HOW TO RECORD A GREAT VOCAL TRACK BACK TO TOP
Wouldn't it suck if you or anyone else belted out that awesome vocal track, only to discover upon playback that there was some issues that screwed it up. Never let that happen!
The lead vocal track needs special attention so it can maintain its visibility and impact throughout the entire song. Because the vocal, in most cases, is the primary focal point of the song. The vocal needs to have and maintain constant space in the mix.
You need to determine what the best sounding signal path is for that specific vocalist:
This is the most time consuming overly repetitious task. But in the end, when you find the right gear and positioning that fits your vocalist. Your pay off will be priceless!
Mic placement is important in getting that great vocal sound:
There are 2 issues to consider.
1. The position of the mic in the room.
You need to find the best part of the room to record in. Not all corners, spaces and walls sound alike. This needs to be done way before the vocalist enters the room/studio by trial and error.
2. The other issue is the position of the mic, to the singer.
There are 2 factors to consider that effect the sound. One is the angle of the mic to the singer and the other is the space between the mic and the singer. Both are very important factors.
The Proximity Effect - The closer the singer is to the mic, the more bass frequencies are enhanced. This can be used as a tool, by having the singer move closer or farther away from the mic, depending on the mood of the vocal passage. The omnidirectional mic is the only mic not to have the proximity effect.
The mic of choice for most singer are a cardioid condenser mic and a good starting point for this mic is about six to eight inches away form the mic capsule. If the voice sounds to thin, then you move the singer up a bit to use the proximity effect. But be very careful. Moving only an inch or so will increase the bass and fullness allot. If the sound is too big, then move the singer back a bit. It's a balancing act.
If you're using an omnidirectional mic or an omnidirectional pattern setting, there will be no proximity effect. Moving the singer back and forth will only create distance and the bass frequencies will not be enhanced as the singer moves toward the mic.
The omni pattern is a good mic to use if the singer cannot stay still and/or is inexperienced in vocal recording. But this mic has its fall backs, since it picks up all directions equally. You need a very quiet room to use this mic and a room that is acoustically treated.
The effects of a condenser mic on axis and off axis with the singers mouth are very important. When a condenser mic is on axis to the singers mouth, the sound is harsher and brighter. When the mic is off axis to the singers mouth, the sound gets a bit warmer and darker. This is due to the sound hitting the mic capsule. The mic capsule captures the singers chest resonance and by changing the axis of the capsule, you change the sound that mic records. An off axis tilt towards the ceiling can help prevent popping and sibilant.
Now that you are aware that the slightest movements and the slightest change of positions can alter and change the sound dramatically. You should make notes on the distance and mic position relative to the singer, in case you need to Punch In.
Be aware of plosives. Plosives are loud and exaggerated sounds that occur with the letters P 's, B's T's and S's that are pronounced. Plosives are caused by a sudden rush of air from the singers mouth that hits the microphone capsule. A pop filter, along with mic techniques helps prevent the occurrence of plosives.
Have you ever wondered why you see Mic's hanging upside down? They do this so they can make room for lyric sheets and music stands.
Things that can ruin a vocal take:
- Jewelry (necklaces, bracelets) can make a lot of noise. If a singer cannot take them off due to some unknown reason, you can wrap a towel around it and put some tape on it. Just as long as it doesn't move.
- Early reflections from a music stand that is to close to the mic. Try to avoid the metal music stands, as they can cause early reflections more than a fold-able music stand. Yes! Cheaper is better when it comes to music stands. Save when you can and this is where you can save some money.
- Avoid wearing shirts with buttons and other things that could be noisy. A nice plain t-shirt is good.
- Always have water close and available for the singer. A dry mouth can cause lip smacking and other noises.
Record in 24bit. This goes for vocals and everything else:
- When recording in 24bit, there is no need to record hot. Recording hot could get you in trouble. One small clip can ruin your vocal take.
Record your vocals between -20dB and -6dB. Those levels are fine for 24bit
- With 16bit, you have 65,536 possible levels
- With 24bit, you have 16,777,216 levels
- So in 24bit, your audio has more room in the digital realm
- You do not have to record as hot in 24bit as you do in 16bit because of the noise floor. In 24bit you can record at a lower level while staying above the noise floor. Meaning you can record at lower levels because of the more headroom 24bit gives you.
Double tracking vocals:
- Over Pronounce your vowels when recording your vocals. This will give your performance more emotion. The consonants should take a non predominant role and let the vowels give shape to your words as you sing.This will lead to a great flow with the music your vocals are mixed in with.
- It will make the vocal part sound fuller and more powerful. This greatly depends on the singers skill on reproducing the exact vocal take that he/she performed before.
- During the 2nd take, you can change the singers distance from the mic. For example, if the singer was 7 inches away form the mic on its first take, then record the second take 14 inches away from the mic.
- You can even try a 3rd pass at it.
Tips for mixing vocal tracks:
- Exciter is a great tool that adds clarity to your vocal.
- EQ - If you used proper mic choice and technique, your vocals may not need any EQ. Except for maybe a high pass filter to cut the lows. Vocals, normally do not use anything below 60Hz to 100Hz. When using EQ on vocal tracks, try not to cut and boost dramatically, A little goes along way, especially if you want it to translate onto different sound systems. To add a bit of clarity to your vocals, try boosting between 4 - 5kHz
- Delay - A simple slap back delay can do wonders to your vocal track when set up in time with 8th note triplets.
Compression tips for vocals:
Inconsistent vocal levels - The settings for compression depends on how consistent the vocal track is. If the vocal track is inconsistent, you will need a fast attack time with a medium release time and a ratio setting of 6:1 to 10:1.
Your threshold is adjusted for gain reduction on the loudest parts only. So most parts will go threw the compressor unaffected. You only want to even out the volume level of the entire vocal track without doing any extreme compression.
Breathy vocal effect - This creates a whispery and highly present vocal. Set the attack time very fast, the release time should be moderate, the ratio should be between 5:1 - 10:1 and the threshold level should be between 7 to 21dB below the peak level. You'll also need to add a bit of reverb to achieve this effect. Note that you will definitely need to use a pop filter with these vocals, as the intense compression will overly exaggerate lip smack, breath sounds and other artifacts.
Smooth vocal effect - This one is easy. Set your ratio between 2:1 and 4:1 with a moderately fast attack time, a slow release time and the threshold set from 2 to 6dB below the highest peak level (like everything, adjust to taste). Since this is a very low compression you may have some high peaks that cannot be tamed. To solve this, run it into a limiter after the compressor with a fast attack and fast release time and set the threshold to limit only those pesky peaks.