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Advice Needed On Vocal Mixing

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by Kuroneku, May 8, 2015.

  1. Kuroneku

    Kuroneku Active Member

    Hello lovely people, and how is everybody doing

    Typically speaking, when I work on my Vocals, I apply a High Pass Filter, adjust it depending on what sounds clearer and stands out more in the mix, and then I usually boost some of the higher frequencies, once again depending on what makes the vocals stand out more in the mix.

    Now, I've been recording a cover of Queen - You're my best friend, and I cannot get my vocals to stand out in the Instrumental, because I feel that it sounds too "thin" with the way I EQ the vocals.

    This is how the original vocals of the song sound like:

    Should I be more concerned about tweaking the Equing, or should I pay more attention to the Reverb that I'm adding?
    The Acapella of this song, does it sound more like Equed to sound that warm, or do you Gentlemen believe that it's more of a Reverb effect

    Someone is probably wondering why I'm not just submitting what I've come up with. Well, I'm one of those perfectionist type of morons, who don't like to share their photography, music, or art if it's not just the way they want it to be! I hope that can be understood

    Thanks in advance
  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    There are many factors to why this track sounds like it does; mics, preamps, the room, the reverb, not to mention the voice of Freddie, who was very dynamic, theatrical, and, pitch perfect.
    (This particular version sounds fairly poor to me, like it's been reprocessed or something)

    That's an inflated ego talking. This section is not meant for people to brag about what they've done, or to show off... It's intended to act as a learning tool, so that you can improve on what you've done.

    Accordingly, your questions are impossible to answer without letting us hear what you have done thus far.

    If you sincerely want help, then you need to check your pride at the door and post what you have, for better or for worse.
  3. Kuroneku

    Kuroneku Active Member

    I beg of you, please do not misunderstand. I should elaborate and state that I have eustachian tube dysfunction, even with headphones monitoring I still need to keep making takes to get what I desire. It's hard to concentrate while singing eustachian tube dysfunction.
    I'm the last person to brag about my singing, because I need a lot more training get close to being a Professional. That doesn't mean that I can't have a perfectionist personality though based on what I think is "perfect"

    Allow me to ask what you observe was used in this song's vocals to get that sound.
    Delay? Type of Echo? Etc.

    I just noticed you gave a response already. I started to read from your quoting and below.

    I believe this is just a DVD Surround Channel extract.
  4. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    With the exception of the obvious reverb, I would have no way of knowing what was used, in terms of mics, preamps, console strips, EQ, gain reduction, etc.

    There may be info available on the web that you could do a search for, which might give you that info - perhaps an engineering log, or a "behind the scenes" article or something.

    I doubt highly that there was anything being used on that track that wasn't also being used on the hundreds of other commercial releases at that time as well. ( we're talking '75, maybe '76?)

    Based on that time frame, I can tell you some things, few of which really matter, because there are so many other parameters and variables to what made that performance sound the way that it does.

    But, if you feel it would help...

    The track seems to have a fair amount of gain reduction. I can't tell you the settings, but I can tell you that "typical" gain reduction at that time would have been LA2A's, 1176's, Focusrite Reds, DBX... maybe a Fairchild, or, even GR that was built into a console's channel strips...

    Microphones common to that era would have been various models made by Neumman, AKG, Telefunken, ElectroVoice, Shure, RCA, AEA, Sennheiser....

    Tape Machines could have been Ampex, Studer, Nagra, maybe MCI...

    Preamps and EQ's could have been standalone, but more than likely, they were built into the channel strips of any of the pro consoles that were commonly used by pro studios at that time - Neve, SSL, Harrison, API... but the best guess, and most likely, was a Trident A-Range desk, because, as far as I can recall, they did the NATO album at Trident Studios in the U.K.

    Trident Studio, circa 1975

    From Wiki: Though it had a very limited run, the Trident A Range console gained a reputation for its very distinct and pleasant sound with a very "musical" EQ section.

    And, the room in which they recorded in matters a lot, too.

    It also sounds as if the vocals are layered/doubled. They could have done this by having the singers sing each of their parts twice, or, they might have used an artificial method, something like Abbey Road's ADT device, which was used quite a bit for The Beatle's vocals. This "thickens" the track.

