Pro Audio Files

Recording Vocals 101

Transcript
Hey guys, Matthew Weiss here — weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com, and advancedmixing.com.

I’m going to give you a quick crash course on recording vocals. So, vocal recording is one of those things where it’s not the most complicated thing to record, but you have to get it right, because it’s going to influence the entirety of the record, and can really impact the success of the song.

So, here’s some considerations when tracking vocal. First of all, you have to have the right mic and the right preamp. I can’t really go more in depth than that, but basically, you understand the nature of the microphones that you have at your disposal, and you understand the nature of the vocalist in terms of what their voice is giving.

If you have a very bright vocalist, then maybe you don’t need the brightest mic in the world. If you have a very dark vocalist, maybe you do need something that’s a little bit brighter.

This one is a Lucas CS-4, which is sort of like the low range of a 47 and the high range of a 251. Makes it really, really good for tracking female vocals specifically.

So you know, just knowing what you’re working with is a very important starting point, but then once you’ve got the microphone and the preamp selected, there’s a few other things to bear in mind.

The first one is going to be proximity. The proximity to the microphone is going to change a few things, and it’s going to depend on your polar pattern, so if you are very close to a microphone, it’s going to sound like the vocalist is close to the microphone. It’s just going to have that closeness, because there’s not a lot of air, there’s not a lot of propagation of sound through space.

On top of that, if you are using a cardioid pattern, or if you are using anything narrower than that, you are going to get proximity effect, where you start getting more low end build up.

Now, this can be something that you don’t want, if you happen to have a voice that needs to be really crisp or something like that, but it can also be something that you do want, if you want a voice to have that, like, big, boomy kind of effect going on, or you know, it just needs a little bit more low end support, you can narrow the polar pattern and get more proximity effect from wherever the vocalist happens to be.

Or you could just have the vocalist get closer to the mic. Both of those will work.

However, most of the time, what we want is a reasonable distance from the mic, and a good mic will usually have a fairly wide cardioid pattern when it’s in that mode, and it will also pick up things very effectively, even when you’re at a distance.

I usually like to be about this far, maybe a little bit closer if I’m doing sung vocals. Rap vocals, I think it’s okay to get right up on the mic. It just seems to work for the style. But when you’re asking, “How do I get air into this vocal sound,” and people are talking about top end boosts and things like that, to me, the best way to get air into a vocal is to actually, literally have air in the vocal. A distance between the mic and the vocalist.

Then when you do those top end boosts, you start bringing out the natural bit of space that starts filtering into the mic.

Now, you don’t want a ton of space necessarily, but just a little bit of room tone getting in there and allowing the vocal to breathe and feel open can be really nice, and translate really well.

So here’s a little trick for getting the vocalist to be where you want them to be, because the vocalist is going to get lost in the moment. A pop guard. You can set the pop guard to be further from the mic or closer to the mic, depending on where you want the vocalist to place their face.

And you can just say, “You can get up really close to the pop guard,” and that’s going to get you what you want. Now of course, if you have a vocalist who is very aware of his or her spacing, you might not even need a pop guard. If I’m at this kind of a distance and I can keep myself here and ignore the presence of the microphone, chances are, I’m not going to need a pop guard. My plosives are not really going to trigger the mic, and if you happen to be micing from above and down, you usually don’t need a pop guard at all, because those sounds really diffuse going above.

Now, that brings me to the last consideration here, and that is the vertical plane, which is where you are putting the microphone top to bottom, relative to the singer’s face, and you’re going to get different sounds depending on what you do. You have your actual where it’s located — where the capsule is, and then the angling as well.

So if you happen to be above the vocalist, you are going to catch more of the nose tones. The front of face tones, which is sort of that like, mid-range, 1kHz kind of zone. It’s good for getting a vocalist to really cut, but it’s bad for getting the full range of the vocalist.

Now, if you change the angle a little bit, and set it back sometimes, you can get your, you know, have your cake and eat it too, where you diffuse the plosives, you get that front of face tone very present, but you also capture the lower part of the vocalist’s range.

Now, I tend to mic from below, which is the — sort of the opposite. I don’t usually feel like I need a lot of front of face. When I mix, I usually work in a little bit of 1kHz if I need it, but also, you get a sort of extra bit of treble tone and brightness from the soft palette reflecting down, so I’ll tend to mic from here. You get the chest, you get the front of face, and you get the soft palette, and it all sort of comes together, and there a couple different reasons why I like to mic from below.

When you have the mic, the singer psychologically thinks of that as a target, even though it’s not. So they will look up to the mic if it is above them, and not only does that change the whole point of angling it to get rid of the plosives and things like that, but it can also put strain on the vocalist’s neck, and I don’t know if it’s translating through the laptop, but as soon as I put my neck up and put tension here, I lose a lot of low end of the voice, I lose the body, and I lose the ability to breathe.

So you are effectively choking the singer by getting them to look up. So I tend to not like to do that, and in addition, the lyric sheet tends to be down. It tends to be on a mic stand or something like that, so you know, ideally, you want your singer to be relaxed shoulders, no tension in the neck, no straining. You know, you want their lift to come from their diaphragm. Not from their body and things like that.

So when you have the microphone lower, it allows the singer to naturally get into a relaxed position, not put tension on their system.

So the thing with the tubes, this is a tube mic here, I have it in a vertical position, and the whole idea of tubes heating up the capsule and things like that is totally a myth. You don’t have to worry about that. What you do need to worry about is you’re getting the right sound.

So you’re moving the microphone in these directions, you affect the polar pattern, and you get a sound that should sound pretty mixed. wWhen I track in, I also track in with compression and EQ, and all those things kind of tie it all together, and once I get that sound in there, it sounds to me like a mixed vocal, and that’s ideally what you want to get. Something that sounds like it’s done and ready to go.

I hope you guys learned something. Until next time.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.

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