I recently talked to a bunch of producers about vocal editing techniques at one of the Enable Music School sessions, and I thought I’d post a little something that I shared with them, and also expand a little more on some of the techniques I use.
As an example I’m using the final track on my Sunday Morning album, called Gotta Sleep Now.
It’s a pretty sparse track, with lots of atmospheric guitar loops, some synth bass, and features the wonderful vocals of Susannah Legge.
I’ve included a Live Set version of this as an instrumental track, with the original vocals, and with the vocals edited an processed, so you can listen to and see the techniques I’m writing about, but please note, that this live set, and the audio files within it are for your education only. If you get all inspired to take those files and make a remix of it, that is totally fine, just let me know! but I retain all rights to this music.
This is the vocal processing channel strip I have created. Whilst it may look a little bit overkill, it’s actually a pretty standard vocal strip, with low cut, noise gate, glue compressor, saturation, EQ, and some parallel FX with reverb and delay.
I’ve also created some Macro settings to dial in more or less of certain parts of the vocal sound.
I love breathy vocals, and I never want to fully get rid of the character it brings to a track, but once you’ve added some vocal FX, like Compression and Saturation, you’ll really start to notice that these Breaths and Esses in your vocal track sometimes get too loud.
The technique I use to deal with this is actually a pretty easy and quick workflow using Ableton Live. Firstly go “Off grid”, that is press CMD+4, and lose the snap to bar/beat feature, then highlight the region with the breath or ‘ess’ sound and press CMD+E, this will split that region in vocal performance into a new clip.
Go into that newly created clip and in the Sample section, lower the volume by between 4-10dB, depending on how loud the breath or ess is, and how much you want to get rid of it.
Once you have reduced the volume of that clip, open up the fades option, and cross-fade between the clips, this will give a smoother transition between the two different volumes.
To add a little extra zest and character to a vocal, I also like to automate the volume levels of a performance using a Utility plugin after the Vocal FX chain. In particular, I like to grab the ends of words, and bring them up just by a few dB. I find this adds to the intimacy in the vocal performance, and you feel like the singer is right in your ear.
By automating the gain of a Utility, as opposed to the channel fader, you have the ability to keep the fader adjustable later in the mix, whilst keeping your vocal volume automation intact.
I hope you find this useful!