Basic Vocal settings / effects advice

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by davidvignola, Oct 25, 2007.

  1. davidvignola

    davidvignola Guest

    Hi gruop. Well I have done a ton of reading on this site about recording vocals and I can't seem to find some basic information I am looking for. Hopefully someone can give me a hand.

    I am not new to recording in my home studio but I am new to recording vocals. I am using Cubase SX3 and Universal Audio plug in effects. I have a vocal iso booth and using a $200 Rhode condensor mic.

    I am trying to recod a female vocalits who sings rock music. Kind of a cross between Joan Jett and Melissa Ethridge.

    I have set up a effects send with compression but not sure what settings to start with. What are the common ratio, attack and release settings?

    From the compressor I go to a plate reverb plug in then to the EQ.

    Does this effect chain sound correct?

    I find that the vocal tracks sounds "dead" not a lot of life. Are there some general EQ settings where I should boost or cut to give the vocal more"life"?

    Any general rules of thumb in regards to effects / EQ settings I can start with?

    Any advice would be appreciated...
  2. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    Jun 23, 2003
    I would start by getting out of the vocal iso booth or looking VERY closely at what is really happening in there.

    Its usually a combination of dead acoustics=inhibited performance and a lifeless vocal track from a person who hasn't spent a lot of time in a booth.

    If there's a larger room, treated or not, give it a go, give her a good mix and see what happens.
    I would put a bit of verb on the headphone mix and if you can't make it work with that, try a different mic before ANY plug in verb or compressor or pre amp simulator.

    Keep experimenting with mic placement and options. With the Rode you should be able to get a decent recording but the pre is important on a vocalist.

    Good Luck

  3. JesterMasque

    JesterMasque Active Member

    Jul 18, 2006
    Itasca, Illinois
    Home Page:
    Hey david, my name is Vince.

    As far as compression goes, the application judges all. Remember that a compressor is nothing more than an automatic fader, usually used to even out the volume dynamics of an envelope. Using this knowledge, the application of compression should go hand in hand with how dynamic you want the vocals to sound. Use a bit of common judgement, especially taking into account the way the she projects her voice.

    As far as the 'dead' sound goes, I have found many times that reverb is not the solution. Yes, a bit of reverb helps, but it also goes a long way. If you add too much to 'liven' it up, you may end up making her sound like she is in a box. Instead, add a 4-8% mix delay. Depending on the tempo/beat, play with the timing, but keep it to 0% feedback so that it only bounces back once.

    For equalizing, if it sounds 'dead' or 'cardboard,' try to subtract some of the low-mid range between 350-600. Use a middle to high Q value to be precise with it so as not to completely cut out the fullness of the human voice. Then, if it starts to disappear in the mix, you will have a little more headroom to add some gain/turn up the fader or try adding a little back in slowly until you get a good balance.

    Of course, there are no rules for recording, so I hope that I was able to give you a solid base to start with.

    Good luck and God bless!
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Sep 26, 2005
    davidvignola, I know you indicated you have a $200 Rode condenser microphone. $200 does not describe the microphone. That's important. They make some mighty fine microphones. Some are small capsule, some are large capsule. Plus, you have a pair of SM58's. Good starting point. Buy more curious as to what you are plugging the microphones into? Improper gain staging can make any vocal sound bad or dead. So this vocalist is a cross between Joan Jett and Melissa Etheridge? So I would assume that she is fairly animated and energetic on microphones? Depending on how loud she rocks out, you might need the pad engaged. Now this has nothing to do with what time of the month it is. But that could affect her voice and performance. But I digress.

    This is what I do when tracking vocals.

    Since much of my Recording is live to 24 track, the vocal microphone has already been established to be an SM58. Wonderful vocal microphone! And quite nice on girls. A dead sound on a vocal microphone can be the result of too much proximity effect. Proximity effect is something that occurs with all types of any directional microphone. It is a bass buildup that becomes more and more exaggerated the closer one gets to the microphone capsule. Sounds great to a vocalist wearing headphones but sounds like mud through the control room or anybody else's speakers. That's why so many microphones have a bass cut filter. It's there for Recording vocals and vocalists. SM58's do not have a bass rolloff filter and because of that, the bass rolloff must occur in the microphone preamp, if so equipped. If not in the microphone preamp, it will be done in mix down. The amount of rolloff varies with every performer and microphone. And using headphones is not the preferred method of monitoring in this case. Monitoring should be accomplished through speakers.

    Microphone preamp's, depending upon manufacturer vary in the way they sound depending on the amount of gain that is dialed in. If the singer is really loud, you'll use less gain but when you use less gain, the microphone preamp can sound more reserved or squeezed. When you dial in more gain, the microphone preamp will have a more open up front sound. But herein lies the dilemma. If you want that more open and aggressive sound, you might want to engage the pad on the preamp. This allows you to raise gain at the expense of raising internal amplification noise. But with the band blaring away, preamp noise is less of a problem. Of course, if you are peaking out your preamp, you'll have no headroom and no dynamics to make the track come alive. It's topped out. Remember, when the little red light keeps coming on, "peak", does not mean it is at its best. That means you are already in trouble and beyond the preamps capabilities.

    Because I'm assuming you have generally a basic set up which means microphone to preamp to analog-to-digital converter and directly to the hard disk drive. This is more than adequate for tracking the vocal. Everything else will be done in mix down.

    So now you are ready to mix.

