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Vocal Processing TIPS

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by Voiceofallanger, Dec 16, 2011.

  1. Voiceofallanger

    Voiceofallanger Active Member

    Hey guys. I'm looking for some pointers on how you process your vocals. Sometimes I have real trouble getting mine to sit in a mix and sometimes I even find they sound quite thin at the source which is obviously something I really need to take care of.


    I would like to know from you pro types.

    What kind of signal level do you use for vocal input ?

    What kind of sized room do you typically track in ?

    What distance do you usually keep between the vocalist and the Mic/Pop shield?

    Do you use any outboard limiting/fx ?

    What EQ do you use ?

    What FX do you typically use on a vocal to get it to sit right ?

    Do you have any key pointers for me with regards to getting a vocal to consistantly sit in a mix ?

    I usually find that my instrument mixes are very well balanced, and I know that I at least have that much down but vocals just really bug me sometimes. I think it's my weak spot as an engineer. No doubt with various opinions from this forum I can mash it all together and find some correlations to solve my issues.

    In case anybody is interested/it sheds any light where I am going wrong. I track with an SE condenser (most of the time, sometimes a 58 depending of course), nothing fancy. About 6 inches between mic and pop shield and also vocalist/pop shield. I usually track reasonably hot but not near peak, and I don't use any FX at all outboard before they get to my digital system. I typically use a slap delay as a thickener (bused), a medium room reverb (bused) to try help it sit and a compression with quite a hard ratio with about 6db ish reduction and then about 6 on the makeup gain. I track in a small room about 2 metres squared with foam treatment on the walls. On the EQ I usually take out up to about 200hz depending on how I feel about the low end of the vocal and then maybe add a bit of air up at the top.

    Nevertheless... my vocals often come out quite thin. On my voice it always sounds great but on other people's voices it doesn't .. I am a full on belter though, I am the loudest singer in the entire world. (Obviously I do acknowledge that everybody has a different voice/tonality/volume).

    An alterior motive of this post is also that if it proves useful to others it might be made sticky as I know this is a problem that a lot of engineers experience and would like to solve swiftly.

    So.. enough rambling..

    You guys reckon you can crack it for me ?

    Much Christmas love.

    - Dan
  2. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Hi Dan. As you said, every voice is different and not just in volume. There are so many subtle sub-contexts and layers of harmonic content and every one is different. The physical build of a person, how they posture themselves when singing, their natural vocal range, emotional context, where their speaking voice is centered and in what part of their physicality they speak through. Some folks speak through their nasal cavities, some from their chest and are able to use the power of their diaphram for tone as well as volume and some through their throat.

    But you wanted to know the tricks to make these plethora of voices sit in the mix in a full figured kinda way......

    I wonder if you are on 'automatic' currently in your application of this chain you use?? What is the first thing you apply without really taking the time to listen to the singers complete scope of tonal variation? Personally, I think your mixes are very mature and well thought out, but since you've expressed a need to move forward in your thinking I present these scenarios as toast for your chutney...... okay... muffin for your preserves....

    Hearing a voice and knowing where the tone is coming from takes time and patience. Its hard to convince a singer to really give it a good warm-up singing the material at hand while you dial and focus the transducer being used. But thats exactly what needs to happen. Three things come from this.
    1. The engineer gets a clearer idea of the scope of the voice

    2.The singer gets their vocal chords to a more relaxed and elastic state as well as confirming the part to be sung

    3.Everybody gets a chance to set their levels, be it phones or monitors.

    If its a particularly taxing part for the singer, then that should be kept to as few passes as needed to get warmed up but enough to allow the engineer a chance to get all the settings needed to proceed.

    You'll find at this juncture that MIC PLACEMENT doesnt necessarily mean mounting the mic on the stand and getting it close to the singers face. Sometimes its a subtle twist off axis, or an additional mic set at chest level, or even two mics with different personalities next to each other with an emphasis on phase correction. Sometimes its a mic set at a little distance and time aligned.

    Some singers have a tremendous amount of 'head-tone' but very little 'chest-tone'. Multiple micing will sometimes capture this in a way that a single mic cannot. It can increase the tonal width and depth of a vocal capture to a great degree.It also gives the engineer an opportunity to determine the distance from the mic according to the amount of gain you want to hit the recorder with. Six inches isnt always the best place, although starting there and especially since its a 'go-to' for you, is a great way to start but dont be saddled with that as the ONLY way. This is where control of the gain-staging is so important.

    The point is to capture ALL the frequencies and idiosyncrasies of the voice right from the start. Having a full palette of tone to work with is a much easier thing to deal with when placing the source in a stereo field with a bunch of other things of alike frequencies. Then you can take things out, compress things and still retain the fullness and the quality that you captured from the beginning.

    Its all about the source.

