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My own vocals

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by JohnTodd, Jul 25, 2010.

  1. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Hi. I'm an experienced recordist in small and project studios, but now I am recording myself.

    And there is the problem. All my instruments sound great on playback. Acoustic guitars, electrics, bass, drums, tambourines, you name it, they sound great.

    But my voice is lacking. Thing is, I'm a trained vocalist and have won awards and scholarships for my singing. My friends and enemies compliment my voice. On stage I sing great. Good tone, intonation, timing, etc.

    But when I record and play it back, my voice is thin and grating. Hollow or lacking vitality.

    People say the recordings simply do not sound like "me" in person.

    So I am humble enough to say that I must do more vocal exercises to improve myself, and so I do, just like I was trained. I can hear a difference and so can others, they say.

    But my recordings still sound like poopie. :)

    My microphone is an MXL 990 condenser. I've heard it's a great mic and I've heard it is terrible. I can only afford to buy one more mic within the year.

    Is this a rare case of the mic making me sound bad, or do I just suck in the studio?

    Ive tried no FX, lots of FX, no compression, mild compression, extreme compression, Blockfish, Autotune, the tube trick I posted in the Pro Recording forum, EQ tweaks, reverb, chorus, flanging delay ... and on and on and on.

    My vocals in person sound great they say - but my recorded vocals sound like crap.

    This is very discouraging.

    Can someone please offer me some possible insights into this? What gives here?
  2. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    The mic just may not be a good match for your voice. It doesn't mean the mic is junk or that you're not a good singer - it just might not be a good mic for you. Is there anybody that would let you demo or borrow some other mics to try?

    What mic do you use on stage? I'd start there.
  3. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Onstage I use an SM58. I have an SM57 I can dig out (I always use a double mesh pop filter.) I'll try that!

    Thanks for your reply.
  4. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Could it be the pop filter? I mean I kind of doubt it. But I have to use it - I can pop out windows with my plosives! LOL!
  5. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I would try the SM58 for the studio vocals instead of the MXL 990. It will probably give you the result you are looking for, or at least would give you a good indication of whether it's the mic or your technique that needs further attention.
  6. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    I'm trying out my SM57 as we speak (read?).

    It does make a big difference, and I'm liking it on my Vox. I'm also doing my tube trick and am recording straight SM57 and tube SM57. I've uncovered so many new tone possibilities, now I have to ask the "forbidden question":

    How do I get "that sound"?

    I hear country music singers with this deep booming bass that is obviously boosted. But it is never overboard; it is tight and controlled. Multi band compressor, perhaps?

    Since I have no choice but to record the tube effect, should I add any emphasis to certain freqs? Drive the tube harder? Compress before the tube? I'm using an old Art SGX2000 which is a multi effects device with front panel and programmable eq, compression, exciter, reverb, etc. All of these can be recorded to my DAW since they are inline with the tube. Naturally I dont want to put reverb or chorus or anything like that, but what about the other effects? In your experience, what are some good ways to drive the tube side of things.

    (The other channel is straight SM57 form a clean pre-amp. I'm blending the two channels at the mixer.)

    My tube is a 12AX7 made by Electro-Harmonix. It is a replacement for the 15-year old tube that was in it.
  7. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member


    The lower end probably comes from a condenser in a good room. The room makes a big difference. If you've got a decent room and are on a budget the best luck I've had besides the aforementioned 58 would be a Studio Projects B1 for a large diaphragm condenser for about 100 bucks. It can be a little bright on the top end, but that's an easier cure. I am a trained singer and vocal coach and if your budget was in the 800-1000 range you would have lots of options. If your room isn't at least decent you're probably better off with the dynamic 58.

    You may want to invest in a good pop screen as well for those plosives. It allows for distance and control.

  8. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Eat the mic. The proximity effect can be your friend here. Always do this at church when I'm adding bass harmony. I've always done it with a 58, but it should be about the same with a 57 and a pop filter.
  9. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    What do you guys think of ribbon mics for this problem? I've been itching to pull the trigger on one, but I lack experience with them. I was looking at the MXL R-144. Inexpensive but well reviewed.
  10. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Looks like the thread is winding down.

    I just want to take a moment to thank all of you who chimed in. I've taken your advice and I am getting much better results. I'm using my old SM57 with a pop filter halfway down my throat. I'm also experimenting with using the SM57 and the MXL990 at the same time recorded to two tracks. I then blend them as need. With the extra tube track from my tube trick I posted earlier.

    Thanks again!
  11. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    PS I just discovered M/S stereo! Wow!
  12. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Hi John,

    The big baritone voices you hear coming out of Nashville, probably start with exceptional voices, a big-budget professional studio, a big-budget mic in a perfectly designed room, a big-budget producer, and a professionally mixed and mastered product. The deadly combination of talent & money. I'm not saying a talented person can't make a great recording with less money. But you gotta have realistic expectations when you're comparing your results to a major label release. Aim high, but don't get too discouraged if it isn't sounding like a million bucks. It takes talent and practice to be a great singer, it also takes talent and practice to be a great recording engineer.

    I think you're experimenting and that's the best thing you can do. Although good ribbon mics can be beautiful sounding- I'd caution you against getting a ribbon mic and eating it. Some ribbons aren't as fragile as they used to be, but they still aren't going to take kindly to being swallowed.

