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Thomas Gold's 10 vocal production tips
His vocal remix of Adele's Set Fire To The Rain has been smashing mainroom dancefloors all over the world and has already gained over 13 million plays on YouTube. So, who better to give us some tips on treating vocals on club tracks than Thomas Gold?
From effects to edits and EQ, check out his ten suggestions for getting that shining club vocal.
1. Make sure the vocal recordings you use are of very good quality!
"The vocals should not be over-compressed or over-EQ'd. It's always more of a problem to fix these things later in the mix."
2. The 'drier' the vocal, the better
"When you receive vocal stems for production or for remixing, try to get them without the usual effects such as delay, reverb etc, as this makes it easier to fit them into your own track and you are not tempo-dependent as you might be when there are delays on the stem.
"Timestretching reverbs and delays does not always deliver good results and it just sounds better if these effects are applied at the final tempo."
3. Scan your material and pick only the really important parts
"Don't just use all the vocals you have. Sometimes a very tiny bit of a vocal does more to a track than a full verse/bridge/chorus approach.
"After your selection is final get rid of the parts you don't want to use (delete them in your arrangement but keep them on your hard drive) as it's less confusing to get them out of the screen."
4. Clean up where necessary
"Cut out or silence unwanted noises such as breathing, background music or other stuff. The cleaner the vocal the better it is to work with. It's also often more effective to completely silence parts of the audio rather than using a noise gate.
"Also check if you need any retuning before you apply other processing; it's much easier to have done those things before you start to get creative. Bring the vocals to a common volume level so they are easier to handle when it comes to processing/compressing/editing."
5. Pre-process the vocals
"It's always helpful to cut off low-end frequencies. You usually don't need them for vocals but they can eat up sonic energy and you can get rid of unwanted floor noises.
"Apply low cut filtering as much as possible - just up to the point when you feel the vocal loses some of its character. You can also check for any resonant frequencies and level them out or add some high end sparkle if the overall sound is too dull. This can also be done after processing [See tip 7]."
6. Effects and more
"Once the basic preparation is done you can go for some more musical treatment. I like to use some high-quality analogue style compressor plug-ins (like the Waves LA2A, UAD stuff, Softube Tube Tech CL 1B and so on) to warm up the vocal and tame it; this makes levelling much easier. In dance tracks compression can work even at very high levels to cut through the mix.
"I also like to add some character to the sound by applying one of those tape saturation plug-ins. This can add a lot! Delay and reverb effects can be used pre or post-compressor - when set to post, they can result in nice and punchy FX. It's a good way to get those 'big' vocals. Just make sure to not overdo those effects in context with the mix; very short reverb settings often add enough space when being compressed afterwards!
"Sometimes a nice dose of distortion (or even bit-crushing) can help to make a vocal more energetic and present, so try out different things. There are a lot of multiband distortion plug-ins that work well (eg, FabFilter's Saturn)"
7. The final EQ
"After all processing and effects I normally apply another high quality EQ to tweak the vocal (or the complete vocal bus with all leads, harmonies etc) to glue everything together and to make it sit right in the mix. You can work out the important frequencies and, if necessary, give them more space in the mix by cutting off those frequencies in the other instruments."
8. Have fun with the vocal in your track
"I try to make the vocal become really integrated with the track - a build-up at the end of a breakdown is a good example. Don't just fade out the vocal at the end of the phrase; you can make it part of the build-up. Cut and chop a tiny portion of the vocal, loop it, add increasing reverb or delay, filter it up or down or do other crazy stuff with it - it adds a lot to the build-up and people in the club love this!
"I use a lot of automation for this kind of thing, be it on the volume, wet mix of a reverb or the distortion level - everything is allowed!"
9. Give the vocal the space it deserves
"Nnless it's just an effect, don't bury the vocal in the mix. A vocal is one of the key elements in your mix and so all other stuff should be adapted to it. Try to support the vocal with sound effects (noises, snare build-ups etc). Make it 'shine' in the mix to give it full impact. Adjust the 'room' effects setting to make it sit right in the mix [see tip 6]. Roll back other stuff while the vocal is the focus."
10. Test drive in a real club situation
"Sometimes it all sounds good in the studio or on headphones, but test the track in a club whenever possible, You might find that the vocal is either too loud or too weak,or it needs some more EQ treatment etc."