  3. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    As with all things being equal, nothing is terribly equal.. As to the actual recording process of the vocals, I'm still quite analog in the way I record them. That means, I'll frequently include some high pass filtering along with some compression or limiting. That compression and/or limiting can be as little as a couple of DB of gain reduction to as much as 15-20 DB of gain reduction during tracking. Some additional EQ may also be utilized during this process. No other effects or gobbledygook will necessarily be necessary to ensure that the vocals sits right in the mix of most rock 'n roll recordings. I'm not a timid nor under experienced engineer and so I find this technique works out quite well for me. And I don't necessarily care if someone else is going to mix these tracks. And these vocals will already be ready for any additional effects that one may choose to add. I find that vocals can generally sound even more dynamic when much of the dynamics have been removed. Because this way, it allows you to focus more on the vocal performance than trying to preserve unnatural sounding vocal dynamics. Vocals are one of the most difficult instruments to record because their dynamics are generally much more broad than most instruments can produce. And that's why I follow this procedure.

    Compression Queen (in the audio vernacular)
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    I just read and responded to this post after posting the above: http://recording.org/threads/george...-the-gml-8900-dynamic-range-controller.51571/

    He is explaining the same thing here. I'm just talking about also recording this way instead of just reserving it for the mix. Yes, yes, I know, you can't undo this after you recorded this way. But why not recorded this way when you want it to sound this way? I find less satisfaction sonically when doing this from a already recorded track than when I can actually accomplish this during tracking right from the get-go. Especially today in digital recording where resolution reduces at lower levels. Then you are trying to enhance lower resolution content which just doesn't sound quite the same when you just go ahead and print it that way to begin with. It's certainly hard to tell how something will sit before the mixing process begins. But if you get that great vocals sound to begin with, it makes your mixing process all be easier. I don't care what people say about 24-bit blah blah. They can only tell you that the mathematics will work to prevent lower digital resolution problems but my ears say otherwise. Part of the reason I feel this way & hear it this way is regardless of the mathematics involved, you are trying to dynamically change PCM sound. And PCM sounds like PCM sounds like PCM and that ain't analog. Also notice that one of the world's greatest engineers, is not demonstrating this with digital equipment. That's because we really only need digital for its convenience, automation & affordability not for its sonic footprint which has been tracking audio doggie Doo Doo for years across our control room floors. Although I truly believe in its purpose for live PA where all you want is loud.

    Crunch me tender... crunch me smooth... & I always will...
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  5. robertgmartin

    robertgmartin Active Member

    The answer to your question is really subjective. The "artist" in you should go with what sounds best to you. If you want to record the mix with effects etc. etc.. Absolutely go for it.

    I am here: UAD board
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    As Martin indicated, yes, 100% subjective here. You do what feels right as long as it sounds right. Which certainly can mean recording your tracks dry leaving the processing for later. It's all good since I know quite a few of my professional colleagues which turned out fabulous stuff, work that way. And because digital multitrack audio can be so much more versatile than our older analog roots were. One of the nice ways you can experiment with this (provided you have the technical capacity to do so) is to take the output of your microphone preamp, utilizing a simple Y cable. Your preamp output should have no problem feeding a pair of inputs, simultaneously. Given any kind of analog processing (EQ's, limiters) feed one side of the output of your preamp to that and the other directly in to your A./D. input. This way you can print 2 simultaneous tracks. One will be captured with the process, the other you will do ITB after recording. Compare them. Then you'll be able to make a more experienced decision what works best for you. Many of us have experimented in that manner over quite a few years dating all the way back to analog days of capture/play out. For instance, if you were utilizing Dolby A/DBX, You could get away with some of this processing after recording. But if you were running barefoot/no NR, you couldn't necessarily get away with a severe buildup of tape noise due to dynamic range compression raising it up to above what a cheap cassette deck without Dolby B sounded like. So you had to rely upon different workaround techniques. And Hey! I don't know anyone, not anyone, that like the sound of Dolby A. What it really did for you would give you 10-15 DB of noise reduction. That way, you could compress & EQ someone's vocal by at least that much yielding a signal to noise ratio, in the end, the same as a Bare Foot Machine, that sounded a whole lot better without any Dolby/DBX. And I don't know anybody that would refute that with you. That extra stage of crap didn't do anything to improve your sound only lower noise and screw up your sound. So I was a barefoot engineer in high heels. So even in facilities where I had the opportunity to utilize Dolby A/DBX, I'd switch it off. We don't all have to believe in the same religions thank God as, I'm an atheist.So I'm consistently inconsistent and never contradict my contradictions. That is, generally not often but 100% of the time.

