Recording Vocals??

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  1. #1

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    Recording Vocals??

    So my brothers band is going into the studio in a months time at studio 6 to record their 2nd EP. I'm going round my brothers tomorrow to help him with the pre-production for his vocal tracks.

    All I was going to bring was my mixer and laptop, mic and XLR lead and a couple of pairs of headphones, should I need anything more?

    Haven't recorded vocals before as of yet, is there anything more I should need to do other than add a bit of compression, reverb and duck the mids in the mix to make room for his vocals?

    Bearing in mind it's just scratch stuff to get ideas down.


    This is their soundcloud by the way should anyway care to check them out:

    ...has embedding soundcloud always been impossible on here by the way lol? Everyone seems to be able to do it but me

  2. #2

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    I mean, HUGE can of worms here. I'd counter that NOTHING in mixing is as simple as "just add X, Y, X, and do W to the rest of the mix."

    I'm going to go with the assumption that, while this is just for scratch track demo work, you DO care how the results come out; if you don't, then don't worry about it, just focus on capturing the melody lines and arrangements and whatnot and worry about getting them to sound great in the studio. But, assuming you want them to come out at least semi-polished....

    While Tracking:
    • "plosives" are a big problem while recording - "p" sounds tend to really "pop" and kind of blow up in the mic. You generally record through a pop filter to eliminate this, which stops the sharp exhalation of air from hitting the mic diaphram and causing it to kind of, well, "pop" in sound. If you have one, great; if not, do a net search and there's a ton of DIY plans to make pop filters out of clothes hangers and panty hose.
    • spend some time experimenting before you track. Are you familiar with "proximity effect"? Basically, most mics that exhibit proximity effect (and most do, other than ribbon mics) get a more pronounced bass and low end as they get closer to the source - say, in the closest two inches. Depending on the source you're recording (it can be awesome for guitar cabs, for instance) this can really help, but yuour vocalist will likely sound different within an inch or so of the mic than they will if they're singing from 4-5" away. Try them both, see what sits better, and look at mic proximity as a source of tone shaping.
    • also experiment with location within the room. More likely than not, if your room has a long axis, you're going to want your singer singing down the length of the room. Try maybe 1/3 of the way from the closest wall, facing down the remaining 2/3. This will help with phase cancellation from reflections in the room. That said, experiment. Sometimes, something "wrong" can sound absolutely awesome and add some cool color.

    While Mixing:
    I'm not gonna try to bullet point this, but in general, think about the problems you're trying to solve. A vocal performance, unless your singer has KILLER mic technique, is likely going to be incredibly dynamically uneven. You can try to fix this with compression, but you might be better off using volume automation pre-compressor. There are also plugins that do this for you - Waves' "Vocal Rider," for one. A pre-FX fader envelope to fix the worst of the problems, then a limiter to take off any extreme peaks, can do a lot to "shape" the vocals into something a little more steady-state.

    After that, philosophically, I've always thought the human voice is the one thing you have to handle with baby mittens while mixing. Very few people have ever been in a room with a guitar amp, or a live drum kit, or a bass guitar, and heard it in isolation in its natural element, if you will. EVERYONE has heard someone sing, and knows what a voice sounds like. If you're going to do anything to fundamentally change a voice, you've gotta be pretty damned sure you're really adding something and it's an effect you can get away with.

    There's a couple different things you can try on compression - you'll almost certainly need to compress, given the fact that the vocals will almost certainly be dynamically uneven even after some automation, and it may help "fatten" up the sound of the voice. I'd try either a soft "opto" style compressor with a relatively low threshold - these tend to sound very transparent - or possibly try parallel compression, having two (identical) tracks of vocals, one with audible compression and one with little to none, and then blend the two to taste, so you get a balance of dynamics and transients but also "sustain" and presence in the mix.

    After that... I mean, it's just like mixing anything else. Listen for EQ conflicts, and adjust the vocals and the other instrumentation to get everything to sit together. You may want some 'verb, but you may not - reverb adds distance and ambience, which you may not want much of in a heavy mix, and you'll be recording in a relatively "live" sounding, untreated room, I suspect, so you may have TOO much ambience. And nothing is as simple as just cutting some midrange from everything else to make something else sit; a high pass used subtly to lop off the low end may help the vocals sit better, but over and above that I wouldn't make any other EQ decisions until you've heard what's working and what's not.

    For now, if you're serious about trying to get a "decent" sounding recording, just spend a lot of time during tracking, and expect to have to do some volume automation and REALLY careful compression. If you're not and just want to get ideas down, then don't overthink it, and maybe just throw an opto compressor on a limiter setting at them in the mix, to get them pretty steady state, simply so they balance more consistently against the instrumentation.
    "They can kill you, but the legalities of eating you are a bit dicier." - David Foster Wallace

  3. #3

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    Drews post is pretty good. I'm gonna nit-pick a couple of things, but he's pretty on the money there.

    My view:


    At the mic:

    - Pop filter.
    - Don't care about the mic (it's a vocalist-mic combination thing anyway)
    - Placement in the room is all about reflection paths. Use absorption, build yourself a tent from some sheets, use distance, whatever. Kill reflections.
    - Be at least a few inches from the mic. Depends on style and quality of room. Distance wise it goes: first 6 inches; proximity effect, then increasing distance after about there puts more of the room in the sound. The room is probably shit, so be careful about keeping the correct distance.
    - Sing at the same distance from the mic all the time, because proximity effect and room inclusion. You don't want to automate EQ on your vocals. You can't remove the room sound. If they're going to be in there, they should be in there in the same amount at all times unless you have a good reason not to (a very quiet section much closer to the mic, for example). Nit-pick with Drew: good live mic technique is all about moving the mic all the time to adjust to the volume you're singing at. Do that later in recording.

