Written By: Eron Constante
With the rise in a cappella music, people are using their voices as instruments now, more than ever. However, the process behind producing and mixing an a cappella song can be tricky. In this article, I will discuss five tools I used to produce and mix a cappella music.
As I’ve explored music production over the years one of the genres of music I’ve found myself producing in quite a bit is a cappella music. This isn’t because I have a fascinating voice, I’m definitely not in love with the way that I sound. But I’ve come to think of my voice as the instrument that I have with me at all times. I can use this to exercise several aspects in music, including arranging, performing, engineering, and production. What I enjoy most about creating a cappella content is the production aspect of it, so I’ll be discussing the five tools I frequently use when producing and mixing a cappella music.
But I’ve come to think of my voice as the instrument that I have with me at all times. I can use this to exercise several aspects in music, including arranging, performing, engineering, and production.
Let’s begin with the basics. EQ-ing is essential in this genre due to the several layers of vocal tracks that occur. I personally record in a room that has acoustic problems, leading me to use an EQ quite often. Cutting out the boxiness from a room and the boom that may occur from recording too close to the mic are just a few reasons to pull this tool out. I use the stock Logic EQ for this function, but any EQ plugin will do.
I enjoy the sound of modern pop vocals quite a bit so I usually have my attack at a quick setting and release at a slow one for the lead vocal. However, knowing the vibe you’re going for will be important for dialing in the right settings. More dynamic performances would benefit from slower attacks, quicker releases, and lower ratios only using the compressor to catch certain peaks when necessary. I usually grab the Renaissance Compressor from Waves though I also occasionally pull out the FG-116 module by Slate.
Getting reverb right can be tough in an a cappella production. Knowing the kind of space you’d like your song to be in is important in creating the right vibe. For most of my production I set my reverb to plate and find it to be the most flexible out of the other options. When going through the reverb settings, checking the decay, size, and EQ of your reverb are crucial. How long do you want the reverb to last with the decay setting of your reverb? How large of a space do you want the performance to sound like it was in? What frequencies do you want in the reverb you’ve chosen? My go to for reverb in my production has always been the Valhalla VintageVerb.
Having a wide sound in music is one of the key components in modern production and creating a cappella content is no exception. I achieve a wide stereo spread in two ways: first is by panning different voices. This is rather straightforward, panning between left and right just allows you to position different parts in different places. My second method is through a stereo imager plugin, which I only apply to four parts: my bass line, my snare and kick for beatboxing, and occasionally my hi hats. For parts that occupy the lower frequencies I use stereo width sparingly, only to give it a more full sound while still remaining in the middle. For the snare and hi hats, I am less conservative on my usage and dial in a bit wider. I pull up iZotope’s Ozone Imager (which is free) but find that the S1 from Waves works fine as well.
For most modern vocals, pitch correction is essential. And while I do use it on most of my production, if your performance is good enough, I think you can get away without having to use pitch correction. It is a convenience for when a vocal part is off by a few cents. I use Melodyne for pitch correction, but it is never a substitute for a compelling performance.
There you have it, my five tools for a cappella production. Just to recap, here are the plugins I have mentioned:
EQ: Channel EQ by Logic
Compression: Renaissance Compressor by Waves / FG-116 by Slate Digital
Reverb: VintageVerb by ValhallaDSP
Stereo Width: Ozone Imager by iZotope
Pitch Correction: Melodyne by Celemony
Thanks For Reading,