    But again, you are asking us to tell you what they did to get "that" sound, and beyond taking educated guesses - which are only based on what some of us know regarding audio gear history, and particular gear that was common to the time frame when this was recorded - no one can really say for sure... it's all still just guessing.

    In a nutshell, no one can "tell you" how to get that sound. There is no "Step 1, do this... Step 2, now do this..."

    But, if I could do that, I would start by suggesting that the first thing you would need ... is Freddie Mercury.
    Sean G likes this.
  5. Kuroneku

    Kuroneku Active Member

    Based on what you're saying, it's pretty simple! All we need is a time machine, or a Magician who can bring back someone who's already dead.

    Thank you for taking your time and giving me all this useful information. If I can wake up not too late and find some time, I will re-take some of the parts that I recorded, or perhaps just upload a part of the song that I think I did okay on, and I'm sure that will help for you to judge what's missing :) As of now, there is something missing for sure.
    I also thought of throwing an iZotope preset on top of my vocal takes and the instrumental to try and make the two different sounds of my vocal track and the instrumental somewhat blend, because the way the instrumental is Mastered, it doesn't really work with the way I Equed etc.
    Now sure if my approach was intelligent or not.

    I use an AKG C214 by the way, but I also have a Shure SM58, and a Shure Beta 58A. Perhaps I should try the Shure's too just to see

    I'll do my best to submit something on here later so you can tell me whether me trying to mimic the style of the song or/and my mixing is off

    PS: I actually thought for a moment earlier that there may be a "doubling" effect of the vocals, but I wasn't sure if that was used in 1974 or not
  6. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Even then, recordings are always unique, with the same tools, settings and environement, you're voice the emotion of the moment could change alot on the end result.

    I'm alergic to presets done by the makers.

    Doubling effect are not a new thing at all.. It may have started not long after multi-track recording.

    Kuroneku, to me it's far more important that you sound the best you can without caring about sounding like someone else.
    Most signers don't like there voices at first. It's normal, you hear your voice through your bones and internal organs. Other people and mics are not hearing the same as you and it could be weird for you to hear your voice like others do when recording. The worst signers I get to the studio are those who tries to imitate others. Be yourself and do the best you can.

    Donny talked about what does the greater differences on the sound : Room, Mics, artist and performance, preamp... If one of these do not work toward your goal, you won't get it ever !

    You said the vocal sounded thin ? Yeah play with the EQ, but even better work the mic placement, get closer, turn it a bit. A lot of EQ work could be avoided with proper mic placement.

    Also learn proper gain staging. Don't record tracks too hot. a -16 to-12db is very acceptable and most entry level preamps and converters will give better results at lower settings
  7. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    The method of doubling goes back long before '75 ... way back. Les Paul was experimenting with it on his guitar parts back in the early 50's, and Buddy Holly had just started doubling his vocals on his songs shortly before he died in '59...

    Most of John Lennon's vocals from 1963 on were doubled; although in those early days, he actually sang the vocals twice, but around '65 or so - after complaining that it was too time consuming, tedious, and, took too many takes to finally get one that worked - one of the engineers at Abbey Road, Ken Townsend, designed and built an actual piece of equipment that emulated real-time double tracking.

    It was a tape-based device, with adjustable speed/pitch/delay, that allowed the engineers to bus Lennon's original vocal through it, to get the desired doubling effect. This device was eventually named the "ADT" short for "Automatic Double Tracking".

    (It is now available in plug form - for better or for worse - it depends on whom you ask... some will say they love it, others say it sounds nothing like the original hardware. I believe that Waves offers it as a part of their Abbey Road Collection, if you have a Waves account I'm pretty sure you can try it for 14 days).

    History of ADT, From Wiki:
    Townsend realized that, if two identical performances were played back with one of them slightly out of sync, the sound image would alter and widen, similarly to double tracking. There was no reliable way that this effect could be achieved by simply copying a vocal track on to another deck and then playing it back with the master slightly out of sync; at the time, there was no technique for synchronizing two different tape machines. The end result would be that the second tape deck would gradually drift further and further from the first. Instead, Townsend came up with a system using tape delay, after similar principles already in place for echoes applied via tape during a song mixdown. In essence, Townsend's system added a second tape recorder to the regular setup. When mixing a song, its vocal track was routed from the recording head of the multi-track tape, which was before the playback head, and fed to the record head of the second tape recorder. An oscillator was used to vary the speed of the second machine, providing more or less delay depending on how fast or slow the second machine was run relative to the first. This signal was then routed from the playback head of the second machine to a separate fader on the mixer. This allowed the delayed vocal to be combined with the normal vocal, creating the double tracked effect.

