To say that a mix is great if it doesn’t have a great vocal sound, is not true at all. You might think that you need a fancy channel strip or compressor to get a great vocal sound but it’s just not true. The truth is that gear isn’t the most important thing, it’s actually just a simple thought process.
Nobody Listens to Music in Solo
If you’ve been listening to rock music at all in the last 20 years or so, than you’ve probably come across a Chris Lorde Alge mix at some point. In fact, probably multiple times as he is one of the most sought after engineers. He always seems to know how to get big drum sounds and in-your-face vocals. Recently Chris mentioned on Pensado’s Place something that we all need to listen to.
“No [listener] ever hears anything in solo. Period. So the only way to get a great vocal sound is when it’s competing with everything else in the mix.” – Chris Lord-Alge, Mixer (Foo Fighters, Green Day, Dave Matthews Band, Switchfoot)
It’s actually quite basic and maybe it’s not super obvious at first glance. What is Chris is trying to get across is that your audience isn’t going to here your vocals solo’d EVER. They are going to hear it sandwiched in with the rest of the sounds. So what’s the point in spending so much time mixing in solo? There isn’t.
Try Starting With Something Other than Your Vocal
To start it off, there is no real rule that says you should start with this or that. With that said, one thing you might try to improve your vocal sound, is to stop mixing it first. If you pull up your mixer and start tweaking in solo then when you start bringing everything in your EQ and compression will just start to fall apart.
Mixing alone is hard enough so why waste time working on something that “might” work? This is one of the reasons why I prefer to mix my vocals last. It truly is the best way that I have found to try to get them to sit on top of the mix in a good position. If you have most of the other sounds mixed then when you bring in the vocals you should get a good understanding of whether or not it’s going to work or not.
Keep The Bigger Picture In Mind
Finally, my thoughts on Chris’s point about nobody hearing the vocals in solo is that it could be useful if we applied it not only to vocals, but everything else in the mix as well. In essence CLA is saying something along the lines of “Think of a listener and how they hear music – as a whole”. Us mixers, spend so much time focusing in the smallest details that we miss the forest in the trees.
So next time you sit down to mix, concentrate on the whole mix and not the individual parts. You will get to where you want to go a lot faster.