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Pop Vocals

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by audiokid, Oct 1, 2012.

  1. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I've been listening and thinking to the sound of pop vocals these last few years. Anyone else with me? I will be producing pop songs this next year in case you are wondering what I mean.

    I've also been thinking about my room(s) and particularly listening to the sound of the vocals I get, then comparing them to the sound of songs I am shooting for. I'm coming to the conclusion that what was cool for the last 50 years in a vocal sound may not be so cool today if I want to get that in your face pop vocal sound. In fact, I'm thinking if I hold fast on my old methods, I'm going to sound pretty dated.

    A Bricasti (or closest thing to it) and a vocal booth (or closest thing to it) does the trick and some, from how I'm hearing it so far. No need to be trying to spend a load of money making a perfect acoustically "natural sounding" vocal room when in fact a dead room and clever vocal effects will give you just what the doctor ordered. Its never been about perfect or following the past when it comes to pop culture, its about sounding current and following fashion. Once you get onto that, it starts to becomes detailed in its own way once again.

    Just ask your nearest teenager what they like better (your way or their way) if you dare engage in today's pop culture. Like always, if I want to make money in this business and sound like a hip producer instead of a really fine and dated sounding acoustic rock band, maybe think twice when you are planning out your vocal system. Pop sounding I mean... smoke

    We can often be sent down the wrong road by old school concepts when something real simple may work better. I mean, who is making pop music and buying it in the first place? It isn't parents and their dated friends who I'd be trying to impress. Youth is attracted to what they are able to do, afford and relate too.

    From my last 30 years in this business, being current and following trends always put a lot more food on the table.

  2. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    you can't beat 'em, join 'em. eventually the current in your face sound will be so "2012", that huge washy vocals will be the rage. bell-bottoms came back in fashion 10 yrs ago, after a 30 years rest.
    Isn't it the recordist's job to deliver the clients vision bar none? if there vision is commercial success, it'll probably have some different requirements than alot of vanity projects, i'd think. Pop is funny tho, cuz i think adele is pop, but her sound is more based on the old style Janis Aretha, sound. But then there's the 'modern' sound which you described. Experience allows you to make choices on taste, based on the relevance of the project right? i mean you probably wouldn't opt for a hall verb on a hip hop song these days? the current crop is only doing the only thing they know, the in your face dry vocal, and they do a good job at that. they're gonna learn about space one day to stay current.

    How could anyone involved in recording be relevant if they couldn't at least do current, if asked? sure maybe some niche engineer/studio will get work, but, for the average working man, you will lose out if you can't deliver. Genre non-specific. Painter's don't get to tell clients what color they're 'gonna' paint the house, they do what they are asked. sure good taste, and suggestions could try to help avoid ugly. But in the end recording is service work just like any other, and even when the customer is wrong, ther're always right.

    If you look at alot of the new 'popular' recordings w/ bands, it's trending towards 'live' again. people overdubbed to the hilt for the past 15 years in search of perfect, and now multitracking is coming back. sure it's not the same as the 70's but it's a like slight return, ya know? 'old' just isn't new again yet. new, just isn't old quite yet.

    I work w/ a guy sometimes who is still stuck in his heyday, who's mixes sound just like the late 80's. There's nothing current about it, he's gotten no new clients, and turned off some old ones. People who refuse to accept change better be rich, or have a damn good bunch of clients who still like it 'the old way'.

    That's what makes sound so intersing tho doesn't it? change, variation, differences? i mean engineers would be no more engaged than an average banker if everything was done the same way the whole time, i think.
    Cheers! -kyle

    p.s i think anyone who went for 'natural sounding' vocal rooms have a lot easier time adapting to 'dead room', than vice versa. i opt for spacious rooms, knowing i can pile the absorbsion in as necessary. I can imagine the horror of trying to 'liven up' a 3x5 closet...guess thats what plug-insare for?
  3. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Exactly but...

    Musical taste outside pop including mastering isn't what I am wondering about. Its a genre and the sound of pop vocals, thus, something I'm discovering and wonder how others are working with, not against in a pop driven studio.

    As I'm understanding electronic reverbs more and the sound of pop vocal$ (plug-in or hardware) but especially after using a Bricasti because I "get" what all the fuss has been about now. These do get very close to the real deal providing the source (good in, good out) is there in the first place. We know its hard to remove the sound of a 4x4 closet and an 8ft ceiling but its very easy to add the Boston Hall or some awesome space simulator if you don't have a tin room and dead talent mix to overcome in the recording in the first place. Treat your room, patch in a Bricasti and slap on some headphones and you are in sonic Pop heaven.

    DAW's, electronics once again gets us 98% there every time. The cat is out of the bag once again.

    Conclusion: a well equipped and treated control room or vocal space and the knowledge on how to create rooms with electronics works better than I ever imagined. Comparing the sound of "Pop" vocals recorded 10/ 20 years back, today's vocals sound much better to my ears. Everything sounds bigger.