    (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_double_tracking)

    example of real double-tracking on Lennon's vocals:

    example of ADT on Lennon's vocals:

  8. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Maybe you should concentrate on learning how to capture your vocals in the clearest and most exciting way. The performance is everything, and all the plug-ins and other crap in the world wont make that part of it better. However, if you put your energies into pitch control and tonal inflections, coupled with emotional content, then you will always get a better track than one which is not full of conviction and drive. Pay strict attention to your position at the mic. Gain stage it in such a way so it is giving the preamp plenty of clean and clear signal that allows a spacial relationship within the mics' pattern. Keep your levels at an even number and keep it all green with a bump into the yellow. Watch your P's and T's and all other hard consonants. A pro singer who knows how to work the mic can physically make it easier to establish a mix just by how they enunciate and approach their phrases.

    Trust me....Freddie didn't need a lot of help to sound great.
    Kuroneku and DonnyThompson like this.
  9. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Dave gives solid advice once again.

    I would add that the space in which you are recording can dictate which mic you use is best. If your room is highly reflective, then using a condenser like the 214 is going to pick up more of that "room sound". In a scenario like that, using a dynamic mic (SM58) might be a better bet, because they aren't as sensitive, and you could get more of your direct voice than the sound of the room.

    Now... there are variables to this.
    If you are standing 3 feet off of any mic, you'll get just as much room sound to your voice as you will the direct sound of your voice, regardless of the type of mic you use. The farther away from the mic you are, the thinner your voice will sound, and the more room reflection you are likely to pick up along with your voice.

    You need to keep in mind that - besides the fact that we are talking about Freddie Mercury, who had an incredible voice, with awesome control, dynamics, pitch and timbre - that he was being recorded through the best gear of that time, in a studio which was known for having a great sounding room. There were three big studios in London at that time - EMI (Abbey Road), Olympic, and Trident. This wasn't some basement or garage studio. They had the best gear available at the time, with some seriously bad-ass cats engineering. Besides Queen, Trident recorded many other big artists; The Beatles, Bowie, Elton John, Rick Wakeman, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, James Taylor... the list is too long to mention.

    All that being said, I'm not saying that you can't do your own good version of this song, because you can.

    But you're not gonna get the same sound that you are hearing on the original recording ... don't even try. So, instead, as Dave mentioned, concentrate on getting the best performance that you can get, and, track it as cleanly and as transparently as possible. Your performance is what matters most. Pitch, phrasing, emotion, these are the things that will matter the most. Everything else is just icing. You could use the best reverb in the world, and it won't make a bit of difference if your performance isn't solid.

    Don't try to be Freddie, because you can't. No one can ... So, just be the best you that you can be. ;)


  10. Kuroneku

    Kuroneku Active Member

    Thank you all for your contribution! I took my time and read everything.
    Since I've had a very busy weekend and have to hurry right after I finish my post here, I didn't have much time to work on what I uploaded here for you Gentlemen:

    I just went ahead and recorded the very first part of the song, trying to not think too much about it. I tend to drive myself insane when I think too much.
    When I listened back to it a few times, I felt that my De-Esser might have been slightly harsh, and I believe that he way I EQ versus how You're my Best friend is originally Eq'd differ in the way that I boost my higher frequencies too much.

    You be the judge

    PS: The purpose of me wanting to record this in the style of its original state is simply because my best friend is a huge fan of Queen, and this obviously suits as a great gift to her :)
  11. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Kuroneku -

    You'd be better off to upload your song using the "upload file" button at the bottom right hand side of the window where you type your post. Some people prefer not to download unfamiliar files to their computers - not that DropBox is necessarily known for causing virus issues - but for anyone who has ever picked a virus up at some point, many are very hesitant to download data that they aren't familiar with.

    I'll go ahead and download and listen this one time, because I believe you are sincere in wanting to learn - but from now on you'll get much more feedback from members if you include the your song(s) as part of your post through the "upload file" feature.
  12. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Okay, I took a listen to it...

