No matter what kind of music you make, vocals are often one of the most important, if not THE most important, elements. Of course, if you’ve ever tried to mix vocals before, you may have realized that it’s not so easy.
It’s important to make sure the vocal is well-treated so that each word can be heard and the emotion can be felt according to the song.
The good thing is that you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on fancy plugins to get a quality vocal sound. With simple FL Studio stock plugins, you can craft high-quality vocal mixes without dropping a dime!
Come dive in with us as we discuss how to mix vocals using only stock plugins.
The first aspect of a high-quality vocal mix is a high-quality vocal recording. Now, there are plenty of elements that must come into play to create a high-quality vocal recording, including the sound of the room, whether or not the room has treatment, the type of microphone, the type of preamp, etc.
However, the major element we want to focus on is the volume of the vocal recording and how even it is throughout the recording.
Before you hit your compressor or other processors, you want to make sure your level is as even as possible across the board. This way, your processing will react similarly to the entire vocal as it moves throughout the song.
You can do this with gain automation in FL Studio.
This doesn’t have to be perfect, as compression will take care of differences in volume, though the closest you can get it to even before compression, the better.
Cut Out Unnecessary Breaths, Clicks, and Pops
You can look for these unnecessary sounds in your vocal recording and either reduce or get rid of them altogether, depending on how natural you want your performance to be.
For example, you might come across a breath that is louder than the vocal itself. When it’s compressed, and EQ’d, it might be distracting or overwhelming.
My best advice would be to use the volume on your track to turn it down, so it’s still there yet doesn’t consume the rest of your track.
If you don’t want to go through and get rid of background noise manually, you can use the Vocal Gate plugin.
Some examples of background noise you might want to cut out with a gate include air conditioner noise, traffic noise, or computer noise. Any audio signal that is still sitting under the threshold on this plugin will be reduced or muted.
Make sure to adjust the threshold with care so that you don’t get rid of nuances in your vocal.
FL Studio has an excellent built-in pitch correction plugin called newTone, which is excellent for tightening up vocals and giving them that polished sound you hear on the radio.
newTone is wildly flexible, allowing you to adjust the pitch down to the syllable. From transparent, natural pitch correction to robotic, T-pain style auto-tune effects, newTone can do it all!
We talk a lot about using pitch correction on vocals in our Hard Trap Start To Finish course, which we highly recommend checking out if you haven’t already!
If you don’t feel like going in and making tons of manual adjustments to your pitch, you can use the key and scale option to lock your vocals into your chosen parameters. It’s extremely useful for quick pitch correction when you’re in a pinch!
While everyone has their own unique way of mixing vocals, we like to start with parametric EQ.
The Fruity Parametric EQ 2 is ultra-flexible, perfect for getting rid of unnecessary frequencies and cleaning up the vocal for further processing.
We’ll typically start by using a high-pass filter to get rid of the very low frequencies below 100Hz, as most of the frequencies down here are only rumble or noise. You can then search the low-mids while listening to your track to see if you can make any cuts in that range.
Low-mids from 100Hz to 300Hz can often sound overwhelming in a vocal track. It’s easy for this frequency range to build up in your mix and create mud.
Unless you recorded your vocals into your DAW with heavy compression, you’d probably notice a fair amount of peaks in your vocal waveform. To tame these random peaks, we can use compression.
Now, some of these peaks should certainly be there, as they help give us useful dynamics. However, we don’t want those peaks to be so prominent that they’re distracting or difficult to listen to.
Fruity Limiter is one of our favorite stock compressors for vocals, as it comes with all of the control you’d need to make your vocals sound crisp, clear, and audible. For a starting point, we’ll turn the ratio to around 5:1:1 for a controlled yet natural vocal sound.
Of course, the ratio you choose depends on how squashed or open you want your vocal to sound. Don’t be afraid to use a high ratio like 8:1:1 if you need serious compression. Your compressor should only be working on the peaks of your vocal to bring them down to the level of your quieter parts.
For a more modern vocal twist, we usually like to add some subtle OTT to taste.
This multiband upwards/downwards compressor provides control and squeeze to keep your vocals forward in the mix. You can dial in some pretty heavy settings and dial the mix knob back in parallel to get the best of both worlds (a dynamic vocal with a squeeze that’ll keep it upfront).
