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vintage sounding vocal - tips'n'tricks?

hey gang, i'm going to be working with a band soon, and i think a very old fashioned vocal sound would work killer on them (it's dark yet poppy trip-hop). i've been racking my brains for how to achieve this...major proximity effect, then eq it to get trebly pops... plug-ins (but that's too easy and not any fun) through weird stuff...hitting vinyl...but how do really old records get that distortion with EVERY plosive and EVERY bit of sibilance? can anyone suggest something here?




Pro Audio Guest Thu, 05/11/2006 - 03:09

I was listening to Aretha Franklin the day and she distorts when she goes loud on individual words or as you say plosives, sibilance etc.

So its got to be something in the signal chain, from the mic to the mastering. I was wondering about a limiter on the vocals, as i know this was common in the 60's (Fairchild).

Good question. Hopefully one of the older cats will pitch in, in a sec. Have you tried gearslutz too?

JoeH Thu, 05/11/2006 - 09:37
It's cool you wanna go for that sound. More people should. Exactly what it is and how you achieve it can be a lot of things.

As for the Aretha sound, it probably was a variety of factors. Worse case scenario, she was much louder than they had been dealing with, and they just goofed with the preamp setting. (Although, I'm guessing if you went back to the original master, it's probably cleaner than the vinyl or first CD release. Generally that distortion crept in during the mastering phase.)

You may be interested to know that mastering to a 45 back back in those days was more guesswork and "art" than science, and unless it was "Serious" Music (classical or Jazz or Lawrence Welk or whatever), not every project got the attention (or experienced engineers) it deserved. I can't recall now, but I think Artetha and many others were on Atlantic which was a great label, but like everyone else, the mastering determined what the public heard.

Just imagine; there was a Top 100 across the USA on AM radio (with a separate industry in the UK, not to mention around the world). Every week there would be dozens of new competitors - all on 45's - competiting for airplay and the public's attention. It was a wild, wonderful time, and you could really hear just about any imagineable scenario on a record: From really good, clean stuff to horribly mangled sound, depending on the label and its mastering house.

45's were always cut LOUD to begin with - not unlike our CD volume wars of today, radio stations, bands and their managers wanted 45's to jump out of the jukebox or AM radio speakers. You can imagine the problems this could create if you took an ALREADY killer vocalist like Aretha and pumped the crap out of the track to begin with. Where are you gonna go with her vocal on top of THAT!?!?

So, a lot of what you hear as wonderful crunch and compression was not some careful artistic, planned out event. More than likely, it was the result of a variety of factors - most of them accidental at worst, and inexperience at best. You had the limitatons of tape itself, the tube (and then "bad" transistor sound in the 70s), the mindset of an aging, entrenched recording industry: "It's just for kids; who cares, and who will hear the difference anyway? (which wasn't all that bizarre considering the playback gear everyone had at the time).

Combine that with the only delivery medium at the time (Which has its OWN set of inherent limitations) good old vinyl. 33s could be cut to sound pretty good, if you knew your stuff (and many rookie rock n roll mastering houses did NOT), and 45s could (beileve it or not), sound FANTASTIC if one is careful about it. (Some did, and there are, admittedly, some GREAT 45's out there.) Most mastering for 45's, however, just did horrible, ridiculous things to the music to make those jukeboxes roar, or to pop out of the AM radio airwaves.

I realize this all makes perfect sense to me (having lived through it, and always wondering how/why things worked or why they sounded the way they did), but to anyone who's grown up in the all-digital world, this is Stone Age talk.

That may not answer your original question, so let me know you want more clarification or more examples. I'll try to remember what I can before MY memory tapes are unplayable. :twisted: (I figure I've got 30-35 years of "shelf life" left!)

Davedog Thu, 05/11/2006 - 16:17
Yep...those were the days. How can you get that sound now? You cant.

Its really quite simple . Joe alluded to it when he explained the vague approaches prevalent at the time in regards to the engineering and production ALLOWED by the major labels at that time. This all changed rather quickly when the money flowed in like a fine wine.....

Back on track.....The room had SO much to do with the sound ...The gear...Ya wanna spend a quick 30K on a used piece? Try finding a Fairchild limiter. They didnt necessarily use one on those tracks...the British did, but they were found more often in the studios across the pond...How about the mic? U47, RCA 77, RCA 44, most likely one of these. There are mics now that approximate these and do it as well as, if not better, than the originals....Still, you're not going to get that sound. You'd have get down to the last detail, all of the factors associated with studios of that era and THEN you'd have to have some brilliant arranger/producer and an artist who can really really blow...

Like I aint gonna happen.