    First of all, you have a very good voice. Pitch is great, phrasing good.

    Second, this track isn't at all bad.

    I do think you may have overdone it on the de-essing. You've lost some of the presence to the vocal. The problem with most de-essing plugs is that, while they do attenuate the sibilance, they can also attenuate other frequencies around the sibilant frequencies, and it can take away some of the pleasing frequencies at the same time. I'd either tighten the Q on the de-esser plug on the offending frequency, or, if your DAW supports it, separate the sibilance out at the top of each word, and either bring down the level of the S's, or, EQ just the S's...

    While the low mids are perhaps a bit heavy, they still work in terms of adding body and "weight" to the vocal.
    But... you'll need to be careful when you add the harmonies though, because those low mids might start to build up, and could muddy up the track as a whole.

    The reverb you are using seems "okay", perhaps it's a bit dark and maybe a bit too long ... remember though, when it comes time to mix in the harmonies, you'll want to use the same reverb for all the vocals.
    Don't use different types of reverbs for each backing harmony.

    And, part of the sound of the Queen track is the vocal doubling. This can be tricky if you haven't done it before. When doing the double tracks, don't over-pronounce the S's, T's or K's... sing them much softer, or, even don't sing them at all on the doubled tracks. This insures that each phrase ends at the exact same time so you don't have consonants hanging over or ending at different times.

    What mic and preamp are you using?
    Kuroneku likes this.
  13. Kuroneku

    Kuroneku Active Member

    Yes, yes, I completely understand and agree with you.
    I usually would upload the content on YouTube for instance, but I would have had to convert audio to a video and then YouTube would have taken some time to process. Since I was on the run, Dropbox came to mind.

    And thanks to you, I just realized that this Forum has an "Upload a File" button, how wonderful!

    (This particular paragraph is just me making conversation)
    It's about 3:30 AM as I am starting to type all this. On Saturday and Sunday nights I commute about 1-2 hours from the San Fernando Valley in LA County to South Orange County for one of my jobs. Having said that, I just got home, and your post made my day/night/morning, whatever we want to call it.
    Thank you so-so much for your comment on my voice, to me that is the greatest compliment. I am a trained Pianist and also picked up some Guitar, and I've been training my voice to become as good in singing as I am playing the piano.

    This is how I had precisely worked on that short track:
    Pro Tools 10 HD
    - applied and rendered .wav with very little compression (Cockos Reaper Comp)
    - Used Waves REQ4 (Attached picture)
    - Used De-Esser (Attached picture)
    - Used iZotope 5 Reverb (very little)

    - I duplicated track
    - Added a slight delay on second track
    (Why? I guess I was testing this method that I once came across on YouTube, but I doubt it's really working for me for this purpose)

    - To finish it it, I ended Harmonic Exciter on Master track to see what I'd get

    I do have Waves Vocal Doubler, but I don't know how to use it properly yet though. When I add it, I get sort of a "robotic" sound, which I don't like at all.

    As far as my audio set-up goes:
    - I use a Focusrite 8i6
    - I use a really cool Microphone guard for my AKG C214, which helps, but I do believe that my room is far from perfect for recording vocals
    - For my vocal recording monitoring, I insert my headphone's into my Mackie ProDX8 Mixer and then into my Focusrite, because even when I turn the Focusrite headphones input all the way on both hardware and software, I still don't get the desired loudness for monitoring my vocals (I like it loud and clear, and specially since I've had eustachian tube dysfunction for over 5 years now

    I was thinking to maybe run my AKG C214 through the mixer and then into the Focusrite to try out a few things. Could that benefit me in any way, or is this idea useless?

    Attached Files:

  14. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I think the track sounds very good. I wouldn't go far on the suggestions because most everything I do when I mix is done within the context of the song. You may make a solo track sound wonderfull not working with the instrumentation. That's why I always mix in context.

    Obviously, -22.6 range on the deesser is quite alot. I usually work it around -12db and get it tuned with the thresold. Thing is, if you use too much de-esser, it may explain the need of boosting HF with eq (which I rarely do). Of course, if we had the raw track alone and the mixed one with music to compare them, it would be easier to tel if you are going in the right direction. Who knows, your mix might be perfect to fit with the music you use... ;)
  15. Kuroneku

    Kuroneku Active Member

    So I found some time to tweak the mixing, and here is what I came up with. What do you Gentlemen think?

