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Vocals to sound more pro-like

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by Cash, Dec 26, 2004.

  1. Cash

    Cash Guest

    Now, I recently got me a lil home studio (AT3035, MMP-2, EMU1212) for rap music, and I'm wondering what to do to make the vocals sound more professional. Does anyone have suggestions or can give me some tips?
     
  2. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Hi Cash
    I'm assuming you don't want to spend a fortune on acousitc treatments, but there are things you can do to improve your recordings. The first thing you can do is work on mic positioning.

    The AT3035 is cardioid, so sounds arriving at your mic will be different acording to the angle at which they strike the diaphragm. Walk around the mic and you'll hear tonal differences other than variations in volume. These differences also affect the sounds reflected off the ceiling and walls as they strike your mic. This whole thing can get quite complicated, but there are some things you can do to minimise the unwanted influence of your room.

    Try putting the mic as far from walls as possible, but NOT in the centre of the room. A few feet from the centre often works well.

    Another thing is to place a non-reflective surface behind the singer.

    I tend to place my vocal mic pointing downwards slightly, and on a carpeted floor. This way your body is acting as a baffle and the mic also "sees" some of the carpet instead of the rear wall, thus helping to control unwanted reflections bouncing into the most sensitive part of the mic. About 30 degrees is a good angle. If the mic is high up, it's often better to turn it upside down, so its body doesn't come between you and the capsule.

    For rap music you might like to get quite close to the mic, but not to the extent that it sounds boomy. It's also possible not to angle the mic, and have the capsule pointing directly at the mouth. BTW, you should always use a mesh or wire pop filter, especially if you're near the mic.

    The closer you are, the drier the sound, but you can also get exxaggerated S sounds (as well as boominess), but you can change the angle of the mic slightly to rectify this. This dry sound is good for rap music. You might also like to record the vocal several times, and run several of these takes simultaneously -another thing that is great for rap.

    A lot of people might disagree with me on everything I've written above, but I'm only talking about what has worked in my experience.

    Hope you have lots of fun!
    John Stafford
     
  3. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Hi Cash
    I'm assuming you don't want to spend a fortune on acousitc treatments, but there are things you can do to improve your recordings. The first thing you can do is work on mic positioning.

    The AT3035 is cardioid, so sounds arriving at your mic will be different acording to the angle at which they strike the diaphragm. Walk around the mic and you'll hear tonal differences other than variations in volume. These differences also affect the sounds reflected off the ceiling and walls as they strike your mic. This whole thing can get quite complicated, but there are some things you can do to minimise the unwanted influence of your room.

    Try putting the mic as far from walls as possible, but NOT in the centre of the room. A few feet from the centre often works well.

    Another thing is to place a non-reflective surface behind the singer.

    I tend to place my vocal mic pointing downwards slightly, and on a carpeted floor. This way your body is acting as a baffle and the mic also "sees" some of the carpet instead of the rear wall, thus helping to control unwanted reflections bouncing into the most sensitive part of the mic. About 30 degrees is a good angle. If the mic is high up, it's often better to turn it upside down, so its body doesn't come between you and the capsule.

    For rap music you might like to get quite close to the mic, but not to the extent that it sounds boomy. It's also possible not to angle the mic, and have the capsule pointing directly at the mouth. BTW, you should always use a mesh or wire pop filter, especially if you're near the mic.

    The closer you are, the drier the sound, but you can also get exxaggerated S sounds (as well as boominess), but you can change the angle of the mic slightly to rectify this. This dry sound is good for rap music. You might also like to record the vocal several times, and run several of these takes simultaneously -another thing that is great for rap.

    A lot of people might disagree with me on everything I've written above, but I'm only talking about what has worked in my experience.

    Hope you have lots of fun!
    John Stafford
     
  4. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Sorry for the double post :oops: I got an error message and assumed it hadn't gone through.
     
  5. Cash

    Cash Guest

    First off thanks for your reply!

