Vocals are often the most crucial part of your track and can be tricky to bring to life. Although each voice and recording is different, here are the basic steps to keep in mind.
Before we can start processing the sound, it’s important to check whether or not each word or phrase of the song is where you intend it to be, both in time and in pitch. To quickly fix issues like pitch drift or slightly off-tune notes, Auto-Tune by Antares is a good option where you can select the key of your song and just dial in the amount of correction with a single knob. Melodyne by Celemony or any similar plugin that’s native to your DAW will also provide this basic functionality.
Proper EQing will do wonders to help your vocal be more upfront and still fit in the context of the mix. Each voice is different but, in general, there are specific bands which can be boosted or attenuated to achieve a specific effect. For example, the 3kHz - 6kHz region can be boosted for lyrical clarity and anything above roughly 12kHz can be boosted to add “air”. Muddiness often lies between a 100Hz - 150Hz, so you may want to slightly attenuate this region but keep in mind that this is also where the power of the vocal comes from. Always EQ your vocals and check whether they fit with the instrumental.
"Each voice is different but, in general, there are specific bands which can be boosted or attenuated to achieve a specific effect."
To prevent sudden dips and peaks in the vocal volume, compression is the easiest tool. By reducing the dynamic range, you maintain a more consistent volume which is more pleasing to listener. If compression is used after effects like reverb or delay, then those effects become much more prominent in the empty spaces in the recording, making the atmosphere noticeable without blurring up the lead vocal. Experiment with the attack, ratio, and release values for your mix.
Saturation is commonly used to add more grit and brightness, and to make the vocal sound fuller. There are many kinds of saturation plugins out there but even the native saturation plugin in your DAW can give great results. Adding some tube saturation is a frequently used technique to give your vocals a bit of a vintage vibe.
"tube saturation is a frequently used technique to give your vocals a bit of a vintage vibe."
While it’s certainly not a requirement, you can take your vocals to next level by recording doubles, harmonies, or adlibs. These elements can be subtly added into the mix resulting in a massive difference.
These tips should give you an essential starting point from which you can learn further, and get the best results for your particular mix.