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tips for recording vocals?

Member for

16 years 6 months
hey, can somebody give me some tips for recording vocals. We're recording into a firebox so the quality is much better than anything I've ever used so I'm a bit overwhelmed. Our vocal recordings are too raw sounding and I was wondering if there is anything I can do to maybe dampen them a bit. We're using cubase LE due to our budget (or lack there of) and we're not trying to achieve professional quality, more like demo quality. Any ideas like cubase plug ins or anything else would be appreciated.



Member for

15 years 11 months

RemyRAD Fri, 08/29/2008 - 01:34
Thick vocals are more apt to happen with SM58's instead of somebody's condenser microphone. It's a great sounding vocal microphone and great to record.

This message brought to buy.... SM58's. The ability to cause severe head trauma and still being able to record a guitar.
Ms. Remy Ann David

Member for

13 years 3 months

hackenslash Fri, 08/29/2008 - 03:40
Space wrote: Only thing I didn't understand was shufty.

I'm getting some mixed definitions over here @ exit 4!

'Shufty' is Northern English vernacular for 'look', as in look at it, or give it an inspection.

RemyRAD wrote: Thick vocals are more apt to happen with SM58's instead of somebody's condenser microphone. It's a great sounding vocal microphone and great to record.

This message brought to buy.... SM58's. The ability to cause severe head trauma and still being able to record a guitar.
Ms. Remy Ann David

Absolutely. I don't have a massive collection of mics, and none of them are spectacular, but the 58 is my go to for quite a lot of things. The best workhorse mic ever. It was always, I think, lucky for me that I came to recording from the live performance side of things. I'm a bit of a rock singer, and always had a few 58s in my rig.

I had a rapper in a few weeks ago. I hada listen to him for a minute and reached for my trusty 58, removing the C3000 (a great little trucking condensor, IMO) from the main stand. 'Hey,' said the guy, 'I want the cool mic!'

'Do you want to look cool now for 5 minutes,' I replied, 'or sound cool every time you put your CD on.'

We went with the 58.

Member for

21 years

Member Tue, 08/26/2008 - 22:33
hey man, i use Cubase LE aswell, it came with my lexicon omega... i have cheap stuff to for now... upgrading rightn ow tho... literally... lol... putting 4g into it instead of 300...

ANYWAYS.... whats helped my vocal tracks ... is probably pretty standard techniques...

first off... compression is HUGE .... and cubase LE has a "compression" setting, that works pretty well actually....

go to dynamics and its listed there....

secondly reverb is pretty useful aswell.... you dont want a lot... i'd say around 10-15% and have it last about 1/4th of the meter that is provided... at taht level, for me, i have learned is enough to make it sit in the mix better... but you cant really hear a BUNCH of reverb on it.

another is EQing.... cubase LE has a pretty lame EQ... but it will still help... so fiddle around with it.

just for a cool effect... try this... go under the double delay setting.... and find "Ghost Tales" and drop it down to about 15%.... it adds a very cool sound and hypes up the emotion.

Member for

13 years 3 months

hackenslash Wed, 08/27/2008 - 09:09
Another pretty cool trick is to put the reverb on a send, and to put some radical stereo expansion on the reverb channel.

Most important for vocal recordings, though (IMHO), is mic technique. Getting the your mic technique right will have the most radical difference to your vocal recordings of any other factor, including what hardware you use. If you get this right, you canb make pretty stellar vocal recordings even using crappy USB microphones.

The worst offender is singing directly into the mic, which heightens plosives and sibilance. Also, proximity effect is a big issue on a lot of vocal recordings I've heard in the last few years, as this equipment has become more widely available. Get these little things sorted out and you will take your recordings to the next level.

Angle the mic diaphragm down from about eye level to point at the space in front of the mouth, rather than directly at the mouth, from about 12-18 inches away. If your vocalist is particularly good, he/she will be able to manipulate their own level by backing off for the higher, more powerful passages and coming in for quieter passages.

Have a shufty at the Recording Engineer's Handbook, by Bobby Owsinski, for more info on mics and technique.

Member for

21 years

Member Wed, 08/27/2008 - 09:35
in case you didn't know what the person above meant by proximity effect, he just means the closer you get to the microphone the louder bass frequencies will be represented. this is good to know. it can be difficult at times to understand all these things, just read a lot and be patient, you'll get there.

as far as compression goes. this can be huge... but it's not like turn on the effect and your good to go. read up on this, and know the parameters of your software effect plugins. generally (on vocals) i like to stay light with the compression, maybe -3 to -6 on the GR (gain reduction) and about 4:1 / 6:1 on the compression ratio; this just means for every 4 (whatever you set it at) volume units being represented past set threshold, it will be pushed down to 1. this is tough to hear at first, but keep at it. if you think it needs more, there is always parallel compression, which - at its simplest form - is creating a bus of the track, adding a little heavier compression and mixing it in with the original track.

yeah, reverb is powerful... try out as many different settings as possible, and try not to over do it.

my favorite thing to do with vocals and/or a lot of instruments is doubling the track. there's various plugins and/or methods you can use, but i like to go the old fashion way. create a clone (or bus) of the original vocal track. most programs (not sure about cubase) has a sample delay or "nudge" function. you can apply the delay (or nudge) to offset the cloned track by anywhere from 5 to 15 ms (i use 10ms). from here you can apply various effects to the original or cloned track separately or whatever... then, what i like to do now is space the two tracks apart in stereo (maybe about 15% L / 15% R) and your vocals will have a big sound that sets nicely in the mix (especially for choruses) kinda confusing, but it helps out a lot.

another thing that might go unsaid is recording in 24 bit. check your settings to ensure you are doing so. this is huge in terms of quality.

