Vocal Processing with Abbey Road engineer Lewis Jones

Having done your best to capture a high–quality recording of your vocals, how best do you go about processing them so they work in your mix? Our engineer Lewis Jones, whose credits range from Mura Masa’s Love$ick to Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom takes you through a few of the fundamentals factors that he uses when processing any vocal recording.
 

Vocal Processing with Lewis Jones

Firstly, it depends on your singer. It depends on how good the recording is and how well delivered the singing is. I like to listen to the vocal with the track playing pretty much all the time. So when you start mixing, it’s always important to have that vocal in. The vocalist is obviously, the most important thing.
 

Tuning and De-essing

With processing, you start with tuning. Quite often, there’s quite a bit of tuning that goes on. And obviously, you have to make sure you’re listening to the track to make sure that everything’s right. Cutting out low frequencies, clearing out loud mud is very important.

To start with, it’s just clearing the low end, making sure that you cut everything that you don’t need. I do that with a high-pass filter. I think it’s always best to go a little too far and then to nudge it back. That’s always something you can adjust at a later stage. If you go too far, it’s obvious straight away and you and then pull it back. De-essing is next, and that’s important, too. That’s getting rid of all that sibilance. There are some great plug-ins out there nowadays that do this very, very well.
 

Compression

And then the next process would be compression. I think sometimes, here, this is very much a case of just two-compressor approach. It’s quite nice to use one compressor to control peaks and try and level things out so that your vocal is nicely even and then you’re using another one to see if you can get a different tone and then you’re using another one to see if you can get a different tone. But you can also do quite a bit of that these days in the DAWs with Clip Gain. That’s often a handy little tool, using Clip Gain in conjunction with the compressor.
 

EQ, Reverb and Delay

And then you maybe EQ next. Maybe cut out some of those mid-high frequencies, which you feel are a bit harsh. Sometimes I like to turn it up briefly, so you can work out what sticks out, what sounds harsh on the ear. So cut some of those frequencies. And then perhaps use another compressor just to bring the level up and to make it sit nicely at the front of your track.

Then, obviously, delays and reverb are very important for helping it to bed into the track. And that, again, is always an experimental process using slight delays or maybe longer delays which you then feed into the reverb as well. It’s very track dependent.
 
Read the full article as part of Music Tech's Ask Abbey Road series here.