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How to Creatively Deal with Comb Filtering on Vocals

Transcript
Weiss here — weiss-sound.com. I just put out a new tutorial called Mixing Home Recordings. You can find that at mixinghomerecordings.com, and the day that it came out, I received a record to mix that was recorded at home, and I wanted to show it to you guys, because I think it can illustrate some of the things that I talk about in more detail in the actual tutorial.

So let me play the vocal for you, and you’ll quickly identify some problems.

[mix, then vocals]

So this vocal recording has a pretty serious case of comb filtering. Comb filtering means that the vocalist recorded in an untreated space, where the sound of her voice reflected in on itself, and caused negative interference, and so we end up getting a signal that’s both thin, but also has too much frequency content in some ways.

So how do we deal with something like this? Well, I like to think of it as a chance to get creative. We can’t get a pristine vocal from this, there’s just no way to do it, so we have to figure out a way that we can work around it.

Now, one easy fix for comb filtering, if the record will allow for it is distortion. So if, for example, this record which is kind of rock-ish will allow, I could do something like grab a harmonic plugin… What’s a good one… Let’s do this one, and put some distortion in the sound.

[mix]

Alright, because it’s sort of a rock-ish track, I could probably get away with going with something in that direction. Or, if I just wanted to do a subtle distortion, I could do a little bit, and that would help too.

[mix]

Just a little bit of distortion can really help, and the reason that is is comb filtering is basically the removal of small bands of frequencies. Distortion is putting harmonic content, or small bands of frequencies into a sound. So, we are helping to fill out the sound with extra harmonics. Basically, it sounds fuller.

Now, let’s say we don’t want to go for that. I didn’t want to go for that, because I felt like that would be a little bit cliché sounding, which I’m not opposed to, but I wanted to see if I could do something more inventive, but maybe I could just balance the signal, and then make it sound like it was a recording of a live PA, like it was being done at a live rock concert.

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Okay, so how do we do this? Well, ultimately, the big goal is going to be to create an ambience that’s believable as a live concert, or something going through a PA system, but before we do that, we have to actually balance the signal. So let me give you the before and the after and give you an idea of what I was doing.

[mix]

Okay, so the basic gist of this is I’m basically doing everything I can to repair the sound. I’m cutting a whole bunch of that extra mid-range, I’m bumping up a ton of low end here, I’ve got like, 11dB pumped into 100Hz, because there’s just no low end into it, and then I’m doing some multiband compression to control the constant shifting of peaks that’s happening.

Then I’m using a pretty aggressive compressor here. This compressor has a lot of tone to it, so like I was talking about with the distortion, if I can put some subtle harmonics into the sound, that will help it fill out, and that’s what this compressor is doing, and then de-essing, basically. So that’s how I’m balancing the signal. Everything would be different, so showing you the EQ settings in detail is not that helpful, I don’t think, but just the idea of trying to create something as balanced as possible with what I’ve got before creating the ambience is sort of what I’m trying to get at.

Okay, so now how do we get a stadium ambience? Well, I like to do it in three parts. Some kind of a slap type of echo, which would imitate the echo that’s coming off the stage or coming off of the immediate boundaries, and then a longer echo that makes things feel like it’s very vast and distant, and then a long reverb that tucks underneath all of it.

So I’ve got my slap here, and I’ve got my eighth note delay here, and it sounds like this.

[mix]

So, I like that, and I like where that’s going, but it doesn’t quite sound believable to me, is just a little bit of reverb that tucks underneath. So here I just have R-Verb. Nothing crazy. Then I’ve got the reverb, and the key here is the time. The time is five seconds. Basically, when you go for that stadium feel, you want a very long decay, and not only is the dry vocal going to it subtly — I’ve got it tucked down minus 20, so it’s not like a ton is going to the reverb, but the echoes, the delays are also going to the reverb, and so you don’t really hear the reverb much, but it feels like it’s in a convincingly large space.

[mix]

So whether we’re going with the distortion thing or the stadium thing, the idea is sort of the same. We’re trying to take a problem and turn it into a creative advantage. Say, “okay, well I can make it sound like this,” and one of the neat things about dealing with home recordings on a regular basis is that it gives us a good amount of practice to just flex our creative muscles and train our creativity, so that even when we’re working with non-problematic recordings, we still have an arsenal of creative ideas that we can bring to the table at any given time.

Alright guys, I hope that you learned something, check out my tutorial, and I’ll catch you next time.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com

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