Tips For Recording Great Vocals!
We all want our vocals to come out sounding crisp, clear and professional. After all, we’ve taken the time to write our lyrics, practiced and practiced some more! So we don’t want it all to go to waste when we record. Here’s a few tips on how to get that perfect vocal take!
Technical Info For Beginners:
Here’s some technical lessons broken down to get you started.
Set Up Your Mic Correctly:
Make sure you take a few minutes before you start recording to get the mic set up right.
Mixing & Processing Vocals:
Once everything is recorded and you’ve compiled your favorite takes to create the master and cleaned up any unwanted noise and breath effects in the gaps, you can use a variety of processing and mixing effects to touch up the vocals to get the final polished sound.
When it comes to EQ there’s nothing set in stone. Although following the list below will help you start to clean up the sound:
Removing some of the 150-450Hz range will remove some low-mid range boxiness.
Boosting Frequencies around 8 kHz + can add a nice airy tone, and crisp effect to the sound. However, watch out for the ‘S’s and ‘T’s as any brightening will inevitably boost these.
When using EQ, make sure to boost and cut as little as you can get away with. Drastically changing the sound with EQ will give an unnatural sound to the performance.
This is my favourite part of processing vocals. A compressor works in 2 ways. Firstly the main purpose of a compressor is to even out the peaks and dips of volume in the recording. By squeezing the volume of the recording a compressor will make the loudest parts of a recording sound closer in volume to the quiet parts. This gives a smooth, even volume and is kind on your ears.
The second and more important aspect of compression is the musical energy that it gives to a recording. When used correctly, compression adds an immediate pressure and energy to very dynamic recordings that can really bring a vocal take to life.
Listen to a radio DJ and you’ll be able to hear the compression pumping away to keep the volume of the voice on an even level. Radio compression is excessive so as to protect peoples hi-fi speakers so I’m not suggesting you use such drastic settings, but experiment and you’ll soon discover that compression is the most important tool in processing of vocal recordings.
Aiming for about 6-9dB of gain reduction, using a ratio of between 2:1 and 7:1 on the loudest parts in the track should give you a good starting point. Make sure when setting the attack and release time you get an even sounding reduction. It’s important not to get that ‘pumping’ effect. You don’t want to hear the compressor working, you just want the vocals to sound even.
Reverb is really all about personal taste. While some engineers and singers use the smallest amount possible, others will use as much as they can get away with. A plate emulation is usually the common setting used when mixing urban vocals. Plate emulations are good and often serve to settle the vocal into the mix. Try these settings on your vocal sound.
2.3 Seconds Length
High pass Filter
0.24 Seconds Attack Time
2.10 Seconds Decay Time
6 ms Pre-Delay
-44dB Reverb Volume
2.4dB Wet Reverb
To create that thick wall of sound vocal effect that just sounds huge, you’re going to want to double or triple track your vocals. By this we mean record an extra take onto a new audio track and play it alongside the original.
This often smooth’s out any pitch imperfections and adds a ‘chorusing’ type of effect to the voice. The differences in the two different takes combine to make a lush, dense sound that you’ll already be familiar with.
If you decide to double track the vocals. We would recommend doing it for real. Trying to fake a double tracking effect will usually give poor results and make your hard earned vocal recording sound amateur. Although if you must fake the double tracking then follow these tips.
Double Tracking your vocals using pitch variations and not aligning the audio files up perfectly can give great results.
Copying your vocal take to another track, (you can even do this more than once, known as ‘vocal stacking’) and using a plug in such as auto tune, or Melodyne you can introduce slight pitch changes in the copied vocal. Also adding a delay of 50 – 120 ms to the copied vocals can also fake the ‘2nd part’ vocals well.
De-essers can be used either at the mixing stage or recordings stage. If your singer has a particularly sibilant voice you are going to have problems. My advice is to get the singer to back away from the mic so that there is a 10 inch space between the singer and the pop shield. Also ensure that the singer is off-axis (not pointing directly) from the mic diaphragm.
The downside to this is that the recording will loose some of its warmer bottom end and the proximity effect will be gone. The upside is that you’ll be able to record a clean usable vocal with only mild de-essing required at mix stage.
So, what is a De-esser?
A De-esser is a tool that engineers can use to take out the very pronounced and harsh ‘S’ and ‘T’ sounds that some singers can produce. If the problem is really affecting the recording then you will have to use electronic ways of reducing just the sibilant peaks.
Think of a De-Esser as a compressor that only works on the ‘S’ and ‘T’ sounds. Anything in the 3-6 khz range to be specific. With a de-esser, make sure to use light settings when possible, otherwise you may find your singer has a slight lisp to their recording. If your going to use a De-esser, we recommend spending money on one that really pinpoints the correct frequency range so the rest of the recording is left unchanged!
There are many hardware and software signal processors and mastering tools that have De-esser presets but in my experience you’ll need to do some tweaking to hone in on the problem frequencies that need to be compressed. Record the vocal correctly with the right room treatment and you’ll only need very subtle de-essing, if any.
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