So, you think of this great idea for a song! You’re excited, and you really believe in it. But, then you go and record it, and the vocals just don’t have that warmth that’s supposed to touch people and make everything feel professional. Instead, they just sound thin and metallic.
Is this scenario familiar to you? If so you should know that this is a very common issue that a lot of singers & mixing engineers face. But, no one really talks about how to fix it properly.
Therefore, in this tutorial, I’ll show you exactly how to fix thin/tinny vocals easily within 6 simple steps.
To fix thin vocals, boost the vocals’ 250Hz – 500Hz, reduce the vocals’ 2500Hz – 4000Hz, use a multiband compressor to balance the vocals’ low-end, and add saturation to the low-end.
But, before we start going over all the steps, there’s actually a shortcut you can take that’ll even get you better results and help you learn what works for your vocals. Just hire a professional mixing engineer from Fiverr.
I’ve actually went over and spent about 7 hours checking out all of Fiverr’s mixing engineers, and found out that these 3 are the absolute best at fixing thin vocals:
- Best bang for your buck – Nic Rollo – This person is best suited for you if you’re looking for an amazing result that is also really cheap. His prices are currently low since he’s still new on Fiverr, which means – you can close a really good deal.
- Best freelancer for fixing bad vocal recordings – CeePee – This person is best suited for you if you’re looking for a package deal. He will take your raw vocal recording and edit it, tune it, mix it, and master it for you. He’s using Logic Pro X, so that’s the DAW you’ll get the project in.
Now, that we’ve talked about the shortcuts, lets see how we’d do it in the full length way.
Step #1: Clean Unnecessary Frequencies From Elements Around The Vocals
This may sound weird, as we usually think of cleaning frequencies as a solution for muddiness, but it may be just as helpful for thin things as it makes more room for their low-end.
So, before we start treating the vocals and applying effects on them directly, we have to understand whether the problem comes from the interaction of the vocals with the mix or from the vocals themselves.
If you only hear the problem when the vocals interact with the mix, it means that there isn’t enough space for the vocals in the mix, and you’d have to clean all the unnecessary frequencies from elements around the vocals.
Such elements can be pads, pianos, guitars, etc. To understand what are the unnecessary frequencies of each element, apply a high-pass filter and lift up its frequency until you hear it’s thinning up the element in the mix.
Usually, unnecessary frequencies are 0Hz – 100Hz.
After you finish cleaning all the unnecessary frequencies from the elements around the vocals, recheck the mix to see whether the problem persists or not.
If it doesn’t, you’re done! If it does, go ahead and do the next steps.
Step #2: Clean Unnecessary Frequencies From The Vocals
To thicken up the vocals properly, we have to make sure that we don’t thicken up unnecessary boomy/muddy frequencies. Moreover, those frequencies may affect the compressor and ruin the vocals’ balance.
Therefore, go ahead and clean the unnecessary frequencies of the vocals as well.
Be careful when doing this, though, as you may thin up the vocals even more when doing this. My recommendation is to listen to them in mono and raise the high-pass filter until you hear it starts thinning them up and then lay it off a bit.
Step #3: Try Inverting The Phase Of The Vocals
Sometimes, your vocals may be canceled by other elements in the mix because of something called phase cancellation.
But, before we start handling phase cancellation, let’s understand what phase is.
Phase is defined as how far along a waveform is in its current cycle.
The starting point of a wave is 0 degrees, the peak of a wave is 90 degrees, the next neutral pressure point is 180 degrees, the peak’s low-pressure zone is 270 degrees, and the pressure rises to zero again at 360 degrees.
When stereo elements are converted to mono, their left and right channels’ phase at each point is summed into one main channel. That is what we hear in mono.
Therefore, phase plays a huge role when it comes to mono compatibility.
What’s phase cancellation issues?
Phase cancellation issues refer to situations where two waveforms that go in opposite directions get summed together and cancel each other out.
