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Q: What is a good order to follow in achieving a good balance of music and vocals?

An Audio Masterclass student asks whether to start with the vocals or the instruments when mixing.

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Question from an Audio Masterclass student: “What is a good order to follow in achieving a good balance of music and vocals?”

There is no right or wrong answer to this, just differences of approach. If the vocal is all-important in a song, then you could start with just the lead vocal in your speakers. Get this sounding exactly as you want it with EQ, compression and reverberation. Then start building the instruments around it. When the vocal is adequately supported, then your mix is done. You will probably end up with the vocal very prominent, with the instruments in the background.

Alternatively you can start with the instruments and get a good overall sound, then add the vocal. At first it won't fit in well, because your instrumental mix is taking up all the 'space'. But if you adjust the EQ so that the instruments are lowered in level at around the frequencies where the vocal is strong, you will be able to get them to fit together well.

In this case, the vocal will end up on a similar level to the main instruments. This is sometimes called 'treating the vocal like an instrument', instead of putting it right out front.

The third possibility is that you mix the vocal and main instruments at the same time, and when you have a good mix of the important features, you start adding the rest of the instruments.

By David Mellor Thursday November 30, 2006
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