Skip to main content

Mixing Master Class

Lesson 21 of 27

Creative Mixing - Vocals

Joey Sturgis

Mixing Master Class

Joey Sturgis

most popular

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

21. Creative Mixing - Vocals


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Course Overview Duration:02:36
2 What is Mixing? Duration:15:56
3 Mixing Fundamentals Duration:06:10
4 What is EQ? Duration:38:36
5 Saturation Duration:24:08
7 Volume Balance Duration:15:25
8 Dynamics Basics Duration:16:23
9 Dynamics Q&A Duration:17:26
10 Limiters Duration:15:20
11 Spatial Balance Duration:39:57
12 Delay, Echo and Reverb Duration:26:29
13 Recap and Order of Inserts Duration:20:31
14 Replacement Mixing - Kick Duration:24:34
15 Replacement Mixing - Snare Duration:31:20
20 Creative Mixing Duration:28:10
21 Creative Mixing - Vocals Duration:22:34
23 Production Mixing - Guitars Duration:18:59
24 Production Mixing - Bass Duration:15:41
25 Production Mixing - Vocals Duration:23:34
26 Translating Artist Notes Duration:28:32

Lesson Info

Creative Mixing - Vocals

I think some of the things I was talking about yesterday when I was showing how to add distortion on the doubles of the vocals, for example I guess you could kind of consider that creative mixing a little bit but guys have been doing stuff like that for years, you know. Taking a vocal track, all they're given is one vocal track maybe so they start to get creative with it and they want to do interesting things with that track and they start duplicating it, mangling it, adding distortion to it, whatever. You can do I think you can add space well you can actually make vocals more interesting with pads and stuff. And I'm going to show you sort of how to do that. Let me see if this works. It's interesting because you can get harmonies into a vocal track even if they aren't necessarily recorded. And I'll show you how you can take a single vocal performance and you can duplicate it, change the notes, add harmonies. And you can also do the same thing with a synth. And if you modify that synth ...