For example, if the phase of one waveform is 90 degrees and the other is 270 degrees, they’ll equal 360 (which is also 0) when summed together.
Therefore, they’ll cancel each other out completely.
Have a look at this illustration to understand it better –
As you can see, since the two waveforms go in opposite directions, they cancel each other out when they’re summed to mono.
Sometimes, inverting the phase can be the thing that makes your vocals instantly sound a million times better. But, sometimes, it may make them sound worse as it may create new phase issues.
So, my recommendation is to try both of the options and see which one works best for you.
Step #4: Reduce The Vocals’ Mid Range
Reducing the mid-range of the vocals may make room for the low-end of the vocals to pop, and reshape them into being thick by changing the ratio between the low-end and the mid-range.
There are three main areas of the mid-range that you should focus on. Let’s look at the whole frequency spectrum to understand it better.
The three areas you should focus on are the middle-mid, high-mid, and presence.
The Middle-Mid Area (500Hz – 2kHz)
The middle-mid area is responsible for the “body” of the vocals. It’s the main focus area that devices like telephones, megaphones, etc.
Reducing it can definitely make your vocals sound thicker as it can free up a lot of space for the low-end to come in.
But, reducing it too much can make your vocals sound hollow, so be careful when doing so. I usually find 2dB-3dB to be the right amount.
The High-MId Area (2kHz – 4kHz)
The high-mid area is often responsible for the most noticeable high frequencies of the vocals. Reducing it can help remove harshness, but it may also make the vocals sound muffled or dark, so be cautious when EQing this area.
The Presence Area (4kHz – 6kHz)
This area is responsible for the sibilances of the vocals. All the “S” and “SH” sound come mostly from this area. Reducing it can help reduce those sibilances, but it can also make your vocals sound weird and unnatural if you overdo it.
Step #5: Compress The Vocals’ Low-End Using A Multiband Compressor
A multiband compressor allows you to compress different frequency ranges differently.
You may need to use a multiband compressor since the low-end frequencies are highly unstable.
The low-end might be really loud and powerful in the low notes but weak in the high notes.
Fixing this problem will allow us to balance the low-end and then make sure that every part of the vocals is thick and warm.
here is what you need to do:
- Set a band to the low-end frequencies (100Hz – 400Hz)
- Set the ratio to a decent amount (about 4:1)
- Lower the threshold until the peaks sound balanced.
- Set a medium attack and release.
- Listen to the result in your mix and tweak it more if needed.
Step #6: Boost The Vocals’ Low-End With EQ And Saturation
This is the final and most important step since we are now going to work directly on the vocals’ problematic area.
There are two main ways to boost the low-end of the vocals. One is to boost the existing frequencies through EQing, and the other is to create new harmonic frequencies through saturation.
How To Boost The Low-End With EQing
To boost the low-end of the vocals through EQing, simply add an equalizer at the end of the fx chain of the vocals, and use a bell band to give a nice 2dB – 5dB boost to 100Hz – 400Hz.
How To Boost The Low-End With Saturation
First, let’s understand what saturation is and how it can help us.
The main effect of saturation over the sound is adding harmonic frequencies.
Saturation can help you whenever you want to add new frequencies to a sound. (In contrast to an equalizer that can only boost or lower existing frequencies).
Lets see what happens when we add saturation to a single frequency generator.
Now let’s add saturation.
As you can see, the saturation added a bunch of new harmonic frequencies that make the sound richer.
We can use this to easily fix thin vocals, even if they don’t have many low frequencies to begin with.
There are many great saturation plugins, but my favorite by far is FabFilter’s Saturn 2.
It allows you to add multiple bands of saturation so you can change the way the saturation works on different frequencies, which is perfect for our scenario as we only want to apply saturation to the low-end.
To add low-end harmonic frequencies, simply add a band over 80Hz – 300Hz, and boost the drive of it until you hear it’s enough.