    So, Martin, is this an invitation to me for a holiday get-together party? Just like Lady GAGA, I've been working on a Ampex 456, 2 inch tape dress, brown & deep black, completely spliced together with white & blue splicing tape. I think it would be stunning? Hopefully, I won't have to walk through any antiterrorist magnetometers or other heavy electromagnetic devices that could potentially have me wiped clean of any clothing. I mean, I like clear, transparent, neutral but not necessarily the Kings clothing.

    My studio truck, CROW mobile, is out here near Dulles international Airport and I frequently go out to Leesburg on my way to Point of Rocks. I've frequently stopped by the numerous bars/restaurants such as Shenanigans and others. So I'd love to drop by... as we are practically kissin' cousins. What kind of facility are you working with out there? I've heard there are a couple of nice facilities your way? I've never checked any of them out however. If I was actually a good engineer, I might check your profile?

    I really prefer the color of Scotch recording tape better but I didn't have any 226/250 anymore.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  7. robertgmartin

    robertgmartin Active Member

    Yes, Come on Over for the Holidays.

    I also appreciated your intelligent, thoughtful and witty response.

    Enjoy the Holidays!!!


  8. Voiceofallanger

    Voiceofallanger Active Member

    Whew.. I had a lot to read there. Yeah. The funny thing is about reading all this is.. you pretty much confirmed what I thought was the case.. I must be doing something wrong somewhere. I've always been a "sourcey" kinda guy (see what I did there) ;) and I do like to always get the tone right at the start. Perhaps I'm just listening wrong through my monitors or something. It seems to sound ok on it's own and then in a mix it sounds all middy and awful. I guess I just gotta play around with the source sound a bit more and really focus on my positioning of the vocalist and the mic choice before anything goes onto it. Likewise as Remy suggested I'll have a bit of a toy with some outboard compression.

    Thanks for the replies guys. Always appreciated. Hope you're having a good christmas so far.

    - Dan
  9. EricIndecisive

    EricIndecisive Active Member

    Parallel compression? Sorry, I haven't read the replies.. but my buddy going to school at Berklee has had some cool stuff to show me, I was surprised how many tracks / buses you can have for even one instrument.
  10. aj113

    aj113 Active Member

    I had that problem too. It was caused by the recording room ambience, which the vocal mic was picking up at the time of recording. Once you start to compress and eq the vocal after it is recorded - or even just take it up in level a bit, all of that unwanted honky mid frequency resonance comes shining through. blech. I solved my problem with one of those huge baseball-glove thingy acoustic shields for the vocal mic, and I enhanced its effect further by resting an acoustic tile over the top to make a little 'tent' for the vocal mic to live in. Goodbye nasty room ambience, hello controllable vocal recordings.
  11. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    They must've looked pretty funny with that thing in front of their face on stage, LOL... I think you should just put a bag on their head? Not plastic of course. You know those stylish ones they utilize for all of the guys down at Guantánamo Bay. I happen to know I look good in black pants, shirts, shoes, socks and probably on my head also. Of course that would do nothing for the acoustic signature but people I think would have more of a tendency to pay closer attention to you that way?

    Black by popular demand!
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  12. Paul999

    Paul999 Active Member

  13. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    That was a beautiful explanation of your workflow Paul. We both do things in much the same way but I figure I'm somewhat less articulate than Paul.

    Another particular reason for my workflow is that most everything I record is live to multitrack while simultaneously creating a stereo mix for reference, for broadcast and/or even PA mixing directly from my control room in the truck. Yup, PA from a vintage Neve and I'm not listening to any PA system except to run out and check it from time to time. The PA mix will then also go through the Orban para-graphic EQ's for any particular notching out of feedback frequencies since I don't have any 1/3 octave graphic EQ's. So that PA stuff sounds more like a recording than PA stuff would. For obvious AURAL reasons. But that's a rare job. But then I also have to be a little more conservative on the amount of compression/limiting when doing PA than if I was just doing it for recording purposes. My workflow was slightly different when I had my Sphere Eclipse C, which was far more versatile, like an SSL than the rather simplistic Neve I now utilize. The Neve microphone preamp is always coupled with the EQ whereas the Sphere microphone preamp could be decoupled from the EQ while being routed to auxiliary sends. I can't do that with the Neve without making some monster modifications to the entire desk which I've never done. Because it's really not intended for PA. But we are talking about recording here and not PA. So I'm not really sure why I blathered about this?

    Blather mouth engineer
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  14. Paul999

    Paul999 Active Member

    Wow you have a vintage Neve mobil unit!?!?! I do live sound for some bigger live concerts here and I could not imagine not being in the room. In what context are you doing this? I always bring my lunch box's and other goodies so when I am on their console I have the extra's to make a nice mix and I collect way better tracks for the live recording as well. 99% of the time I am using an ADAT HD to collect tracks.