    I don't use cubase but the same applies to all software. The first thing you will do to the dry microphone track is apply a compressor and/or limiting. If she sings softly and then gets really loud, you'll want compression. If her performance is fairly consistent with only occasional dynamic outbursts, limiting would be more in order. Most software has some type of presets already built in. Attack and release times are already built into the presets which already sound good (hopefully), especially if you don't understand how the attack and release times affect the sound (it affects the sound a lot and slow is better). Vocals rarely require the fastest attack and release times. If anything, you want them to be slower which helps to preserve the integrity of the dynamics because too much control is no good. That's why I drink. So you do this and listen to this before adding anything else. It's the compression and/or limiting that will make the vocals sit right in the mix. Compression settings of 4: 1 and limiting settings of 20: 1 are good starting points. Now it's sitting properly in the mix. It's not? That's because we haven't compensated for the amount of proximity effect on the track. So reducing the bass will be the first thing you do with equalization. You might find, in all likelihood, that no additional equalization will be necessary. If you are using the SM58 for vocals, you might want, notice I said might want, to toss in only a couple extra DB of some high frequencies between eight and 12kHz but certainly not much more than that. A presence boost in the midrange is generally not necessary with an SM58 because that presence boost is built in. On the Rode you might need or want a couple DB between 2 and 5kHz?

    Now to bring a feeling of room and space to the vocal, this is where the reverb program in software will be utilized. We don't want that long cathedral room effect would rather extremely short plate settings provide a sense of room ambience and not reverb. Just like the jester said and I absolutely agree, vocal boobs sound awful. Did I say boobs? I mean booths because boobs sound awful....unless they are connected to somebody, which make no noise.

    And that's really it. Remember, less is more especially when Recording a good vocalist. And keep it simple silly because it doesn't take a lot to make a good vocalist sound good. Unfortunately, you'll never get a mediocre vocalist to sound anything more than mediocre. But it takes nothing more than a mediocre microphone preamp and the mediocre microphone like the SM58.

    Recording rock-and-roll vocalists with SM58's for over 30 years
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  5. davidvignola

    davidvignola Guest

    Thanks Jester & RemyRad

    The rhode is a NT-1 I believe and I do have several SM58's. I do remember getting a better track when using the Sm58 which I thought was odd because I thought the Rhode was more desigend for a vocalist. Please remember that I still am a Newbie at recording vocals so bare with me.... :?

    Anyway, her vocal style is pretty consistant and her voice does not vary in volume too much so maybe the limiter is more suited than just straight compression. Up to now I have been using a 4 to 1 compression and a slow attack and fast release. I have tried drastically adjusting the attack and relaes to see if I could hear a differance, but I really can't. Maybe I am not listening for the right things. Or, maybe the change is so slight I am missing it.

    Let me start with the exact equipment set-up as that may help you see if there is something out of whack!!

    I plug the vocal mic into a Presonus Firepod interface then into Cubase SX. I am not sure if this interface is a "good enough" pre-amp for a vocals. It did cost $500 so I hope it will do the job. However I have read that I should have a pre-amp designed for vocals? I'm confused!!

    Once in Cubase I record the vocal track dry. I give the singer a bit of reverb in her head phones but just for monitoring purposes. What goes to "tape" is totally dry. Then I usually double up the vocal track to give it a larger sound. She does not sing it twice, I just copy and paste the orginal track. I then normally keep both tracks in the center, not panning to the left/right.

    I then was adding compression to both tracks using a 4 to 1 ratio and slow attack and fast release. Then I would add about 2db to the out put gain on the compressor to make up for any volume loss during compression.

    Then I was adding a plate reverb to both tracks. Not too much but just enough so you could hear the effect. Then I roll off 100hz on both tracks but never could adjust the mids and highs to sound good. I am not sure what FEQ are typically adjusted on a vocal track. Maybe that's my problem.

    That's really it. Did I miss anything? Oh yes, I use Mackie HR monitors for mixing not headphones and I mix at a mid volume.

    Once the track is complete I mix it down to a wav file and run the mix into Wave lab studio to master the track.

    Here is a link to our song on my bands myspace page. Maybe if you hear it you can give em some advice. The song will automatallicy play on the page.

    Thank again for all your help

  6. davidvignola

    davidvignola Guest

    Hi Moon,

    I agree with you. A "real" producer / engineering can make a good song sound great with the proper production techniques. I by no means think I am even close to someone like this. I really am just a begininger but I love learning and taking a hands on approach.

    Not to mention we are just a local band that has no dreams of becoming rockstars. We just want to decnet recording of our material and we can't afford to spend hundreds / thousands of dollars going into a real studio.

    SO I realize that out song is not "great" and needs a lot of work but thats why I lookign for good advice and this site has a lot of it
  7. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2005
    Boy, you're fast! I immediately pulled my post after it went up. I thought that it was a bit inappropriate in that it wasn't posted in the "song&mix critique" section, we weren't asked to critique the song. BUT, I DO believe that the "sound" of the vocalist in your band has more to do with the arrangement and performance of the song than any mic or preamp. If the song's meter was "punched up", her phrasing would benefit from it. There are too many elongated vowels, and she can't hold pitch very well on these ( a lot of vocalists can't). If the song was a tad bit faster, the resultant phrasing would be more " rapid-fire rock'n'roll". My $0.02.
    Keep on rocking!
  8. davidvignola

    davidvignola Guest

    not a problem, I don't mid constructive critism at all. It can only help us produce a better sounding recording. We are planning on re-recording that tune in the near future and maybe we will pick up the tempo a bit and see if she can sing it better. Thanks for the advice

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