    Also, with the Instrumental, is it just me, or should I slightly lower the Vocal volume?

    I also think that the original Vocals have a much warmer reverb, can't figure it out yet.

    Perhaps it's time for me to record the entire song's vocals


    Attached Files:

  16. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    The vocal's volume is a bit too high for the music. When lowered in the mix, you might find it to fit perfectly.
    Right now it seems a bit hot on the lower end.
    You should also listen to the ambiance of the song and try to come up with a reverb that makes the vocal apear to be in the same space.
    Kuroneku likes this.
  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    My pal Marco and I agree on damn near everything when it comes to recording... and for about 75% of the time, I agree with him on this, too... But... there's no hard and fast rule that says that you always have to place the vocals in the same space as the other instruments.

    I think it depends largely on the song, the style. If you're doing something where you want to capture the vibe of a live ensemble/choir/band, etc. all playing at once and in the same space, then Marco's advice is spot-on.

    But... there may be those times where you may not want the recording to sound like that.
    You may want it to sound somewhat ethereal, or with a sense of space and depth that doesn't quite sound "natural".

    There have been plenty of hit songs that have done this over the years; songs like The Door's Riders On The Storm, or Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles, or The Temp's Papa Was A Rolling Stone, which are all songs that have a spacey, "otherworldly" type of vibe to them, and the production methods used ended up being a large factor in the way the songs sounded on the whole, and why they worked like they did.

    You should mix the vocals in how you want, what sounds best to you. If you have a particular artistic vision for the song, you don't have to set limitations for yourself. There really are no rules to the artistic side of the craft. If you find that a particular reverb sounds better on vocals for a certain song - and it may not be the same as the reverb on the other tracks - then use it...or, it may end up being very similar in its artificial space to that of the backing tracks, or, it might not even be close. Use what you think works best for your song, and that which fulfills your own vision.

    And ... know that anytime you post a song to a room full of engineers, you're likely to get all kinds of opinions and suggestions, and they won't always be the same suggestions, either, because mixing styles and production preferences are individual and based on personal tastes. What may sound not so good to one person, may sound great to another. It's no reflection whatsoever on them as being good engineers, it's simply just a preference/taste thing.

    An example.... I remember attending a seminar many years ago, where those attending could meet one on one with several top-tier recording and mix engineers - these were guys who had credits on major releases.

    I remember playing a song for one engineer, who's first quick comment was "Bass sounds great, but there's too much reverb on the guitars."

    I then moved on to a consultation with another engineer, played the exact same song for him, and he said, "Man, I love the space and depth you've got going on with the guitars on this, I wish you would have pulled the bass guitar back, though."

    Go figure, right? ;) Pretty much completely opposite critiques, from two guys who were both successful engineers. In the end, all you can do is to consider all the suggestions that you've been presented with, and then, maybe you do let that advice steer you in the direction suggested - or, not. LOL

    Now, if you play a mix for 10 pro engineers, and they all tell you that the bass is too hot, or maybe that the top end is harsh and spikey, then you really should consider that your mix is most likely exactly that.

    But, when it comes to the artistic decisions, in the end, it's up to you. You're the one who ultimately needs to decide what you think is best for your song and how to fulfill your artistic vision. ;)

    IMHO of course.

    Kuroneku and pcrecord like this.
  18. Kuroneku

    Kuroneku Active Member

    Once again, thank you for taking your time and responding with so much passion!

    I've been watching these hour-long videos where those known mix engineers answer questions and show their mixes to some major hit songs, and I noticed what you are exactly saying... it looks like everybody's got a different approach and finds more importance in different areas.

    I guess I will really have to find what makes me happier as far as sound goes and end results
    pcrecord likes this.
  19. Ledger Note

    Ledger Note Active Member

    I don't have time to review this entire thread, but any time I encounter this situation, the same axiom usually applies as it does to almost any post-processing effect: Use less. Back off. Run the high-pass filter lower with a wider-Q. Make smaller and thinner cuts and smaller but wider boosts on the parametric EQ.

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