    The angle of the mic .. yeah I've se so many pro's when they're recording and their mics are always looking down a bit and i never figured why that is. So thanks for clearing that up. Is there any difference in putting the mic upsidedown aswell (so that the cable part is above)?
    And I also had a bit of weird reverb in my recordings even tho the room i'm recording in isnt THAT big, so i'll try to put it where you said i should to see if it makes any difference. Are you sure its better to put a non reflective surface BEHIND the singer? I always thought it would be more efficient when its in the front, like in one of the rooms corners (if you dont have a booth). Can you recommend something to put there?

    I use a pop filter, but i dont stand that close to the mic anyways. Could that also be a reason for the reverb, i mean the closer you are the less reverb you get?

    And yeah I record my vocals for the chorus always a few times (one in the center, one panned to the left and the other one panned to the right). As for the verses I just record the end of the lines once again to make the punches 'punch' harder. lol!

    Do you know any good processes to use while mixing to get a clearer sound?

    And the last .. my vocals are so 'near'. i dont know how to explain. its just like they arent as deep in the beat as they should be. like, they're too far above the beat. Why could that be?

    Best.
     
  6. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Hi Cash
    When the mic is mounted high, inverting it so that the cable is above also means the body of the mic can't get between you and the capsule. This can open up the sound a bit. However, because the acoustic interaction between mic, room and singer is so complicated, every aspect of mic placement is going to affect the sound, so with a little experimentation you might be surprised by the results you come up with.

    It's not a good idea to have a reflective surface behind you for several reasons. One is that there will be a delay as the sound bounces off the wall and then enters the mic, the delay giving you phase issues so that some frequencies may be attenuated, while others are boosted. This will give you a coloured sound. Another is that the sound that bounces off the rear wall will be the sound of the back of your head and not your mouth (a bit of an over-simplification!).

    When you use a cardioid mic, it's more sensitive to whats happening behind you, but the other side of the mic still picks up sounds, so it's not a good idea to have a reflective surface in front of you either -it's just not quite so important.

    Corners are especially troublesome, owing the the complexity of the wave interactions. In studios, you often see acoustic treatments in the corners, especially in smaller rooms. This is one of the reasons vocal booths are difficult to design. BTW I hate vocal booths, and a lot of the time they are not necessary. In larger studios, you often see vocalists record in the live area with baffles behind them. This is a great way to record vocals, as the sound is not as dead as from a vocal booth. You mentioned having reverb in spite of the fact that your room isn't that big. In a smaller room you will still get reverb, but it tends to be more troublesome, as early reflections are more likely to cause phase problems, unlike the large diffuse reverb you get in, say, a church.

    You're right about standing closer to the mic decreasing the reverb picked up, or to put it another way, more of the sound going into the mic is the direct sound from your mouth. The AT3035 is a good sounding mic, but you're also fortunate enough to have a low-cut switch, which helps with the proximity effect (the bass boost you get when you're close to a cardioid). It's good to experiment with this.

    It's difficult to talk about processes to get you a clearer sound. Your mic is certainly good enough to give you a clear sound, but experimenting with your room can have a huge effect on what it can do, and it's well worth your while to try this.

    When you talk about your vocals being so near and above the beat I think I know what you mean. If you mess around with EQ, you might be able to rectify this somewhat, and if this works you should experiment with the positioning of the mic so as to get a similar sound without EQ. The less EQ you use the better, but if it helps you might have no choice . Unfortunately decent EQ is very expensive.

    You'll need to do a lot of playing around with your equipment -after three months I've finally found my favourite position for one of my mics!

    It's a lot of work, but great fun!
    John
     
  7. Cash

    Cash Guest

    Hi John,

    aye, I'll try some different positions. I've been messing around with it yesterday abit and yeah, i think i had a bit less reverb since I pointed the mic directly at my body and stood closer to the mic. I'll definitely keep experimenting and hopefully get better sound.

    I see, this reflections thing is very complicated. What kind of surface would you suggest (instead of real studio foam)?

    Yeah I noticed that it picks up less reverb when I stand closer .. but I thought it caused the vocals-above-the-beat problem also, or do I think wrong? I'm not sure bout this.


    I'll try out some more mic positions and some EQing, hope it works out well. 3 months is a rather long time to find the best position, so I think there's many possibilities how to set up the mic.

    Best.
     
