How to Use a Vocal Rider – Do You Need One?

A vocal rider is a plugin for facilitating the vocal automation process of varying the volume of your vocal. Let’s talk about how to use a vocal rider and whether or not you should be using one in your mix.

Why Use a Vocal Rider

vocal rider

First let’s talk about why vocal automation, which a vocal rider accomplishes for you, albeit automatically, is important.

One, practically speaking, vocal automation ensures that the volume of your vocal stays above the music.

The human voice is a dynamic instrument. As the vocalist delivers each line with emotion and expression, the level of each word or note will go up or down with some being more prominent than others.

A byproduct of this is that some syllables, words, or phrases can drop under the level of the backing instrumental, even after vocal compression.

As a general rule, you want your vocal at the front of your mix. While compression can help to keep your vocal loud enough (check out my tutorial on how to deal with an overly dynamic vocal, by the way) sometimes you need a little automation to help push the vocal above swells in the instrumental either manually or automatically.

A vocal rider can accomplish this for you by allowing you to set a target volume which helps to push the vocal up (or even bring it down) as necessary, keeping it in the front of the mix.

One more reason a vocal rider is useful is that varying the level of your vocal adds life to that vocal. Volume automation in general is a great way to keep your mix interesting, and a vocal rider is a shortcut way of doing it.

How to Use a Vocal Rider

Now that we know why it’s important, let’s talk about how to use a vocal rider.

The Waves Vocal Rider is my favorite plugin in particular when I want to simply add a little life to the vocal by way of varying its volume slightly like I just mentioned.

vocal rider

Not only is it effective, it’s dirt simple to use.

Simply set the target to the average volume you want your vocal to achieve. Generally you want to set this to the point that it simply stays in front of the instrumental as I just mentioned.

Next you just have to set the sensitivity and speed of the rider.

I like to keep the sensitivity set midway between the minimum and middle level. For the speed, on the Waves Vocal Rider, it’s a simple “Fast” or “Slow” option.

I like to keep this set to “Slow” as, along with the sensitivity setting pictured above, this makes for a more natural transition between any adjustments the rider makes.

Lastly, adjust the range to encompass 3dB above and below the target. You’ll need to play the vocal to get this range right.

All of these settings together will make it so that it adjusts the volume but without snapping it so that the listener can detect the change.

These best settings on a vocal rider give you those subtle adjustments to keep the level moving with a 2-3dB swing above or below the target without the listener actually noticing the changes.

Remember that even the best vocal rider with the best settings won’t be as effective as manually doing these adjustments yourself.

This is why again I prefer to insert a vocal rider at the end of my vocal chain to give it that little 2-3dB swing around the target level for some life. I’m still checking to make sure that every syllable, word, and phrase is heard and that my vocal always stays on top of the rest of the mix.

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