Here’s another little idea to experiment with when mixing your tracks. It’s a method that can help a vocal sit in the mix – and, no, it’s not reverb. I use this technique for hip hop emcees but it applies just as readily to singers.
If the vocal sounds like it is just sitting up front and doing nothing, try putting an echo on it but here’s the trick. Set the echo to repeat at very short intervals (e.g 1/16 dotted) and make the repeat amount (that is, the number of times it echos) quite low – about 6 to 13%. If your echo/delay has an EQ or colour setting, you can experiment with how much high frequency content you let through. I find that setting the high frequency cutoff quite low adds a nice sense of “darkness” to a rappers vocals, but singers can benefit from less high frequency cutoff as it adds some sheen to the vocals.
You can add a little complexity to the use of this trick by setting slightly different parameters for overdubs and doubles of the vocal. For example, if the main take is 1/16 dotted, make the double 1/16 straight. Slightly adjust the filter cutoff for different vocal parts. Doing this will give the vocal mix subtle complexities which make it more interesting to listen to and less tiring for your ears.
The key to making this work (as for most things in audio production) is to follow the “less is more” rule. A good guide is to solo the vocal channel and adjust the mix of the echo until it is at zero – then bring the mix level up until the point when you begin to hear it working. When you hear it working, drop it back by 0.3 to 0.5 dB’s. The aim here is to enhance the texture of the vocal, not create an obvious vocal effect.
Echo settings like this behave a little more like reverb than delays but you shouldn’t use them in place of reverb. Once the echo setting has been added I would still reach for the reverb on a separate buss – you may find that you will use less reverb, though, which is probably a good thing for most mixes given the ‘dryness’ of many tracks these days.
Hope it works for you!