix Session where he mixes the lead vocals on “Right Back At It Again” by A Day To Remember and take careful notes.
A few things to consider:
- The raws are reallllllly good in terms of source tones, editing and performance. You won’t always have control over this part, but when you do, always push yourself and the vocalist to get it right at the source (check out this excellent article for some tips).
- There are a LOT of subtle layers in the arrangement that you probably won’t consciously hear if you’re just listening in the car or whatever, but they add a ton of depth and dynamics to the song (like the “ah ahh” harmonies). Challenge yourself to polish your arrangements to this level and I think you’ll be very happy with the results.
- There’s really nothing crazy going on here in terms of processing. Most of the magic here comes from the arrangement and performances. Get those right and you’re most of the way there.
Are you focusing your time and energy on what 99% of listeners care about the most?? Are you pushing your vocal production as far as you can? If not, there’s no better time to start than right now 🙂
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