    What are you using and finding works best?
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    When we were young, guys were breaking new ground with recordings and their personal techniques. I have found most young folks really dig these sounds of all what their parents all listened to. Many dig it themselves. Your idea about current pop mixing technique is really that of those who have lowered the bar.

    There is no replacement for good engineering technique. While many of us have mixed different mixes for both AM and FM, we have no need to bother with that today. And we don't need to make our recordings sound like crispy flat hunks of junk either. So I'm not really clear on what you're saying?

    One of the things you are currently saying, is what I have been saying all along. It really ain't the acoustics in the home studio. It's how you can electronically eliminate those deleterious acoustical situations and then augment your track with good sounding algorithmic processing. That's the way to go. And why utilizing downward expansion can be so beneficial in a small space like studio. It's the kind of electronic control from algorithms that allow us a huge amount of controllable freedom in our work today. Not taking advantage of these techniques is just beginning engineering which is what we're hearing in a lot of pop music today.

    That's no reason to lower oneself. When rap was just emerging in the early 1980s, a few guys got very wealthy from it. Then everybody started doing it. And what do we have today? We have a glut of rappers whose recordings all sound the same. And you want to be like that?

    Are you getting art confused with business? One is business that can be marketed as art. The other is art that can be marketed as business. Unfortunately, none of the kids can write a good melody today because all the good melodies are already copyrighted. And anyone who does come up with something good will likely be an infringement on someone else? And that's where copyright has destroyed creativity and art in its own right. I mean if a kid today wrote a song that sounded a lot like " love me do ", no one will ever hear from them again. So today, what labels are left, can only market mass-produced trash. And that's terribly sad.

    I'd be more interested in hearing youngsters do classic songs, pay the publishing royalties and give a good new twist to a fabulous old melody. And no one is bothering to do that. Why? Music does go beyond the individual composer, does it not? I guess everybody thinks that they are Lennon and McCartney combined? That would indicate to me that the kids today are even more unrealistic than we ever were? We have denied the rights to our children to create melodies because of law.

    This has nothing to do with new school or old-school. It has to do with music school. Kids are being fed McDonald hamburgers and doorknobs. Don't you care a little bit more about your kid than to just feed them cereal for breakfast lunch and dinner? I don't even have any kids and I care. Adults need to set good examples for youngsters. Trying to follow youngsters is not setting a good example. There has to be a certain dichotomy of difference for youngsters to learn from. You're not a youngster but you're just learning about how fabulous quality analog is and well constructed algorithmic boxes can deliver. There are those of us here that have known that for years. And you and I are nearly the same age. It's taking you some time to come around I'd say?

    When ya look at all the goody boutiques stuff available to the home recording enthusiast today, you see mostly classic old-school designs. Almost everything for those API 500 racks are designed from those 30 through 50-year-old designs. Today those digital consoles are mostly utilized for software control. Because your Sound is really established through that leading end. You know... that analog input side. So the kids today are actually vacillating away from recording through those digital mixers with their lousy transformer less, transparent, clean, crispy, metallic microphone preamps. Yuck. So really, you're falling behind the times because your old. And what's old, the kids all think it's cool and new today. When we actually know otherwise.

    Ya can't steal second base while trying to play football.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  5. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    lol, here we go again.
    I'm talking about the pop vocals. It has nothing to do with lowering any bar or lack of talent. What are you taking about? Your comments are are really off IMO and insulting. Trends and sonic flavors change year after year. Its sad to see things disappear but they will return in another creative form.
    Being said, I still mix and produce music and use techniques and technology to get there. Music is music to me and I work in this industry because I love music. Good thing I make money at it too. I like that part. It feels great to do a good job, get people excited about sound and my work and be paid for it. smoke

    I laugh at all the purest starving over the years. The ones whom are broken and bitter Martyr's that think they can do better than someone successful in commercial music. This is a common attitude towards pop. They put every one down playing pop music because they think its simple and cheap. They think their style is above the rest. But every one of these people are barely making ends meet. I've been attacked over this for three decades already.

    I might not love some styles but I know it still takes talent to do it well. I listen to things that attract attention and try and figure out what it is that gets people all excited.
    There is good in everything and masters in every trade. If you listen closer, you would never be talking like this. Many songs today are mixed and produced excellent, by excellent engineers. The singers do sound great to me. I think singers today actually sound better than they have in years. And like I said 3 times already, I'm hearing a dryer sound that is more in your face.
    I was hoping we would discuss the pro's about it rather than putting down the entire sound of pop music and anyone who participates in it. Pretty pathetic IMHO.

    This aught to get interesting:
    I bet you and many here hate this mix and think the engineer who mixed this is lame too, and she has no talent? I've sat in this very chair at the Warehouse Studio in Vancouver and it is a lot better than my studio but the vocals are dry and this is what I'm talking about.