  8. Cash

    Cash Guest

    Uppin
     
  9. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Hi Cash
    Some people use a sleeping bag behind the singer. That soaks up a lot of unwanted reflections. I wouldn't overdo it on the dampening though, as you can make the room sound very dead. It's also a good idea to leave some space between an absorber and the wall.

    Be careful when you point the mic downwards in case your voice is striking the mic at too great an angle, which can cause strange things to happen. Experimentation is needed here, as every mic placement is a compromise.

    I record in two unusual rooms at home, and I wanted to try every possible mic position, so I could get to know the room properly. That took me a long time. One piece of advice that might be laughed at by some of the more experienced recordists is to get your setup together and record everything you can in the room including the TV. I found that I learned a lot more from recording crappy sound sources. I think the reason for this is that you have to try so much harder, and you will discover things that will be of great value in the future. The way I see it is that trying to make the best of a bad source is a bit like making a good source sound wonderful, in that you have to really get to know how to get the best out of your equipment.

    When you're experimenting to get a vocal sound that sits in the mix, you can have the mic lower than your mouth and angled upwards, but you will more than likely have problems with ceiling reflections. Some people use foam above the mic to help improve this. One square metre a little overhead is a good idea. In my experience though, the mic angled downwards or straight at your mouth has always worked better.

    The low cut filter on my AT4047 changes the sound of the mic considerably. It becomes less transparent, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. When you're up close is when it becomes more apparent. Moving in and out slightly can have a huge effect on the low end, and you might try this with the low-cut filter switch in both positions. Whatever you do is a compromise between the room sound, proximity effect and sibilance.

    Sometimes I place the mic at the side of the singer, but pointing at the mouth. The results are unpredictable but it is a trick that's worth a try.

    John
     
  10. splurge

    splurge Guest

    Hi

    Lots of good advice from John there, however one other thing you could do is recording your vocals outside. It's great not having to deal with room reflections for a change. This is obviously very dependent on your situation.

    It is also good thing to try setting up your DAW outside to get real sense of what your mix really sounds like when you are mixing down.

    Regards

    Liam
     
  11. Cash

    Cash Guest

    Hi Splurge

    Thanks for your advice, I think so too, would be interesting to see how the vocals would sound like when recorded outside, but however I wouldnt know a decent place for this, because its not very quiet outside here, and i dont really know how to put the cables and all.

    Best.
     
  12. Cash

    Cash Guest

    Hey John,

    sorry, I kind of overlooked this earlier.

    Again alot of info here, thanks again, I'll try to use all advice properly.

    Best.
     
  13. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Hi Liam,

    I see you're also based in Ireland.

    Recording outdoors is great, and I love to do it when I can, especially vocals. Next summer I want to record in a forest, as I love that sound. But yes, openair recording is great to liberate you from less than perfect room -Windmill Lane is a little beyond my budget! It's also a great way to get to know a mic. On Hallowe'en I stuck all of my (small) mic collection out in the back garden to record the fireworks and it was a revelation to hear the differences between each one.

    Are you near Dublin? I've always wanted to record at the HellFire club. It just begs to have drums recorded in it. As most readers will never have heard of it, it's the spooky looking ruin in Sinead O'Connor's video for Troy.

    I'd also love to go down to Tipperary and record in the stone tower near the Devil's Bit.

    Actually those two references make me sound like a Satanist, but it's just coincidence!

    Oh yeah, there's a great open-air reverb at Glendalough, which could be fun -if you can get there before the busloads of tourists!

    John
     
  14. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Cash
    There seems to be a lot of stuff to take in at first, but within a very short time you'll be surprised by the quality of the results you'll be able to get.

    Keep having fun!
    John
     
  15. Randyman...

    Randyman... Well-Known Member

    The room acoustics and mic positioning are obviously a very important part of the equasion, as are the Mic, the Mic Pre, and the Talent. Sounds like you are doing OK for now. I'd also add - the use of compression is a must for the Rap vocal sound (and for any vocal sound IMO). Compression is essentially how you get the vocals where they are always audible in the mix, but won't "poke out" on the loud vocal parts. It is a volume-leveling type process that also affects the quality/envelope of the sound. "In Your Face" so to speak.