    I know MXL mics are a good dollar value, but given your results with the MXL condenser, I'd want to buy the MXL ribbon mic from a dealer that will let you return it if you hate it.

    A better dedicated compressor, better suited to vocals, would put you a step or two ahead. I assume you're eating the SM57 because you like the bass boost. A decent compressor teamed up with a decent EQ can do that all day long. Thick tone and the perceived loudness you get from compression might be a win for you.

    Power AND control.

    Keep at it.
  13. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    This is pretty funny. SM57/SM58 one of the greatest recording vocal microphones ever. Hands down. And in this months issue of MIX Sylvia Massey has got a almost identical article/column to this thread. And I don't find the Beta 58/57 to be universally compatible in the same application as the SM57/58. It's fine if you want that extra high frequency response which I don't always want and you shouldn't either.

    Yeah hey, if you have one of those lovely, real, authentic, vintage, U 47's for those old-time country vocals, you're also talking about good input transformers on good transistor electronics. If you like clarity and a more aggressive timbre, use transistor technology. If you like it a little mushy when pushed, use a tube. And don't forget to tweak up the gain and open up that feedback loop for that IN YOUR FACE quality. Personally I prefer SM58's with extra foam filters. I like those colorful decorative foam pop filters. Foam is better for smoothing the quality a little more. It's the same reason why I like my long hair over my ears instead of behind my ears. But all you guys with little or no hair don't have that option of adjusting your listening apparatus without this extra natural filter I've grown. When my hair was shorter, I had a tendency not to add enough high-end in my mixes. But that extra loss of .5 to 1 DB of difference, made quite a difference. And we have never really discussed here how your hair may be affecting your mixes and recording issues? Maybe your vocals sound too thin because you have no hair?

    Try some hair and call me in the morning
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  14. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    LOL! Oh, I have hair. Mine is similar to John Lennon during the making of the Abbey Road album. I know what you mean about attenuation! When I'm doing final mixing and mastering I tie mine back or else I'll put too much high in the mix.

    A great sounding room is a weakness in my studio. Have any of you seen those portable "box iso booths"? Looks like a square road case with foam in it, and fits around the mic with a little room to spare. One side is open to sing into. I was thinking of constructing such an apparatus. That might help with the room tone?

    Anybody got any favorite VST compressors? Or maybe I'm just not using what I have very well. I'm not really an engineer, I'm a "critical musician". People tell me my mixes are fantastic - well balanced, clean, clear. I'm aware of trying to put too much of my instruments in the mix and so on. But I can always use improvement.

    Take Blockfish for example. Just using the presets on it made my vox sound so much better. Any favorite settings for a country music vocal - attack, release, thresh, ratio, etc?

    Thank you so much for your help in all of this.
  15. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Hmmm, not following on that one. What does it mean? The only feedback I know is to leave the monitors on when the mic is live and make it howl.
  16. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Negative feedback within an amplifier. The more feedback you have, the more the output is an exact copy of the input, ignoring any gain change. As the degree of feedback is reduced, the output becomes less an exact copy of the input, and has characteristics that are properties of both the source and the amplifier. Some folks like these combinations if they work well.
  17. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Almost got my sound, please look. (Images inline)

    I've almost got the "big boy" sound I'm after. Thanks to all of you who have helped out along the way. I have a couple of general questions here.

    OK, here are some screencaps (in thrilling zero-quality jpeg format!) These are the plug-ins for the lead vocal.

    #1: Condenser Mic:

    This one is the direct-channel with my MXL 990 into the Presonus Firepod and into the DAW.
    It is rigged as the treble half of an "exciting compressor", hence the hi-freq rise in the EQ.
    Notice the plug-ins.

    The first VST Dynamics is a noise gate because I breathe heavy.
    Second is Blockfish set for vintage vocal sound, and tweaked. Since this is the treble side, this compressor smashes the crap out of the signal.
    Third VST Dynamics is another gate to gate the junk Blockfish brings up.

    #2 Mic-TUBE channel:
    This is the full-fidelity side of the "Exciting Compressor". No EQ needed on this one.
    First VST Dynamics is a noise gate.
    Second is BLockfish again, but much less compressed for a general "taming" effect.
    Next VST Dynamics is another gate.

    #3 Voc Sub group"
    This is where the two above channels are combined for my conveniece. After each channel is EQ'd, compressed, and balanced at the faders, they go here.
    Izotope Ozone 4 is used here for brightening, punching, and making it thick and big.
    VST Dynamics is another gate (just in case) and also a gain addition of +12db.
    To the right you can see my reverb send at -7.59 db.

    OK, so I am getting a clean almost noiseless signal at the sub group. I am getting a decent "big boy" vocal sound now that I will continue to tweak and enhance. My question is: Am I using too many plugins? Is this normal? Seems like an awful lot of tweaking just to get a good sound. Do you professionals so this? Am I using one plugin to compensate for my lousy settings on another plugin? Or is this just a case of "do what works and forget about it"?

    Your thoughts?


    PS Autotune is a hold-over from my original demo of this song. My demos are so out of tune that I offend even myself with them!
  18. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Should be:

    "Do you professionals DO this?"

    Sorry. :)
  19. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Tilting the mic...what a great thing!

    My latest development is to tilt the mic about 45 degrees and raise it up around forehead level. This has helped with the excessive sibilance and gave me a "rounder" sound.
  20. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    I've learned to back off the compression a lot - it does make my voice fake.

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