In this blog post, we will explore the vocal chain of one of the most famous mixing mastering engineers in the business, who has worked with artists like Katy Perry, Sam Smith, Sia, and many more. Despite only doing two interviews in the last 20 years, we have scoured the internet for articles and information about his mixing practices. Recently, his mixing partner John Haynes did a Q&A on Gear Space, where he revealed a ton of information about their vocal chain.
According to the Q&A, the vocal chain generally starts with compression, then EQ, then a de-esser if necessary. If there are low frequencies to clean out, they will use the Avenue Q3 and filter out the lows before the compressor. The Metric Halo Channel Strip is often used for EQ and channel strip, and it is the EQ and channel strip that is frequently used for Serbin’s vocals. The Q&A also mentioned using the MH Channel Strip with the 1176 compressor setting and hitting about 3 dB compression with the Blackie model four to one, or 10 dB for the bluey four to one for a more in-your-face compression. A slow attack might help a staccato vocal cut through, while a fast attack might be good for smoothing legato notes. Release adjustments are made according to the timing of the vocal, and they don’t want to pull up too much between the words, so they release before the word or the syllable ends. Finally, the Waves Renaissance de-esser is used with a frequency of 5500 Hertz and hit about 60, adjusted to taste.
For cleaning up track noise, math noise, and repairs, they use the Ozone RX7 or RX10. The Hall Vintage Verb is often used as the main reverb, while Waves H Delay and Avid Mod Delay 3 are used for basic delays. If they’re looking for more specialized effects, there are many other options to choose from, including a basic template generalized 30-second, 30-millisecond space like a cathedral, 1.8-second, 20-meter space like a wooden room, EMT-250, which is like a plate quarter delay, eight delay dotted eighth delay, and half notes.
Another note to check out is an article on Sound on Sound about mixing the Doja Cat song with Clint Gibbs, who is from the school of Dr. Luke and Max Martin, who do a ton of work with Serbin. Gibbs mentioned that all vocal audio tracks have the same signal path, which includes the Metric Halo, Avid Bomb Factory 76, Avid Dynamic EQ, and de-esser. In addition, the lead vocal Fab Filter is added to the inserts plus sends the quarter-note, eighth-note delay, and reverb, much like what John talks about in the Q&A on Gear Space. All of these are part of the recording template, which often ends up being the mix template.
In conclusion, the Serbin vocal chain is relatively simple, check out the video below for the full breakdown and listening examples.