    The pop sound I'm hearing sounds like they are mixed dryer than the past and I'm pretty certain, or wondering if a lot of them are tracked in dry rooms going through a Bricasti or two with some fine delay settings? Have you ever used a Bricasti? I'm guessing not from your response here. They are amazing and they will work for this.

    Pop of course isn't my particular love but I do appreciate this as much as many other styles. Vocals don't have to sound like the 60's, 70's or 80's to be right. They just have to be what is expected and work. In your face works right now.

    I love this song. But I also love Blues, Jazz and classics. We really need to step up the bar around here.
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    That was a great song. Wonderful production. Yeah, I like her dry like that. And if ya listen to this carefully, what does it sound like? Disco like the 1970s. Dead, dead, dead, big thumping bass drum, sampled string background. No discernible acoustic signature. Cool. Yeah, a nice dead studio. Only very large room studios have usable acoustics. Everything else is a dead voice over booth that can contain some musicians. So the sonic signature that your recording has is what you create. And not what a small room has. And it doesn't require your newfangled digital effect processor to create that. It only requires anyone's digital effect processor. And how you use it. We are just talking about different time delays with different frequency weightings. Sure, some boxes produce a certain effect that everybody likes. But there is no one box that satiate's all of those needs. I'm sure your unit might? But then you paid enough for it that it should. So you don't have to create and patch what you want from other à la carte items. So it makes your job more like wow, that's so cool and so easy to get. You may understand what it's doing where others don't? Because for others, it's beyond the scope of their comprehension. And how do ya know it was not some kind of ProTools plug-in generating her vocal layering?

    I'm certainly agreeing with you on obtaining the right vocal sound. It doesn't have to sound like the 60s, 70s or 80s. But it does have to sound professional. And that's easy, for us. You know how to get it. I know how to get it. Lots of people here know how to get it. And others don't. They struggle with cheap Chinese imitation studio condenser microphones and wonder what's wrong. And that's where people like you and I would tell them to use a 58 because you and I know what that delivers. And that's a simple fix for most albeit not an esoteric one. It's something that is easy to obtain and quantify. Very little overloading of microphone preamplifiers and poor gain staging make that the perfect choice for so many reasons. You can even get a vocal that sounds just like hers did from a 58 and you know that. Though it sure as heck didn't sound like a 58 to me most obviously. It sounded more like a TLM 170 to me. And I like that sound too even though I don't own one of those. I've used them. Like them. Smooth and great sounding. But hey, it could have been anybody's condenser microphone done just right. Lots of tight compression on her vocal. Highly controlled sound. So it sits just right. Amazing that she did that entire song on one breath of air, LOL. Can you say noise gate?

    I don't have any problems with this style of mixing. I rather like it. I like to mix like this also. Been doing it since the 1970s. No more big gated reverb on the snare drum track. Just like I like my disco.

    How come Crisco never came out with Disco Crisco? Where, a big chunk of lard falls out the bottom of the can.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  7. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Catchy. Simple. Whats not to like? Very dry vocal with several layers. This is not a single track but it is a single track recorded in a small dry dead room. I've always liked that. In the end, whether you are going for a lush background to bloom around the voice, or a simple 4 beat done to move things along, you ultimately have complete control over the width and depth of the vocal track if its this dry to start with. I wonder what type of pitch correction is being used? Its very transparent but its there. I would also think theres a voice sample involved. I dont know ANY singers who can keep their voice in exactly the same timbre throughout a 3:20 song. Maybe opera singers but I dont think this kid has been to the opera this year....And then theres the beat detection. Chris hears this and refers to it as the "electronics". But he's been doing this kind of thing for a long time with the midi programming and the sampled stuff. This entire production is the off-shoot of that era. Refined. Yeah its a really well done production. Pro all the way. They are using a lot of devices to get this sound and using them well. But still keeping the simplicity. I say, well done. Plus they've got a very cute engaging teeny banging the product. Now who wouldnt love that?

    I have never shied away from any style of music. It is what it is. The flavor of the month when done to this level can get you two weeks in Barbados enjoying the sunshine. Yeah, it takes skill and vision to effectively create a sound that might be for a generation who you might also be having arguments with at the breakfast table about their homework and cellphone usage charges last month, but that doesnt mean you have to be of the same generation to relate on a musical level.