enough, you can tuck in those harmony sounds and create a completely new part that wasn't there before. And it could be the difference between the vocals being really boring and really interesting. Let's see, I like this, this part of the song's really awesome. (pop punk music) ♪ These footprints in the ground ♪ ♪ No one ever falling down ♪ ♪ When ♪ ♪ Will you see ♪ ♪ I'm done playing these games ♪ ♪ Screaming in vain ♪ ♪ Waiting for you to hear me ♪ (music stops) The thing that's cool about this, I mean already sounds pretty big vocally. It's a powerful part. And I produced the song so I made sure when it gets to that moment right here that we did harmonies for it. (a cappella vocal recording) ♪ When ♪ ♪ will you see ♪ But what if all you had to work with was this? (a capella vocal recording) ♪ When ♪ ♪ Will you see ♪ You can recreate this sound here (duplicated harmonizing vocal tracks) ♪ When will you see ♪ Without actually having the vocal tracks. I'll show you how to do it, so you're not going to get the same exact sound but you can get a similar effect. So if I was to go in to the synthesizer or go in and add a synthesizer. For example, I'm just gonna choose a basic sound, something to start with. And let's say this is the part that I have. ♪ When ♪ So I find that note (one synth note) (two synth notes, higher) on the synthesizer. ♪ When ♪ (synth note matches vocal tone) Let's see what harmony did I choose (higher vocal note) ♪ When ♪ So higher harmony (four synth notes, higher) ♪ When will you ♪ (synth note and vocal) (synth notes) (higher vocal notes) ♪ Will you see ♪ (synth notes, higher) Okay so this is the harmony that you want. ♪ When will you see ♪ (vocals and synth notes) (synth notes, adjusting the tone) ♪ When will you see ♪ (vocals and synth notes) And then there's a couple little quick pitch bends in there that I'm gonna throw in. That was just how her voice scoops into the notes. ♪ You see ♪ ♪ When ♪ ♪ When will you see ♪ (vocals and synth notes) (mouse clicks, typing) ♪ Will you see ♪ That one's a little messed up. Try it again. ♪ Will you see ♪ Cool. So ♪ When ♪ (Vocals and synth) ♪ Will you see ♪ (Vocals and synth) If we were to basically low-pass this ♪ When will you see ♪ (with low-pass filter) We then add maybe a little bit of distortion. Distortion, there it is. ♪ When will you see ♪ Then, let's take out some of the low end. ♪ When will you see ♪ (with less low end) Just trying to kind of isolate the actual harmony itself. ♪ When will you see ♪ Add a little bit of reverb to kind of make it blend more with the vocal. ♪ When will you see ♪ (with reverb) ♪ When ♪ And then if we compare ♪ When ♪ (duplicate harmonizing vocals) So with the actual harmony of her voice ♪ When ♪ It's got a little bit more of a EQ, like a higher mid-rangey EQ to it. ♪ When ♪ This one's kind of a little deeper. So, what you could do is you could adjust your resonance ♪ When ♪ Let's see. ♪ When will you see ♪ ♪ I'm done playin' these games ♪ ♪ Screamin' in vain ♪ ♪ Waiting for you to hear me ♪ ♪ When will you see ♪ ♪ Will you see ♪ ♪ I'm done playin' these games ♪ ♪ When will you see ♪ ♪ Will you see ♪ ♪ I'm done playin' these ♪ Okay so you're not gonna, obviously we're not gonna get exactly the same sound but you could take vocal parts like these, add in these synthesized tracks like this. (synth notes) Kind of almost sounds like a guitar. And, essentially you're adding these harmonies that when you put it in the full mix, you're not ever gonna know that that's even a synth. (pop punk music) ♪ When will you see ♪ So, that was my synth version. Here's the vocal version. (pop punk music) ♪ When will you see ♪ Synth. (pop punk music) ♪ When will you see ♪ Not a huge difference really. I mean, you can work on it some more. Maybe add it in some chorus or something to make that sound a little bit wider. Let me try something. (guitar style synth notes) ♪ When will you see ♪ (vocals and synth) (pop punk music) ♪ When will you see ♪ (vocals and instrumental) ♪ When will you see ♪ (vocals and instrumental) It's always better to have the real harmony but there just that's one creative mixing method of creating vocal harmonies that aren't actually there. Another thing that I see a lot of people do is take the original vocal track. Like this, copy and paste it into a new track, and then do like a pitch-up. Like, say, three. (vocal track higher pitch) ♪ When ♪ ♪ Will you see ♪ And then, fix the interval, 'cause it's not going to be a perfect spacing. ♪ Will you ♪ So you want to keep it in key. (higher pitch) ♪ You see ♪ ♪ When will you see ♪ So I can take that, bounce that down. So now I have the pitched version. ♪ When ♪ And then, combine that with the original vocal. (duplicate vocal tracks harmonizing) ♪ When will you see ♪ And just push it a little bit off-time so you don't get that weird comb-filtering effect. (duplicate harmonized vocals) ♪ When ♪ ♪ Will you see ♪ ♪ When will you see ♪ ♪ When ♪ And so, yeah, I just created that harmony from scratch, just taking the original vocal, duplicate it and then, tune it up or pitch it up to the harmony that you want. And then, modify it so that it fits within the key of the song. This part actually goes from minor to major so I actually had to change it quite a bit. But in the context of the mix, you would have no idea that that was fake. (vocals and instrumental) ♪ When ♪ ♪ Will you see ♪ Minus that last note which kind of sticks out but then you could EQ, you could do a automation EQ. ♪ See ♪ (Vocals and instrumental) Take that frequency, just cut that out on that note. So it'd be like this. ♪ Will you see ♪ (vocals and instrumental) So now it plays back every time. ♪ Will you see ♪ ♪ I'm done playin' ♪ ♪ When will you see ♪ ♪ I'm done playin' these ♪ And that's another example of creative mixing with vocals. Another thing you could do this is something that I think is really cool for like parts that need more energy. So we'll see (pop punk music, screaming vocals) Actually, let me open I'm gonna open a different version of this song. While I do that, do we have any questions? Yeah, totally. So, Kazim wants to know what are some of the most common VST/hardware synths that you use? I like to use all virtual based softsynths. And I use Nexus and Omnisphere. Those are the two, pretty much, exclusively. And also Absynth. Cool. Nsdrums91 wants to know, is it okay to use a diffusion setting with a long decay for atmosphere on synths? Diffusion setting with, say again? Is it okay to use a diffusion setting with a long decay for atmosphere on