Go for something that sits in your mind. Something that complements and supports the whole of the music. If its intimacy youre looking for then there are techniques for getting that...If its that dark, brooding ,yet clear sound, theres gear that'll do that...Find something original. You certainly wont find it on a recording forum....Ya gotta be DOING to find it.

Pro Audio Guest Thu, 05/11/2006 - 16:59
thanks for the replies so far! it's not really the aretha sound i'm going for - although i may well want to in the future! the singer is a guy who sings relatively quietly, so in this case i'm after a kind of creepy lo-fi thing - i suppose i want it to sound like it's coming from a 78 being played on an early 1950s radio show by the ghost of a sideshow alley freak who's killed the dj. it's a bit lynch...but yeah...i think it'll work for them. i'm trying to think of bands to compare them to, but all i can come up with is portishead but darker and poppier, with beatlesque harmonies.

Thomas W. Bethel Sat, 05/13/2006 - 07:03
therecordingart wrote: Ribbons, tubes, and tape.
:wink: :wink: :wink: :wink:

Yep that is one sure way to get what you are looking for.

There is no plugin or piece of equipment that can do what you are looking for. Some of it was just the medium, some was the skill of the engineer when he did not have a lot of resources (no SSL consoles, no mega bucks preamps, no PTs for pitch correction or tightening up the beats) he probably had a tube audio console, going into a tube tape recorder or maybe directly to the record cutting lathe if this is the 78 era (that was also all tube) and he had no compressor and probably no eq on the console or if there was some it was brobably a Baxandall Eq with very wide "tone control" type of equalization.

I am with Davedog and Joe H. Lets hear what equipment you have to use and maybe something will come to mind.

Pro Audio Guest Sun, 05/14/2006 - 23:35
well i was thinking i might use the old electro voice mic this guy used to sing on his demos cos he holds it and sorta dances a little while he sings. not only does the mic really work for him but the vibe is way cooler on the takes where he's bouncing around a bit. for the pre i've used a v72 in the past which sounded pretty killer, but i don't have one myself. i do have a revolution REDD.47 though, so i think i'll go with that. converters might have to be stock 002 :cry:. this is basically what i have:

pair of dpa 4006
rode classic 2
sm57, 57beta, 58
sen md421
REDD.47 pre
dbx 386 (that i might borrow from a friend)
002r running tools on a dual 2ghz g5
atc scm50asl monitors

i'm still building up my collection, so there's obviously plenty of holes currently, but there's no use not working with what i have in the mean time. oh and the rooms a decent size (roughly 30' x 12' x 12') and i'm working on the acoustic treatment at the moment. there's a vocal booth in there as well.

Davedog Mon, 05/15/2006 - 15:33
All-righty then....REDD47 and a an 1176 comp. Dont need to really 'use' it ...maybe set it for big peaks...but get it in the circuit.

Now we're talking some serious noise.

AND you've got monitors to hear it with

This should get ya breathy,in-yer-face, truly dynamic vocals.

saemskin Mon, 05/15/2006 - 16:12
I have a question relevant to this thread that can be answered.

The song by The misfits when Glen Danzig was the singer titled 'American Nightmare' has what sounds to me like a slapback echo on the vocals. This reminds me of some of Elvis' vocals.

I think it sounds kind of neat. What do you all suppose was the source of this dynamic?

JWL Tue, 05/16/2006 - 10:58
If you want to get your feet wet with a ribbon microphone, I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend the [=""]Shinybox 23[/]="http://www.shinybox…"]Shinybox 23[/] mic. It is basically the same as the cheap Nady's that are out now, but it comes with a really nice case, as well as options for transformer upgrades.

These Chinese ribbons come with WAY too much windscreening on the inside, to protect the delicate ribbon. It works, but degrades the sound. You can [[url=http://="…"]remove much of it safely[/]="…"]remove much of it safely[/], and it really opens up the sound even more.

It's a great way to get your feet wet with a ribbon without the expense of a Coles, RCA, or Royer.

took-the-red-pill Fri, 05/19/2006 - 23:32
This might sound nutty, but why not score an old 4 track. Run one of your 57's into a tube amp onto the cassette. Then run everything a hair hot, so it sounds like you 'oopsed' it in the end. Maybe the 421 would sound cool in that combination too. Then you dump the tape into the digital world to edit. You might just end up with something that fits.

It ain't ribbons, tubes and tape, but hey, two out of three ain't bad...and it's lo tech, which is never a bad thing.


took-the-red-pill Tue, 05/23/2006 - 00:09
Sidney huh?

I need to know the answer to the burning question on everyone's mind: Do the tape decks really spin the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere? :lol:

Anyway, wow, even an old used 4 track is impossible to find? That sucks dude. Occasionally north of the 49th parallel here we can't get ALL the yankee stuff, but most of it usually squeaks across the border at some point.

Anyway, good luck on your quest.