Got this question today from Alex:

Is it a good idead to add an expander plugin on my vocal track? Could I make an AUX track and use it as a send for my vocals?

I notice how it kills the background noise in my headphones and just really pick up my vocals.

Thanks Alex.

If you’ve listened to my podcast, watched any of my YouTube videos, or bought any of my tutorial products, you’ve heard me using an expander/gate on vocals.

For all tutorial videos I shoot, I use a gate to help cut back on any extra noise in the system. I’ve used both a hardware gate and software expanders, both work pretty well.

What’s the point? If you’re recording vocals in a home studio, chances are your tracks have some noise on them (computer fan noise, hard drives, lawnmowers, etc.). You might actually be considering building a vocal booth to combat some of this noise. Before you do, though, spend some time playing with an expander.

With a little work, you can make your recordings sound like they were tracked in a vocal booth. Granted, if the noise is SUPER loud, you’ll still hear it while the vocalist is singing, but if it’s really just background noise, a gate/expander will essentially get rid of it.

How does it work? Essentially, a gate/expander turns the signal down whenever it drops below a certain level. If you’re not familiar with gates/expanders, go watch this video: Intro to Gates/Expanders.

Let’s say you’re mixing a lead vocal, and you need to use a lot of compression to get the tone you want. But now (since compression turns up quiet sources), there’s more room noise on the track, and you hear it during the sections when the singer’s not singing.

Enter the expander. Set up an expander/gate plug-in on the track, and set it so that it turns the vocal down by 6 dB or so whenever he’s not singing. BAM. Cleaner vocal.

Will it work every time? Nope. But it’s definitely worth adding to your toolbox.

Leave a comment below and tell us how YOU deal with noise in your recordings.