synths, perhaps diffusion and a reverb? I have no idea. (laughs) Alright. One thing that I wanted to clarify in regards to how you set up your sessions is, you'll typically bus all the instruments to one fader, and then the vocals to another fader before you do automation. Is that correct? Yeah. Yeah, so we haven't done that yet. But let's say you've gotten through your whole mix. And everything's cool. So then, the next step really, I think would be to take all of the group tracks that make up your music and bus those to a new group called Music. And then take up all of the group tracks that are all of your vocal groups, and bus those to another fader called Vocals. So then you have two faders that control your entire mix, all of your music, and then all of your vocals. And what you can do is you can put a compressor on the music. And then you can set the side chain to that compressor with a send from the vocal group. And then it allows you to do side-chain compression with the vocals. And so you can have your vocals not overbearingly loud but popping through, when the vocals pop in, the music turns down a little bit, and then when the vocals pop out, the music turns back up. And that will happen automatically with the compressor. Now when you do that, you need to be doing it within a range of maybe one or two dB, if that. Has to be a very small amount, because when you're turning the entire all of the music up and down, it is drastic, you're gonna hear it, you're gonna notice. But if you do it in tiny little bits it's enough to make that extra 10 percent difference of not doing it. So, there's also a plug-in I wish I knew the name of it, where you can do frequency side-chaining. And so instead of having the entire music mix go up and down, you can have the middle frequency, do you know what it is? You can do that with the FabFilter Pro-MB2. Okay. So with their multi-band compressor, you can side-chain specific frequency bands like that. Yeah, so if you have that plug-in or something similar, definitely experiment with having your mid-range drop out when vocals come in. And then when the vocals stop the mid-range comes back. You can set your side-chain up, when you have those two group tracks like that, you can set it so that it does that. Just makes mixing way easier than having to actually manually go in and automate all that stuff. I do that sometimes, but, I'm a pretty manual guy if you haven't noticed. So I like to do everything myself and I will go in and automate the crap out of EQ, up and down, as vocals come in and out, just by hand. I just like to have full control over the session. One more quick question in regards to your sessions. Mark wants to know, do you have all of your mix stages in the same session? Or do you have separate sessions for different stages of the mixing process? Yeah, I do have separate sessions for different stages. I'll save one stage as the mixing the drums. Then I'll do another one with guitars and bass. And then I'll do another one with vocals. And sometimes I'll even I'll even simplify the session, so that I'm only the only tracks that I can even change are the drums, and the drum mixing session. And the guitar tracks and the vocals are just stems that are just there for reference. I find that the way that I mix, I like to use pretty much infinite plugins. I will stack EQ on top of EQ, whatever. And it can take up a lot of CPU power. So I need all of the power of my computer to mix just the drums. And then I need all of the power of my computer to mix just the guitars. And so I find myself often having to save various versions of the project in order to be able to do that. Okay I'm gonna show this other creative mixing technique where you can make your drums have more energy in certain parts, so let me just find this part here. (pop punk music) Actually I know what I'll do, I'll do it for the chorus. So, I'm gonna take the drums and duplicate the track. And I'm gonna hit Select All Events, and I'm gonna delete that. So now I just have a copy of the same drum track with the same settings and the same automation, the same mix. But no actual audio. And then I'm gonna go into my chorus. (drum track) I'm gonna make a cut at the beginning of the chorus and I'll make a cut at the end. (drum track) So right there. So now I have that section of the song kind of zeroed out, zeroed in. And I can take that copy and paste that into this second track that we made. Now, I'm gonna put a distortion plug-in on here. (drum track with distortion) Just a tiny bit of distortion and then I'm gonna remove the automation on here. And then turn this all the way down. And then, I'm just gonna check to make sure these are in phase real quick. (drum tracks with distortion) Okay, they are. So, what you can do is, you can actually have this create energy when the chorus kicks in. I'm gonna play the whole chorus with all the music playing back and I'm gonna slowly raise the fader of the distorted drums. (pop punk music) See, notice when I muted it it kinda sounded like it went back a bit? You can use this method to make certain elements of the song. Even though the drum performance changes but the drum sound doesn't, you know? At a certain point in your mix, you're gonna end up with okay, this is what my snare sounds like. Pretty much every time it's hit super hard, this is what the snare sounds like. And then you create, you're gonna run into a scenario where things sort of seem to flatline. Especially when you get into the mindset of mixing songs, and having lots of dynamic and moments happening. So, this is just one way of taking something that is pretty much a linear sound, like the drums kind of have this linear sound all the way through the song, and making certain points hype. Or making certain things stick out, without having to go in and automate a ton of different EQ settings or EQ changes. Say your drum sound is made up of like 16 drum tracks. You wouldn't want to have to go into all 16 tracks and make a bunch of different changes. This is just one quick way of you can just add distortion, mix, blend that in a little bit, and now whenever the chorus happens, it's like this magical thing just starts happening. Like the song just comes to life. And you'll have a lot of people scratching their heads wondering how. The secret is really just doing something like this when you just copy and paste the drums and add a little variation, like a variation of the tone. When you hear that actually come in. (pop punk music, vocals and instrumentals) Yeah. It's pretty cool.

