This is a hot topic in today’s world of recording. Every professional music producer and audio engineer have an opinion on this subject. Some producers and engineers believe that you can get a professional well balanced production when you are mixing a two-track instrumental with new vocal stems. Other producers and engineers are holding on to the concept that you have to mix the vocal stems with the separated musical multi-track parts to get professional results.
I’m not here to take sides. I’m here to help independent artists who are recording over pre-mixed instrumental tracks produce a completed song that will sound competitive to those major label artists who are recording and mixing in million dollar studios.
One of the main points that I would like to implant into your mind is the most important piece of equipment you will ever own is your ears. Home recording technology has come so far from where it was. You can get professional results in a home or project studio these days.
Having a good understanding of some basic recording knowledge is key to getting the best results from a home recording session. I’m going to focus this article on helping you understand how to get a better end result after you have already recorded your vocals. Just remember that you have to start with a great sounding instrumental and properly recorded vocals. (That’s a whole other topic).
Let’s begin by talking about the instrumental tracks and beats that you lease online. Most producers that are leasing and selling their beats online are providing you with a completed production. The track is formatted in song structure (intro-verse-hook-verse 2-hook), fully mixed, and most of the time mastered. This is a double-edged sword. It’s great for the artist in terms of the beat is sounding hot without having to spend time and money going to a studio for an audio engineer to work their magic. On the negative side this can cause some recording issues because the level of the track is at its peak. In mastering (most of the time) one of the goals is to keep the levels at or as close to 0 dB as possible. Anything over 0 dB is going to cause distortion.
If you mix your vocals with a pre-mastered instrumental you are more than likely going to hear clipping. Clipping is when the output volume is exceeding 0 dB and causing the stereo mix to distort. (You will be able to hear a clipping type sound in playback) The clipping will occur when the vocal and track are playing together. The solution may seem very logical. Decrease the volume of the instrumental, right? That might solve the problem of clipping, but now the song has lost its punch.
Never fear because our good friends compressor and limiter are here! By applying proper compression to the vocals, placing a limiter on the master bus, and balancing the ratio of track verses vocal your final product will sound superb. In a nutshell that’s the real trick.