Audio Tip #6: VOCALS

When recording vocals in your home studio, be sure to try a number of mics if you have the resources. Before the session, ask the singer what their favorite microphone is and get it if you can.

VOCAL MICS: Secret Recording Microphone Techniques Revealed. Every voice has its own character, its own tone, its own body-- and so does every microphone. In an ideal world,we'd all have a deep mic cabinet to dig through to find the perfect mic for the voice we're recording. In reality, many of us only have one or two microphones to choose from...The first thing to consider on your quest for the perfect vocal recording is the microphone. So what should we look for?

After you've decided your budget, its best to consider two things: first, versatility and neutrality. Many large diaphragm condenser microphones are designed to work well in multiple applications. If you choose a large Diaphragm mic, chances are you can use it on more than Just voice, but guitars, pianos, strings, drum overheads, and more. Additionally, such a mic should work well with a wide range of voices. Choosing a neutral mic is important as well. Many high-end microphones will add an authentic character to your vocal recording. However, a budget mic with a neutral sound will give you more flexibility in the mix. Besides,with a neutral mic, you can always sculpt your own character to the vocals with Eq and compression.

While no budget mic could replace a Neumann, you can still achieve stunning results with a good performance and a touch of creativity. Human speech and song produces natural "plosives", or the"puh" sounds that come from speaking the letter P. The best way of keeping plosives out of your recordings is stopping them before they get to the microphone: with a pop filter. Not only does a pop filter protect your microphone from harsh volume levels, but it keeps your recordings pop free. Aside from using a pop filter, there are two uncommon ways of reducing plosive pops in your recordings. First, you can place a pencil between your mic and the vocalist, right in the sweet spot. This will split the windy "puh"sound and catch the rest of the voice. It may not be perfect, but can be a work-around if you find yourself without a pop filter.

Second, you can aim the pickup of your vocal mic sharply downward, on an angle, toward the vocalist's mouth. Any plosives will blow right under the mic pickup, while the rest of the voice will be captured in the microphone's sweet spot. This trick also works on limiting a nasal sound in a voice. Singer have a cold? Try this! The human voice is wildly dynamic. A whisper can turn into a scream, and a soft vocal passage can grow in intensity to a loud reprise. How can we expect a microphone, or even your recorder, to compensate these changes in volume? We can't. We can, however, use a compressor to get a leash on your vocal recordings. Using a compressor, you can squeeze how loud you allow Your vocal to get. Using four different tools, threshold, ratio, attack, and release, you can attenuate your signal into shape. With softer vocals, set the ratio between 4:1And 6:, then pull back on the threshold until you're hearing a difference. Then boost the volume of the signal to the level you desire. With hotter vocals, try a ratio of between 8:1 and 10:1. The turnout: when your vocalist is quiet, the volume remains the same. When your vocalist is loud, the volume remains the same.

Thank fully, the listener will perceive the softness and loudness, but will not struggle to hear the soft parts and cover their ears at the loud spots. Put a delay before your reverb and set it to a 100% short delay with no feedback. Send a vocal line to the delay and then on to the reverb. In the mix, you'll first hear the dry vocal. The delay line then creates a gap before the reverb begins. This makes the room seem bigger, without needing a long (muddy) reverb time. Adjust the delay time to fit your music. On choppy vocals it's cool.

Here's a neat trick to get automatic double tracking. Set a delay line to a short delay, between 5 and 30 milliseconds and hard pan the dry and delayed part for maximum effect. Or, use a pitch shifter set between 2-4 cents and again dry sound goes hard left while the pitch shifted part goes hard right.

A soft knee is a feature that affects the 'slope' of the ratio as it goes over the threshold. The soft knee is a little gentler on audio material as the compression kicks in gradually rather than abruptly as the signal crosses the threshold. It's very subtle and you might not hear any difference at many settings. Leave it on for vocals. Here's something else for the checklist for those of you setting up for a vocal session. Be sure that you have patched a reverb into the monitoring chain. You do not have the signal of the reverb going to the recording input, but only to the monitors and headphones so the vocalist hears their performance with reverb. Most vocalists will give a better performance if they hear some depth on their voices.