Member for

21 years

Member Wed, 08/27/2008 - 10:49
eatmyshoes wrote: can apply the delay (or nudge) to offset the cloned track by anywhere from 5 to 15 ms (i use 10ms). ... space the two tracks apart in stereo (maybe about 15% L / 15% R)

A lot of good advice, but one thing you should keep in mind if you do the delay and pan trick is that:
1. You mix will not be mono compatible. (The tone of the voice will sound different in mono than in stereo)
2. A comb filter will be applied to the vocals.

1/10ms = 100Hz, so everything at 100, 200, 300 etc Hz will be twice as loud, and everything at 50, 150, 250Hz etc will be cut or combed out. If the delay is modulated with an LFO you have an effect that sounds like tape flanging. Personally, I would not recommend this, but hey, whatever works.

Another effect you could try is tape saturation, soft clipping, or harmonic excitation. These will all add a little distortion to the vocal, so it is easy to over do it and make it sound unnatural. A little bit can be just the ticket in many genres.

Member for

13 years 3 months

hackenslash Wed, 08/27/2008 - 11:23
Posted this on another forum a while back. Since I went to the effort of typing it, I may as well post it here again, as compression is one of the most used and least understood audio tools we have.

Compression is a way to reduce the dynamic range of a wave. If, for instance, you are having some difficulty getting a vocal to sit in the mix properly because there are parts that are a bit too quiet and other parts that are a bit too loud, you would use compression to reduce the difference between the quietest and loudest parts of the signal. In the olden days of 16 bit recording when it was important to get a hot signal, compression was a useful tool to ensure that you could do so without clipping. This was also true in the stone age when we used magnetic tape (look that up, you will be astounded), and in fact the magnetic tape itself was used as a form of compression (some really archaic studios even use this these days). Anyhoo, I digress. The idea of compression is largely that it pushes the transient peaks down towards the RMS (average, although this is a bit misleading. RMS is a way of calculating the mean of a waveform over time, loosely speaking), thereby reducing the difference between peak level and RMS level. A compressor generally includes a make-up gain control so that you can push the peak level back up, bringing the average level (loudness) back up with it.

This is all very well, but far too often it's apparent that peeps don't understand or hear the effects of compression, and drive it too hard, resulting in overcompression, characterised by pumping in the audio. HERE is a truly great example of overcompression. Note the constant pumping in the sound. Not good.

I suspect that what you're really asking is how you should apply it in real terms. This is a question that only you can answer, as it is in many ways an artistic decision. The only time it falls outside the artistic is in cases like the above, in which the producer obviously has no clue about its effects. That anyone could ever think that sounds acceptable is totally beyond me.

Now then! In some forms of music, that pumping can be acceptable in artistic terms, particularly in dance music, where the pumping can actually aid the piece in its energy. I, for one, have never found it pleasant, though, even in that context.

The key to any kind of dynamics processing, AFAIC, is to be subtle. There are members here who would, no doubt, disagree with me. What do I know, after all. I'm just a cheesy rocker. However, in my professional life, I deal with all kinds of music, mostly jazz, reggae and blues, where such things are apparent and unacceptable.

Compression can be used to great effect in taming dynamic range for any part that is proving to be recalcitrant during mixing, but you should be careful to exercise caution and not overdo it.

Some techie stuff.

1) Threshold: This is important, as it defines at what level compression should be applied. Any signal above the threshold will be squashed according to the ratio defined. Setting this too low will lead to pumping

2) Ratio: This defines how hard the compressor should work. This is a bit more difficult to explain in my drunken state, but it works like any other ratio. If your compression ratio is, for example, 2:1, any signal that is 2db over the given threshold will be reduced to 1db over the threshold, giving a gain reduction of 1db.

3) Knee: This is the rate at which the compressor works as it reaches and crosses the threshold. A soft knee will bring the compression in gradually, while a hard knee will bring it in more aggressively as you move up the amplitude range.

4) Attack: This determines how quickly the compressor activates. This is quite important, as this is the factor that most affects transients. Setting a fast attack means that the attack peaks of your audio events will be more affected. Transients are the peaks that make your music breathe, so you need to pay careful attention here. With a very fast attack, the attack phase of your events will be pushed down toward the average level, or RMS, meaning that, although the dynamics will be tamed, the events will be less lively, resulting in dulling of events and loss of transients. Did I already mention that those are the important bits? I think I did...

5) Release: this is fairly self-explanatory. This determines the time between the compressor meeting the last audio event that breaches the threshold and the compressor shutting off.

6) Make up gain: This calculation should be based on your threshold and ratio settings and, more importantly, your ears. For example, if you set your threshold at -10db with a ratio of 2:1 and your level before compression is - 6db, resulting in a 4db gain reduction, you should add 4db of make up gain to bring the peak level of the signal back up to the level it was before you applied compression.

7) train and then trust your ears. They are the most valuable piece of kit in your studio, and can't be vetoed by any piece of kit, or meter.

This is a guide only, and subject to dispute by such audio gods as are to be found in these parts. I would be happy to receive any corrections/clarification as these peeps can give me, but this should about cover it.