Class Description

Joey Sturgis is the producer behind some of the biggest names in metalcore, including Asking Alexandria, Of Mice & Men, and I See Stars. His sound is one of the most sought after sounds of the last decade and in this class, he’ll show you the unique mixing techniques that are key to getting it.

This class picks up where Joey’s Studio Pass class left off: you’ve got your session tracked and edited, now how do you turn it into a polished, world-class mix? 

He’ll show you how to get his signature sound, including: 

  • EQ and compression strategies for drums, guitar, bass, vocals, and synths/effects 
  • How to use automation to fix problem areas and bring out the song’s dynamics 
  • Tons of little tips and tricks to take your mix from good to great 

If you want to elevate the quality of your mix, don’t miss Mixing Master Class with Joey Sturgis.



I don't work exclusively in the same genre as Joey but I always make sure to clear my schedule when he's on CreativeLive. This class definitely didn't disappoint and it was awesome getting to see Joey work on a track from start to finish and what his approaches and thought processes are. And not only that, but I appreciate that he briefly touches on client communication in regards to production, mixing, etc, and the business side to the mixing process as this is an area I'm just now dipping my toes in. Even though I often find myself on the rock, indie or post-rock side of things, a lot of these ideas can apply to anything you're working on and I definitely picked up some ideas to try and work on myself. Joey gives you enough to inspire you and make that light bulb click and does it with an admirable humility that I respect. He gives you more than enough on how and why he does what he does, but I never feel like he reveals all his secrets or magic; I honestly prefer it that way as it leaves a fun challenge of taking the ideas you've learned and figuring out how, when and where you're going to use them in your own mixes. Especially if you're not doing predominantly metal, like I am. The ideas are inspiring. This class isn't about those perfect settings to that phenomenal mix or tone; it's about why you do this and how you do that. It's cool to be able to watch his process and pick his brain, start to finish and all in the box. Joey definitely doesn't need to do these classes for us, but the more I see him getting active on social media the more I get this vibe that he genuinely wants to help make the creative and mixing processes easier and help us expand our knowledge and skills. I get that it's smart business, but I respect and appreciate the hell out of him for taking time to do these classes and answer our questions... Even if there are shameless plugs here and there. I love when these great engineers take time to show us you don't need school, you don't need thousands of dollars of outboard gear, etc. It's your ear, not your gear. We live in an amazing day and age with the Internet and awesome resources like CreativeLive. I love it and these are great classes to watch and get in their heads. It set gets the hamster wheel in my head spinning and I always keep CreativeLive classes on my calendar. They're motivating and inspiring. Looking forward to the next one!


I’ll start off by saying this a amazing class not just for those looking for or interested in “The Sturg” production, but for anyone interested in mixing or mastering. You get everything from the must have fundamentals and basics of mixing and production, to the more advance technical aspects, and of course Joey’s personal approach and method to mixing. Everything from EQ, to compressors, multiband compressors, automation and chain signals. If you ever wondered whether you should place delay in front of your reverb, or reverb in front of delay, or other common chain effects, chances are they get answered in this class. The class is organized in several lessons following a logical order, each covering different topics. All the techniques are shown with examples and Joey does a great job of making it easy to understand and follow as well as explain the reasoning behind the techniques. And it’s not just mixing or production that is covered, but the importance of good songwriting, good communication with artists and good workflow. I highly recommend this for anyone looking to take their mixing or production to the next level. Regardless of skillset, if you’re a noob, intermediate or advanced mixer or producer, you’ll find very helpful and informative lessons, regardless of what style or genre you do.

a Creativelive Student

I own both of Joey`s courses. While both are full of useful information to get you started in the audio production world with lots of good technical explanation and awesome concepts for a fast and individual workflow, Joey actually comes up with average or "mediocre" mixes and tones. If you want some really detailed information about how Joey works, this class is for you. If you want to know what plugins Joey likes to use and wanna see him promote his own plugins, this class is for you! If you expect to learn how to create or come up with outstanding guitar and bass tones (which Joey is famous for) you won`t learn much and won`t hear anything in this particular regard, unfortunately. However, I`d still recomment them, especially the first course he did but again, if you expect to hear a typical Joey Sturgis mix quality, you won`t find what you`re looking for.