Take great care to make your vocalist comfortable. It's their performance that is going to make the song and you want them to feel relaxed and confident. Don't make them practice too long before recording.

Vocalists typically deliver their best in the 1st hour of the session, so don't waste their voice on superfluous stuff.

The human voice evokes our attention like no other sounds. Our ears are acutely sensitive to very tiny inflections in the air around the vocalist. The goal of the microphone is to capture the innermost soul of the vocal. Our ears are conditioned to want to hear a slight treble presence coloration on a typical voice. So accuracy alone is really not the name of the game hear. Its accuracy plus good sounding coloration with high definition presence that is not bright, but warm. Large capsule condenser mics are usually chosen for the task of recording vocals. That being said, on many occasions the dynamics are chosen, especially with vocalists that get loud. Condensers can distort if a loud vocalist gets too close.

Like anything worth doing, getting the best results takes a bit of practice, experimentation and work. Yet the chances of getting a great take are consistently better with a high quality microphone. Yet price and quality do not always match. Moreover, in the area of microphones than any other piece of gear, you can spend a lot of money and get something that you don't like, or spend a modest amount to get something you like a lot. It's all in how you use it.

The mic should be set up prior to the session and the preamp level should be set. If you are using a compressor going in, have that setup too. You might have to tweak that a bit once they arrive but if you have typical generic setting already set up this will be easier.

You have patched a reverb into the monitoring chain. You do not have the signal of the reverb going to the recording input, but only to the monitors and headphones so the vocalist hears their performance with reverb. Most vocalists will give a better performance if they hear some depth on their voices.

If you don't own the best in one gear area, borrow or rent something if you have an important session. My favorite choices for female vocal is an AKG C12, for male vocals it's a Neumann U87. Both of these are tube mics and sound great, but they're also expensive. If you have a few to choose from, don't be afraid to try them all. Time spent up front experimenting is never wasted. The limiter/compressor you use is just as important. Some styles of music call for a compressor with a big footprint. This means that you can hear it working.

Other styles, like Jazz, call for a more transparent sound. Train your ear to hear what compression sounds like in a track. Chances are great that there is more compression on 99% of the vocal tracks you've ever heard. The bottom line is always use the best gear you can.If the singer is unsure of the sound or lacking confidence, record a bit and have them come in and listen on the speakers. If the singer is having problems with pitch, have them take one side of the phones off so they can hear themselves in the room. Never give negative feedback to a vocalist. Don't say "You sounded a little off key there, lets try again." Instead, say, "What did you think of that take? They will probably say, "Oh I thought I was a little off, I want to try it again." Let the vocalist judge their mistakes. It is their voice on the line. You should, however, make sure they know when you hear something you like. "That was great the way you held that note"

Be willing to try different headphones if you have them. Sometimes the singer(s) can hear themselves better on different phones. Don't put reverb in the headphone mix as a singer can usually hear pitch better if the tracks in the headphones are dry. Use a bit of compression going to tape.

It's a good practice to mix your vocal track early. This way you can build around the vocals. Remember that they vocals are the focus of the song. The majority of the vocal range is in the mids, with a bit of warmth below 500 Hz. Cutting the rest of the mix a little bit in this area will help the vocal track sit well. Be careful though, so the track sits in the mix, but isn't way out front. It's also best to fit the instruments around the singer, rather than trying to cut a hole in the instruments to squeeze the vocals in.

When mixing background vocals with a lead, there are a few tips that can help. Try to roll off the low end and the lower midrange of the backing vocals a little, making them less powerful. Also try using more subtle effects, so the background doesn't get too full and crowd out the lead. Rolling off the highs works well sometimes (depending on the sound of the singers). Also, leaving the lead a little dry, and adding some reverb to the backgrounds will make them sound diffuse, and farther from the listener, or behind the lead singer.

Experiment on a vocal track by applying different reverbs or delays panned to the far left and right channels while the vocal is in the Center with the mic modeler and the De tube Plug in on the Vocal . Use a plate verb on one side and a small Hall verb on the other side. Or put different delays with separate delay times panned on the opposite side of the stereo spectrum. Try this on drum tracks as well.Create five Vocals one in the center and two copies on each side or one on each side. pan two vocals at eight and ten on the left and pan two vocals at two and four on the

right or one Vocal at nine and one at three EQ each vocal individually at different frequencies to optimize the size and sonic attributes of the vocal.