    The fact is a LOT of kids....I'm talking 13 to 19, are , right now, discovering the sounds of the 60's, 70's and 80's and arent ever going to buy in to the sugar-cane pop sound. The internet is filled with these kids opinions about Zep, Stones, Beatles, and many many others and they decry the fact that their generation is suffering through these new pop types that come and then grow up and become something else. And, from a longevity standpoint, they're right. Yes it takes skill and a professional approach to craft pop as well as the hardest=core whatever, and this is a professional business where you must be versatile enough to make these kind of decisions with artists in order to be viable, but in the long-term realm of things, this is todays pop and tomorrows pap. here today gone tomorrow. In 10 years no one will know this song and this girl singer will have grown up and morphed into something entirely different. You can see this in the last generation of pop stars. Their shelf life is limited as performers unless they reinvent themselves as something older and more mature when they themselves become older and more mature. It is a cycle as old as recorded music. Frank Sinatra was a pop idol...and on down the list. Those with staying power will be those that bring something to the genre that will survive through generations of new and curious listeners. I dont know what the formula is for this, but for sure, M. Jackson's pop songs, and he is the KING of POP, will survive many many generations as have the Beatles, Sinatra, Billy Joel, Elton, theres a long list. One thing thats for certain, ALL of the performers had the BEST professionals at the controls of the recordings so maybe theres hope for those of us who know technique. We're just waiting for that twist in a hook or that compelling voice that strikes to the heart of a generation of listeners. Still, if I had the opportunity to produce or mix the style of the day, it wouldnt bother me in the least.
  8. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Now were track talking. Right on Dave.

    here's the skinny on this.

    This was mixed on a 72 channel SSL G series with E series EQ's at Vancouver at Bryan Adams Warehouse Studio. All OTB. They uses 52 tracks and took the best of her tracks and it worked. They used some autotune but hardly any. Her timing and tuning is excellent.

    Professionals who know what they're doing make it sound simple because it sounds effortless. That's what pop is all about IMO. Pop is about radio and creating energy for people to work and interact. Music that distracts you in a negative doesn't make it far IMO.

    As an example, I can play my ass off, better than the average guitarist but when I am laying down pop, I don't play like I am trying to show everyone how great I am. That's the key to making catchy songs. Simple hooks that are memorable is what we remember. And space around the mix so things have room is what I like and know works.

    They used 52 tracks. He used a Neumann U87 into a Neve pre for the verses. Vocals are a few layers. One in center and a L/R close to treated as one. Center is louder.
    Ren RVox and Ren De-esser.
    He used an L1 plug-in on the chorus tracks. AMS DMX for stereo harmonizing and ReVibe for her verb.
    She also sang the overdubs on the chorus. Again, hardly any autotune because that's what kills spice..

    Drums are samples and mixed OTB with some nice hardware. Parallel compression as well.

    Whole session is at 24bit 48k, mixed OTB and >AD back into the session through a Sontec MES 432C.

    Sounds like he likes NS10's as well. If my memory serves me right, those are in all the rooms at The Warehouse

    There is a full article in Sound on Sound mentioning more gear used..

    One thing I would definitely not do is mix back to the same session now that I've used what I have now.
    I love this track too. Glad you guys are chatting like this now. :)
    We should be doing a lot more of this kind of discussion.
  9. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Interesting article. I like SOS a lot. This is a Josh Ramsey production. It seems it was recorded at his studio, The Umbrella Factory, on an SSL 4056G. As much as I can see, he has a real nice room, not large but tall and some nice pieces in the rack. I dont know how much but the bit of info I found was not a huge amount of stuff but apparently judiciously chosen. He has PT8 HD ....at least thats all I could find. Mixed at the Warehouse. Both rooms seem to have NS10s. The Warehouse is a very impressive room. According to the article this would have been mixed in studio 1 at the Warehouse. They have two SSL rooms and a big old Neve in another.
  10. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    The old Neve is one of three that Rupert custom restored like that. This one is considered to be one of the finest on the planet. Its beautiful. The SSL I checked out is upstairs. When I was there, compared to the Neve it wasn't as loved. It sure looks great though. The studio is amazing, three floors of sonic lust. Looking from the street side you'd never know.

    I see the tape machine sitting beside him.
  11. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Makes me want to buy Kurt's NS10 even more now. Bright speakers help not mix so bright and with my older ears, it may be a smart move for me. diddlydoo

    The dipped upper mids on her vocals surprised me. What was your first impression when you heard them ( first few bars)?
    At first they sounded a bit dull, but as the track played, perfect.
  12. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    they had 'air' in the highs, the dipped mids conributued to the 'girth' i'm used to hearing, in modern pop. the ace of base tape i bought as a kid doesn't sound as thick. they were going for the same 'defined up-front' plan, but newer recordings do that better, i think. Pop is all vocals, w/ some kick/bass bump, undoubtedly. It's interesting to me, cuz it almost makes the OB more crucial, considering the room sound signature isn't really relavent, but input/processing chain still is. So is the mix room.

    Bright monitors could help you chase brightness, i hear it done sometimes. Not disagreeing, w/ ns 10's, when i used a Hafler powered pair, they sounded surprisingly 'normal' compared to the reputation they have.

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