Ott has a great color that is certainly worth exploring if your vocal needs a bit of additional flavor.
At this point, after all of your compression, you might notice tons of harsh “S” sounds popping up in your vocal mix. These “S” sounds are called sibilance.
Sibilance is the mortal enemy of many mix engineers, as it’s necessary for articulation, yet too much of it can be painful for the listener.
To tame sibilance, we can use a de-esser.
While FL Studio doesn’t have a specific de-esser plugin, the Maximus multi-band plugin can easily be rearranged to create a modern de-esser tool. Simply go to the high band in the plugin and adjust the frequency so that it’s about 6kHz and up.
Now, note that the setting you choose will depend on the vocal. Some vocals have sibilance starting lower around 4kHz, while others have sibilance starting higher around 9kHz.
Once you find the right setting, you can compress the high band to reduce harsh “S” sounds whenever they come around. Just be careful not to compress your sibilance too much, as you can start to lose brightness and articulation.
You must also be careful with your threshold setting as well, as it should only clamp down on sibilance, not other words, vowels, or consonants.
PRO TIP: If your de-esser isn’t cutting it, you can go back to your Fruity Parametric EQ and search for harsh sibilant frequencies to cut. You can then take that frequency down by a few dB with a narrow Q setting.
Create Some Space
At this point, your vocal should be sounding pretty good. However, it probably lacks a bit of space and wetness that it needs to sit in the mix.
Many new producers and engineers make the mistake of sticking their reverb plugins (Fruity Reverb 2, in this case) directly on their vocal tracks. However, this is not the best method, as it smears your vocals and gives you less flexibility in mixing your reverb with your track.
We recommend creating a send and sending your vocal to your reverb with the Wet fader dialed all the way in.
While the reverb settings will depend entirely on your vocal and track, one thing we recommend doing is sidechaining your reverb to your vocal. This technique can give your the best in terms of space and clarity.
Place the Fruity Peak Controller in front of the reverb on your send and link the reverb to the Peak control with the “Inverted” setting. Now, every time the vocal plays, your reverb will dip out, allowing your vocal to cut through the mix. Then, when your vocal stops, the tail of the reverb will open up, filling the empty space.
The last thing you’ll want to do to inject a professional sound into your mix is sidechaining your vocal so that it plays with your mix.
You can start by copying your vocal into a vocal signal layer, which you can turn off so it isn’t audible.
Next, you’ll route that track, without all of the spatial effects attached, to the sidechain channel in your mixer rack. The sidechain channel should contain all of the instruments in your track except for the drums.
In your sidechain channel, you can apply a new Fruity Limiter plugin with a sidechain from the vocal signal layer so that the instrumental dips every time the vocalist sings. Don’t make it dip out too much, as that can sound unnatural. 2dB is a great starting point for this technique.
Make sure the attack on the Fruity Limiter is at the fastest setting so it kicks in right away each time the vocal plays.
Additional Processing - Stereo Imaging
Depending on the mix, you might want to add a bit of width to your vocal.
To do so, you can set up a send with the Imager on it. Send your vocal to the Imager plugin with your Stereo Spread dialed into your liking and balance the level so that the spread track is sitting just underneath your vocal.
You don’t want this spread track to be too audible, though it should add a sense of largeness to vocals that otherwise sound too narrow.
What Are The Best EQ Settings For Vocals?
All vocals require different EQ settings, though most vocals have similar characteristics, allowing you to use general settings to get the sound you’re after. These settings include:
- Rolling off the low-end to around 100Hz to get rid of rumble and noise
- Reduce mud around 150 to 300Hz
- Add some top-end air and crispness with a high-shelf around 10kHz
- Add a boost around 5kHz for some presence
- Reduce sibilance from around 5kHz to 8kHz
Is FL Studio Good For Recording Vocals?
While FL Studio used to be known as a DAW for sequencing electronic music, it’s now great for recording vocals and other live instruments.
While every producer and mix engineer has their own way of mixing vocals, we hope that going through our method was helpful for you!
As you can see, you don’t need to buy fancy third-party plugins to get a crisp, clear, and professional vocal sound. If you want a more in-depth look at mixing vocals and producing high-quality instrumentals, make sure to take a look at our collection of courses on FL Tips!