You should have a music stand so the singer doesn't have to hold a lyric sheet, and a good headphone mix is vital. Vocals are generally the focus of a song, and a singer is more inspired when monitoring a good mix. Also use a pop filter to kill some of the transients before they even reach the mic, this eliminates the time consuming, and signal degrading process of de-essing (that doesn't always work the way we want it to!) It's also important to keep the singer hydrated. It keeps their vocal cords in good condition and also helps cut down on lip, tongue and mouth noise. It's best to use room temperature water rather than cold. If you'd like to add warmth to the voice, try adding some at the 300Hz to 500Hz ranges. This is mostly below the vocal range, but adds nice resonances. This effect can sometimes be achieved by simply moving the mic closer to the singer. The 1kHz to 3 kHz

One place a large diaphragm condenser seems to shine for vocals is when trying to get a sexy, breathy female voice. This is done by having the performer sing quietly (and breathy) and have the mic fairly close. The track will pick up the warmth of the voice from the proximity effect of having the mic so close. It's important that you don't get the mic too close, it'll get muddy or boomy. You may have to add a little presence to the voice by giving a small boost above 10kHz. This will keep it from sounding too flat.

Using a delay and a pitch shifter can thicken vocals a little bit. Try adding a quick delay, between 5 and 25 milliseconds, than pitch shifting the delayed track a few cents up or down. This just smears the vocal a little, making it sound a little fatter. This will mess with the phase of the signal, however, and may make it so the song is not mono-compatible, so be careful, and check the results in mono. If your song is not going to be released, this is not necessary.

A less common vocal micing technique is the 'loose placement' in front of the mouth. Most microphones cannot be used this way due to the unevenness of the off axis response. However a microphone with smooth off axis response can excel at this placement technique if the recording room is of a certain acoustic merit. The first advantage, if you can learn to use it in your recording, is a natural room tone. The balance between voice and room is set by the distance to the mouth and the placement of the speaker in the room.Exactly how close the mic is to the mouth when using the frontal close placement technique should be set for each speaking person. Listen for the balance of attributes versus disadvantages and move the mic accordingly. The starting point can be about 4" from the mouth directly on axis. You may even angle it by up to 90 to help smooth out the offending sound component. The microphone design must be very clear in it's off axis response for this to work. Have your assistant move the mic in and out from the voice, about 2" to 6" while the speaker is rehearsing and listen for the proximity warmth boost as it balances to consonant brightness. The pop filter should always be employed when close micing the mouth.

The 'loose placement' technique gives natural depth of narration and applies to scenes where the talking head is not "in your face". You should notice that the need to de-ess and filter at low frequencies is reduced. The proximity warmth is replaced by natural room warmth, which is again more rare in today's recording. The recorded natural depth has the power to draw the listener into the recording rather than blow them back in their seats. This adds another trick to your engineering collection.

The pre-amp trim level is the amount of gain applied to the mic signal, and it is calibrated in dB (decbels), typically from 0 to typically 60db All mics differ a bit on how much juice they need. If you have a condenser mic, phantom power needs to be engaged to power the preamp. Dynamic mics don't need phantom power. Most mics will fall between 15-40db of boost. Have your vocalist practice singing and try to get the loud peaks to peg close to 0db. This will give the compressor a healthy level to work with. If you are not using a compressor you will have to lower the trim to ensure the signal never reaches 0db. That is a much lower signal than you might think.

Finding out if your stereo signal is in good shape is an easy matter. A signal out of phase will have an absence of low end, sound very thin or even sound like it's coming from around the side of your head. The best way to troubleshoot this in your studio is to put the console output into mono by either pushing the mono button or simply panning the two channels up the center. Bring the volume of the two mics up at equal levels and then flip one or other of the mics out of phase using the phase button on the console. You should hear a marked change in the sound (for the worse) as you flip the polarity. If your home studio does not have a console with a phase reverse switch, you can wire a cable out of phase and put it somewhere in line with one of the mics. Although a bit cumbersome it is the same thing as pushing a phase button. In reality, the mics can be at any degree of "out-of-phaseness".