    Cash, what are you currently using for vocal compression/dynamics control? This may be what you are "missing" for the professional sound. There are computer Plug-ins, and hardware rack units to do this task, and all will do the same basic process with tons of different results. Sorry if I am under-estimating your audio knowledge, but compression is one of the hardest concepts to get a handle on. Understanding how it works and where to use it is essential IMO (I'm surely still learning!).

    Let us know. :cool:
     
  16. Cash

    Cash Guest

    Hi Randyman

    Well, I really started with this "semi pro" (if you can call that) recording like 3 months ago. So I think you're fairly right about my knowledge, lol. But I know compression is rather important, and I always used it. Since I have the Roland MMP-2 I only use ITS compressor. Don't ask me what settings I use... I just turn it on, turn on the Mic Modeler, the EQ and the Compressor, lol. I might dont have the quality I should have, because of that? :oops:
     
  17. Randyman...

    Randyman... Well-Known Member

    I'm certainly not a "pro", but I do have an obsession with audio engineering.

    I personally never use my Roland's Mic Modelling (I have a VS-2480HD in addition to a PC based Nuendo setup). I find it does more harm than good, but it can be useful in certain situations. You can use the Roland's EQ and Compression, but just keep in mind whatever you do to the signal before it gets recorded onto your PC can not be "un-done" if you don't like it.

    Most would likely recommend that you record your vocals "dry", without EQ or Compression from the Roland. This way, you are free to add all the EQ and compression you want after the track is recorded (from the PC's software). This gives you more freedom to experiment, and you can easily remove any unwanted effects and over-processing in this case.

    What software do you record with? I'm really only familiar with Nuendo, but all programs should have a few included Compressors and EQ's, in addition to loads of aftermarket "plug-ins" for more specific processing needs. You can simply add these "plug-ins" after you record the track to have tons of control over your sound.

    One thing I suffered with when I was starting was overuse of High Frequency EQ (the "Smile EQ"), and improper use of compression. Just remember less is usually more, and your use (or misuse) of compression is what can give you your own "sound".

    :cool:
     
  18. Cash

    Cash Guest

    Hey Randyman

    Yeah I know what you mean. Less is more, I noticed that like 2 weeks ago when I was mixing a track for like 2 hours non stop, I thought it would sound good, but it didnt. I overdone the process, lol. Like I used almost the same EQ, more than one time. Then a day later it sounded like crap to me. But now I think I'm cool, I just use real little EQ of the preamp, real little compression and the Mic modeler (since it gives me DEFINITELY a clearer sound). After that I might use the software's effects also, but if, then only a lil as well.

    Best.
     
  19. splurge

    splurge Guest

    Hi John,

    I'm a few miles outside Cork City, although I'm originally from Carlow Town.

    The joys of recording outdoors.
    Where I live is quite near an estuary where there are thousands of birds nesting ( crows, rooks, starlings etc ). Every morning at dawn they all fly over my estate making a hell of a racket. This coupled with the dawn chorus would make quite a recording.
    I've been intending to record it for quite a while now but it's hard to be orginised at that time of the morning. I will get around to it though.

    Do Windmill Lane ever do any kind of downtime deals ? Could be worth asking ? I may be talking through my hat here.

    Regards

    Liam

    PS. Cash, not trying to hijack your thread here, Honest.
     
  20. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Hi Liam
    That sounds wonderful! I'd love to get into recording sounds like that. Unfortunately for me, I live in the suburbs of Dublin, so I don't get anything quite so glorious in the morning.

    I don't know if Windmill Lane do downtime deals, but I think Westland is quite accommodating. You need to do a bit of sweet-talking though! I managed to get in there to do a solo piano recording a few years back. I think it was around £30 and hour. If I wanted to use their 24-track equipment, they would have charged a lot more. If I remember correctly, we just used DAT, but we did get to use their SSL desk!

    John

    Cash,
    how are things going? When I spend a long time on a mix, it always sounds great -until I hear it the next day and I can't believe how bad it sounds! I think the ears begin to play tricks after sitting for hours listening to the same thing over and over again!
     

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