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Quick Tip: How to Fit Vocals Into Your Mixes Using Delay

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This post is part of a series called Producing Vocals: From Mic Placement to Mixing.
Transforming Vocal Samples into Lead Synths
Quick Tip: How to Cut and Enhance Your Vocal Phrases

Reverb is the go-to effect for many people to make vocals fit into the mix. But sometimes it is not the desired effect, as it can muddy things up.

In this tutorial I'll show you a simple, yet effective technique to fit vocals into your mix better using a Simple Delay in Ableton Live. The effect can be recreated in any other DAW with a delay plugin, as the the principle is the same.

First let's listen to our vocals dry in the mix:

The dry vocals separately:


The Problem with Reverb

As you can hear our vocals fit the track, but are not yet sitting well in the mix. Many people, at this point, would go for a reverb unit to improve the issue.

Sometimes this is a perfectly good technique, but other times, it's too much. It can muddy up the mix, make the lyrics uncomprehesible, or send the vocal too far back in the mix so it loses its central position. And if you use too little, it might not make the vocals stand out enough at all.

Vocal mix with too much reverb:


Applying Delay

To improve the clarity of our vocal mix, we should use a delay unit instead. I am using the Simple Delay in Ableton Live 9.

Set both the left and the right delay times to 1, which will give you a 1/16 time delay on both channels, and set the wet/dry ratio to around 20%. Play around with the feedback to see how it fits your mix best, higher feedback levels can be used for an artistic effect. The 1/16 delay gives your vocals a nice slap-back echo effect without muddying the mix.

To further enhance the technique, try changing the Beat Offset Percentage on either the left or right channel. This will nudge the delay a little bit in the given channel, and give you a stereo effect making the vocals stand out even better.

Check out the final settings for this mix are in the image below.

Vocal with the final settings:

Final mix:

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