    On the input:

    - Get you learned how to gain-stage correctly.
    - Map the song and know what input gains you're going to use for different sections of it, if need be.


    - Do a scratch once through. Use it as a map (see above). Plan punch ins, overlap effects, doubles/triples, pan effects and so on. You do this for two reasons: 1. Many of these things sound awesome. 2: You want to absolutely maximise the vocalists breath control. Line by line is standard, but often words, phrases, or intentionally long sections can be used for stylistic or technique reasons.
    - Set levels such that they can hear themselves clearly.
    - But not too loud. High SLPs distorts your sense of pitch. You'll throw them sharp.
    - Reverb helps with allowing a vocalist to distinguish the sound in their skull from the sound in their ear. This is important. Throw any old reverb on the FX buss while tracking.
    - Don't forget you can probably give yourself different levels or a different mix.
    - If they're in an otherwise good take, don't break the flow for a small mistake. Just mark it up as you go and come back.
    - Make simple timing edits as you go. You can't change vocal chords mid-session. You have to keep up the tempo and burn through tracks faster than their voice. A positive attitude is most important for vocalists, as well, and that is not well served by repetition. Their average take standard will be higher if you let things go faster by cleaning up small mistakes for them.


    - And so open the gates of hell.
    - Here be dragons
    - Not the good kind that come with a hot blonde.


    - High pass. Probably about 100Hz, maybe a bit higher.
    - Volume/dynamics control. You have a coarse and fine tool for this. Automation is the coarse tool, compression is the fine tool. Broadsword Vs Scalpel. Many, many, many people get that the wrong way round, or think they're both a broadsword and smash the shit out of everything with the comp and don't automate at all. The automation gets lines, words and so on in line with each other, compression is to act at the level of plosives, consonants and other smaller excursions in level.
    - The compressions handling of the transients in the vocal sound is part of its sonic texture as well. It's level control and it creates impact (in the attack choice) in non-vowel sounds. No advice on use. Be aware of, and explore the effect for yourself. This also applies to 'clean' or 'transparent' compressors. 'Colour' compressors basically do some eq and distortion work just by working at all, and affect the sound more strongly.
    - All vocals need some reverb. There's a rather large tutorial in itself on that. Fuck about with it. Normally, you're aiming for balanced; the vocal in it's own space, but that space not being fucking miles away from the band.
    - DE-ESS! Fuck sake, the number of recordings I hear where the de-essing is either non-existent or incompetent blows my mind. It's like people don't even notice that there are vocal sounds above 4k. Match ess sounds with the level of the cymbals, by default.

    Things most people do that aren't essential:

    - Saturate a bit.
    - Delay, probably a stereo one (different timings each side, like 32nds/16ths). See; Haas effect.
    - Autotune/pitch correct. Subject to desired style/vocalist competence/vocalist ego/vocalist not knowing about it.
    - nit-pick with Drew: People are actually very, very accustomed to hearing unnatural things in vocal recordings. Most can't pick out a well-done auto tune (though it's one of the things everyone thinks they can hear), or even quite a ham-fisted one, for example. The amount of processing in most modern vocals, especially clean vocals, is insane. You want it to sound larger than life, just not like a synth has learned words.

    Things almost no amateur vocal recordings do:

    WARM UPS. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE OR HALF ARSE THE WARM UPS. GET THEM LEARNED AND DO THEM. (before and at any time you might think you need to during; like changing strings)

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  5. #4

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    Listen to Mark, he's better at this shit than I am.

  6. #5

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    These guys know what they're on about. However, to put it very much more simply, the way I do things (in my totally untreated bedroom) is this:

    Shure SM57 > Pop filter > De-esser > High pass> Compression > Reverb

    I also double-track each vocal line and pan them 25R/25L, but that's just personal preference.

    It's not "pro as fvck" but it is quick, easy and gets the job done - should be all you need for scratch tracks!
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  7. #6

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    I'm not gonna disagree with anyone here about production, what I will say from a bigger picture point of view is don't overdo it if this is just a pre-production demo. Over-stressing stuff like this is the easiest way to get bogged down in technical detail rather than creativity. At this point you're wanting to help consolidate ideas and prepare him for the real deal, but remember this is a still a time where accidents/mistakes can lead to cool new ideas.

    As long as you can get it 'listenable' to the point where it's not going to destroy his confidance, maybe it's better for him to hear how he actually sings without too much sticking plaster? In the long run that will be much more useful to him.

  8. #7

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    You have a point, Andy (to which the counterpoint is the better prepared you are before you step foot in the studio, the easier and cheaper time you will have), but this post is old and this guys problems are long gone

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by MDV View Post
    You have a point, Andy (to which the counterpoint is the better prepared you are before you step foot in the studio, the easier and cheaper time you will have), but this post is old and this guys problems are long gone
    lmao! I still definitely appreciate the feedback anyway as I'll be doing vocals for my solo stuff soon enough and it's good to know what ur doing before u start!

    As for the pre-pro it went really well, just an AKG mic, pop shield, with some light EQ and compression/verb as required. Certainly didn't sound pro as his dynamics are all over the place and I didn't ride the automation (its only pre-pro after all) but the songs came out nothing like they sounded going in we had so many new ideas, they are finishing up in the studio today and from the vids they have sent me its sounding sick so far!

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