This may be an annoying answer, but it depends. Some will say yes, and that the vocals are the start of the show, so they should sit right above others. Some say no, and that louder vocals will take away from the fullness of a track. The main point is that there is no exact wrong or right answer, so if you want to mimic something that you heard was a good idea or think is an industry standard for your style, go for it. Let's talk about some reasons you may or may not want the vocals louder than your beat.
Some producers and audio engineers will swear by the process of making your drums the loudest, your vocals the second loudest, and all of the rest of the instruments to taste at varying levels under the vocals. This is not a bad sound to go for at all, and it makes sense to many listeners. This way allows your beat to give the fullness and shine, your vocals to melodically shine and not compete with the other instruments, and those other melodic instruments to be the atmospheric addition right behind the vocal.
An example in decibels would be to set your vocal peak level at -9db, kick drum peak level at -6db, snare Drum peak level at -7db, and all other instruments' peak levels lower than -8db in your compression settings.
Other music professionals will say that you need to have your vocals at the forefront of your mix. These people likely believe the vocal to be the most powerful part of the song and the element that needs to stand out to the listener the most. Now, just because the vocals are louder does not mean that they will be sticking out like a sore thumb. They will likely be only a few decibels louder than the other elements (as a whole), so it will still blend nicely if done well.
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There are other audio professionals that like to have their vocals and instruments right at the same levels, as long as everything can be heard well enough. This is a simple way to go about things that can also sound pretty sonically pleasing if done well. This works especially well for songs that have a lot of different instruments going on in a song and need all the elements to shine together equally. Songs like this do not have vocal lines that lead, but they often blend well and melt right into the other instruments.
The genre of music that you are mixing a song for will be a big factor in the way you want your mix to be made. If you are making an EDM track, for example, you may want to go for a mix that has your vocals as loud as your instruments since you want the complexity of your instrumentation to shine as much as the singer. If you are mixing a soft rock song, you may want your vocals to sit right above the rest of the instrumentation. If you are making an R&B song, you might want the bass and kick to hit the hardest, followed by the vocal, then the rest of your instrumentation.
Again, there is no right or wrong answer, especially if you are making music more for fun or for a smaller audience and not planning to go viral or be on the radio. There is a little bit of wiggle room when it comes to levels that you can play around with to your liking if you're mixing music. You may develop a certain style of mixing that works best for you and normally gets you the best feedback from the artists you are working with and the audience that hears the final mix.
You may want to choose the vocal levels depending on the message or the mood of your song. If for example, the singer is taking a soft, heartbroken approach in their performance, they may benefit from lower vocal levels than if they were going for an aggressive approach. If you have a song that is slowly building a climactic point, you could have vocals that are slightly lower in the beginning with levels that increase bit by bit as the song gets more intense. Of course, this will all be within a small window of appropriate decibel settings and nothing too dramatic.
The most important thing is to have vocals and instrumentation that are clear enough to be heard. You don't want the listener struggling to make out the vocal part and being distracted in their listening experience. You also don't want a listener who can barely hear the instrumentation and is trying their best to hear a more balanced beat that matches the vocal. If all your elements in the song are clearly heard, then your mix will be pleasing to the ear.
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As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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