When I mix a lead vocal line I find myself reaching for the same tools. I always strive for my vocal mixes to sound natural and believable whilst being in full context of the music that surrounds it. I try to use subtle ways to sit a voice in a mix. I believe it's important to avoid the use of too many plug-ins as having too many options available can quite easily result in a vocal sounding disjointed and disconnected from the music.
In this article I'm going to share my vocal plug-in chain whist detailing why I use what I use and by keeping things simple getting natural sounding vocal mixes.
Insert A - Celemony Melodyne
Melodyne has always been my go to pitch correction tool for vocals for nearly ten years. I know of no other software that can be able to gently tease vocals into tune without hideous audio consequences. I've tried similar softwares to Melodyne and for me it is the best sounding tool that is also musically intuitive in it's workflow. I feel though that it is a bit of a shame that over the recent years Melodyne hasn't moved forward in development or feature set as fast as some other developers.
The Tonelux Tilt EQ is a brilliant filter and tone shaper. It easily lets us roll off anything below or above 1K in conjunction with what I think is a very musical sounding tilt EQ. The tilt EQ makes me feel as though I have some control over the position of the tracking microphone in the recording stage. I feel as though I can use the tilt to dial back the bottom end of a voice which lifts the top end ever so slightly giving me a very well balanced tone, much like moving a microphone a few inches back away from a singer. The main reason why I like the Tonelux Tilt is that it does at least 2 processes in one move without the output level changing which makes it easier to trust my my mixing instinct when using it.
Insert C - FabFilter Pro-DS
This is a plug-in that sits in my chain and either I use it or I don't. It all depends on the vocalist, the microphone used and room it was tracked in as the sibilance may or may not be a problem. If I do need to engage Pro-DS then I have found no better tool to replace it. The Pro-DS is basically two Dessers in one. It has a 'Single Vocal' mode that is specifically designed for the job of treating sibilant vocals without sucking the natural life and airy qualities from it. The visual display is a great tool that I find useful in confirming my choices in setting the side chain for triggering the DeEsser.
Insert D - Waves Renaissance Vox
If you are like me then there is a good chance you've tried every compressor plug-in on the market. It is lots of fun trying every variation of an 1176 however in trying to find the best compressor I am left feeling rather tired of them all. I suppose I'm really tired of the marketing that many brands use to sell us "character" compressors or "vintage" style plug ins. To be honest I really don't care as I want "character" and "vintage" in a performance as and when I need it. What I'm trying to say is that through all my testing of all the compressors on the market I can hand on heart say simplicity wins. I want a compressor that can do the job well without luring my ear to something else that I truly don't need, such as a crunch sound or hiss emulation. The RVox is the vocal compressor for me. Simple in design and sounds extremely transparent on a wide range of styles and singers. It also includes a very simple noise gate that has one setting that does exactly what I need. The best feature on RVox enables me to link the 'Compression' amount and output 'Gain' controls together which lets me compress without any output level changes which allows me to again focus on the compressor's behaviour not the level difference.
You may have noticed, with the exception of Melodyne, that all these plug-ins are very minimal in design. They all have roughly 4 settings each which I feel has been the lure for me to use them and to truly get to know them. As I said at the start, I aim for natural sounding vocals in my mixes and I feel this can only be achieved if you keep things simple in your approach to mixing... and you don't get much more simpler than these plug ins.
So that is my vocal plug-in chain but you may not agree. Please do share your thoughts and your vocal plug-in chains.