    A much more humble setup then a Neve truck rig. My studio building that I bought was an old mechanic's garage which I converted into a studio. I left one of the Bay doors intact for loading gear. If I had your truck I think I would park it in my live room through the bay door were it would double as a control room:) Either that or I'd put a Texas boot on it and sleep in it with a gun!LOL
  15. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Thanks Paul, yup, Crowmobile.com. It's a right angle version to Guy Charbonneax's LE Mobile. I actually had Quincy Jones interested in utilizing my rig but I've never taken it out to LA. I crossed paths with Quincy " Q " when he was the executive producer for the Jesse Jackson show which was produced out of NBC DC where I worked & on that show. He was such a cool guy to talk to. And we also discussed the recordings he did with Michael Jackson along with Bruce Swedien. So that's where some of my inside information comes from and also from meeting and purchasing Bruce's book at the AES some years ago. I know a lot of the Michael Jackson hits were all recorded and produced upon a Harrison console. And you don't see or hear much about those here at Recording.org. I found that Harrison to be somewhat confusing with their peculiar automation system when I was at Media Sound in NYC circa 1979. I never utilized that board there. Although I did utilize their API & Neve's in the other three control rooms there. I was always too intimidated by the Harrison. And I never had to fix that one so I never really got into it. I actually looked at it as a glorified MCI because that's where Dave Harrison also started. But it sure wasn't an MCI, thankfully. MCI's were actually fabulous consoles not worth owning. I never appreciated the sounds those things produced. They always seemed lifeless to me as did the Bee Gees & Eagles recordings sounded to me also. They weren't fat and seemed to lack punch. Oh but their specifications were superior, too bad it didn't translate to better sound. Theory & practice rearing its ugly head again.

    A totally practical engineer
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  16. Paul999

    Paul999 Active Member

    At the risk of totally derailing the thread. I had a look at your site and really like the way you explain how your control room goes through a makeover every five years or so. I totally get that. Plus this is a really interesting business model you have a full live album done in an evening. Very cool. I have not had the opportunity to use a ton of high end recording consoles but when I chose my D&R I immediately felt the increased depth and width it added. I have used a ton of outboard pre's, eq's and compressors from all the names and am really impressed with the D&R eq's and pre's. They are clean, robust and not harsh. The pre's do not have the punch of an API, shadow hills or the like but I often prefer them when I need a softer snare or vocal. I really like how they handle esses on female vocals. The low end extension is pretty darn nice as well. It is a very quiet straight wire board. As a B room type console I am sure it would not have the classy sound of a Neve or an API but with a boat load of outboard the D&R is rocking hard for us. This is how I market the studio. As a great B room. As opposed to the usual local studios with DAW's and a controller in a basement trying to be an A room. People know honesty when they hear it. I like when you guys say you are talented at what you do. It is believable and of monetary value. Kudo's.
  17. chavernac

    chavernac Active Member

    Here is my pointer.
    IMHO, whenever someone says that his vocal track is not sitting in the mix, this means that the vocal is fighting with other instruments. And if it is fighting, this means that you have to push it up (volume) in order to hear it properly .... hence the "not sitting in the mix" since it has to be louder than the rest in order to be heard.
    Try to hi pass it, and pay attention to everything below 300hz. There might be some peaks. Also, try to pan left and right any instruments that would be in the way of the vocal (in the middle).

    In this video, this is exactly what fab does. He eqs the vocal, notching out the "fighting" frequencies: Gearfest 2011: Mixing 2/4 Vocal - PUREMIX
  18. Geozen

    Geozen Active Member

    Reading posts like this really solidifies the feeling that I have a lifetime of knowledge to learn in much less time so I can actually use it lol. Awesome replies though. I hope I can glean some useable knowledge from them for my own use.
  19. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Remy, you always have that subtle approach that really makes a big difference in the big picture. Precisely why I added the LA2A to my vocal chain.

    I've read in past 2006 post of yours you did this, I've never forgotten that. Following up on others that do this, majority are using the LA2A or similar speed settings. I've read many people that say NOT to track with a limiter or compression is because ( correct me if I'm wrong) they are using the wrong compressors and over compressing the vocals. I suppose this is because they aren't getting the fast peaks in conjunction with the LA2A.
    2 or 3 db is where I see this being very effective. Less is more.
  20. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    So very very true, Remy. It's almost scary that you can pull 15 db of gain reduction and suddenly the vocal sounds BETTER! Subtle vocal characteristics that would otherwise be buried become audible.

    I've heard people say to not track with compression. I think it's very good advice for inexperienced users. It's so easy to ruin something via compression if you aren't totally sure what your doing and WHY you're doing it. I hear too many amateurs putting compressors everywhere just because they have them (in plugin form) and someone told them it will make things "sound good", but when it comes right down to it they haven't a clue what they're doing. I must admit to having ruined a few things this way in the early days, guess that's part of the learning experience!


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