Here’s a question from Kevin:

Joe, Was curious if you have a suggestion on how to level out the volume differences between vocal takes when creating a comp track from multiple vocal takes. Any ideas? Kevin

Good question, Kevin. I’ve got a couple suggestions for you. (For those of you who don’t know what a “comp track” is, it’s simply the process of taking a bunch of different “takes” and combining the best parts into one final track.)

1. Change how you’re recording vocals.

Whenever you’re working on a song, and you encounter a problem, it’s easy to start looking for a way to “fix” the recording. Before going down that slippery slope, stop and ask yourself this question: Is there a problem with the way I recorded this track?

Make it a habit to always try to fix problems at the source before resorting to editing, EQ, compression, etc.

For example, when recording vocals, if the vocalist is TOO close to the mic, any small change in the vocalist’s distance from the microphone will result in a BIG change in volume. Move the vocalist back to maybe 12 inches; then things will be much more consistent.

If you’re worried about picking up too much room noise, just try it. It’s probably not as bad as you think it is.

2. Change the volume of the audio clip itself.

If you’re comping together a phrase, and one word is significantly louder (or quieter) than the rest, you can simply adjust the volume of that audio clip itself.

In Pro Tools, you can do this by using an AudioSuite plugin (click that link for a video tutorial on AudioSuite plugins). There’s a plugin called “Gain” that lets you change the volume of the audio file itself.

This allows you to increase the volume of that one clip without needing to automate it later on.

3. Use Automation

If you don’t feel like using offline processing (AudioSuite plugin), you can simply use volume automation to even out the level differences between takes.

The problem with automation is that once you write some automation, you can’t move the fader on that track to change the overall level of the track. If you want to change the overall volume, you’ve got to go in and change the automation on the track itself.

4. Use Compression

Sometimes all you need is a little compression. If you were going to compress the vocal anyway, try adding the compression before you bother with the steps above. Since compression decreases dynamic range, it may very well cover up any discrepancies between various takes.

(For compression training, click here.)

Leave a comment…

In the comments section below, tell us which of the above methods you use to level out your vocal takes.

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17 Responses to “How to Level Out Volume Differences in Vocal Takes”

  1. Meh

    Protools Clip Gain Automation rather than volume automation. Get the signal consistent into your plug in chain

  2. Joseph Mazzù

    you could be up against a vocalist that every other word is different volumes. no matter what.We need a software that you set the DB and it scans the take and increases the volume to a set DB …not compression but amplifies the section thats low.

    • Joe Gilder

      That’s interesting. It’s easy enough to go in and manually do it. Even if there was software that did this automatically, I’m not sure every phrase would need to be at the exact same level. Different vowel sounds cut through differently, so being at different dB levels might actually sound balanced. That’s why I think doing it manually with your ears will generally be the best way.

  3. Jon (sweden)

    In Logic there’s a small plug-in that comes in handy: “Gain” (Utility -> Gain). Put it last in your chain and you’ll suddenly have a brand new volume fader to control the overall level, despite having the track “locked” by automation edits. Works like a charm!

  4. Clayton

    Also, I will almost always set up individual busses for each instrumental group I will be working with BEFORE recording (Drums, Overheads, Bass, Rhythm Guitar, Lead Guitar, Vocals etc).  This saves me a ton of time during the recording process.  I suddenly go from adjusting 9 tracks of drums (and potentially messing up an already balanced drum sound) to grabbing two faders and pulling them back and hitting record again.  The time saved over the course of a session could be the difference between capturing that golden take and missing it because you ran out of time.

    • Joe Gilder

      That’s a good idea. I’m bad about not having tracks prepared before the session. But whether you create them before the session or during, busses can be your best friend. 🙂

  5. Clayton

    If you do volume automation on a track you can send the track to it’s own bus or subchannel and adjust the overall volume there.

  6. Silent Sky Studios

    I use Samplitude 11 Pro for my DAW software, which lets you slice and dice your audio into separate “objects”, even if it’s from a single take. Then, using the Object Editor, you can set the volume at the object level. I’ve found this to work pretty well for accomplishing this very thing.  

    • Joe Gilder

      Vocal Rider is cool for helping with normal volume automation of a vocal performance. It’s not too helpful when you’ve got different takes at noticeably different volumes (from word to word).

  7. Joe Gilder

    You just need to make sure the Trim plug-in is at the END of the plug-in chain, so you’re not changing the level feeding your compressors, EQs, etc.

  8. Marshall Oliver

    I love these tips, Joe! Simply backing off the microphone helps wonders for newbies. Alot of times that bass build up when recording too close makes mixing a pain. First, I have to cut alot of lowend so it doesn’t sound muddy, but that makes it sound thin when improperly recorded. Getting it right at the source is the best way. Thanks Joe



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