Pro Audio Files

Vocal Mixing, Widening, Compression & Getting a Great Vocal Performance

Transcript
Hello, it’s Warren Huart. Hope you’re doing marvelously well.

As ever, please subscribe, hit the notifications bell, and of course, you’ll be notified. Hence, notifications. Alright, we have another thrilling episode of FAQ Friday. Frequently Asked Questions. Say that quickly.

Anyway, these are the questions for the day.

“What would you do with a singer that is not as good as they think they are?”

How do you bring out more of a singer? If a singer thinks that they are — he or she is the world’s greatest singer and they have this amazing range, but they actually don’t, how do we get that out of them?

Well, the number one thing for me in singing, and I’m just going to cut to the chase, the most important thing I’ve ever learned is quite often you need to get them out of themselves. There’s a sort of mystery and kind of bit of BS about recording vocals, where people are like, “You know, I need the singer to be in that emotional place.”

Well, that’s sort of true in as much as if you’re writing the song for the first time, and demoing it, and then you go in there and sing it, you’re going to be in the words. You’re going to be thinking about what you wrote, why you wrote it, you’re going to be thinking about the melody.

But when you’re coming back to a song maybe six months, a year, several years later to sing, or even doing a cover, a song that isn’t your words, there’s other things that come into play. The big one for me is distraction.

Distraction. It’s — take them out of their heads. Take them out of their self obsession, and very often, singers get so serious, they’re in there and they think they’ve got this amazing range, and they’re screeching for these notes, and they’re going as low and as high, and all of this kind of stuff. Of course, it’s not good, because it’s overwrought. It’s like two sort of forced emotions, where the things that speak to us quite often are just honest and vulnerable.

I find John Lennon’s vocals vulnerable. John Lennon was basically adopted. He wasn’t adopted, obviously, but his art brought him up. There’s some vulnerability in his singing, and there’s vulnerability in Neil Young. There’s vulnerability in Joni Mitchell. There’s vulnerability in pretty much any great singer.

So you can bring that out of them by taking them out of their heads. Taking them out of overthinking everything they do.

So it’s a tough one. If you can do that, you can actually create some objectivity. You can make it easier for them to hear themselves, because they’re not all in their mind. When they’re completely in their mind and obsessing about everything, they have lost touch with reality. They have no objectivity. You play something back to them, and they don’t hear it. They just feel the emotions.

So distraction is great. Get in there, make it fun, make it light, move quickly, be focused, don’t do 50 takes of something you already have. Have a lyric sheet. If you’ve got a lyric sheet, write down when you love a take, and make sure you’re not continually redoing the same vocal over and over again.

So it’s all about creating an environment where the artist is able to be — is able to take themselves away from it and listen to it as a whole, and not be caught up in their mind.

“What ratio, attack, and release settings do you use for Pop vocals?”

Okay, so typically I’m at about three to one, and when I’m using hardware, it’s usually a dbx160 or a 165. The VU meter version. Now, there are great emulations of those, and if you’ve got access to either the hardware or the plugin one, I love the way they sound. I was just at Dave Pensado’s yesterday from this filming, and he was mixing a new track, a really great sounding track, and it had a 160 emulation on it, and I was like, “Oh, I love that ‘pah’ sound. That’s really — I love that sound.”

And he’s like, “It’s probably this.” And he opened up the plugin and there it is. There’s something special about the 160 VU. Now, if you don’t have the hardware and you don’t have the software, that’s fine. You just want a gentle amount initially at three to one. I would also run them in series and put a second one, using an 1176 at 20:1 just occasionally catching the peaks.

It might be a little terrifying to you at first to have, you know, series compressors, because if that second one gets hit really hard, it’s a 20:1 reduction. However, that should only be for when the guy or girl is like, “Bwah!” Would it catch that? It should be sitting there barely moving 90% of the time, and then occasionally catch huge peaks, but that is a way that a lot of amazing engineers over the years recorded vocals, with two compressors in series; one at three to one, and one at least 12:1 or usually 20:1, only catching peaks.

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“Is vocal widening different from the vocal thickening trick?”

Vocal widening, vocal thickening. Ah, interesting. I think probably that was a — either A, a typo, or B, a slip of the tongue.

Essentially, the vocal widening and the vocal thickening trick is the same thing to me. Um, what I like about that trick, and as you know, it’s sort of a Pink Floyd, Dave Gilmore kind of vocal thing with the H3000. I learned that from the Pink Floyd guy, and it’s just — and it’s subtle. I don’t use it very loud.

I hear people do mixes of some of the tracks that I provide, and they push it really hard. That’s not the way that I do it. Almost get it to a point, turn it down, turn it down, turn it down, until you lose it, and then turn it up until you just hear it. The first point that you hear it, that’s where it’s going to be absolutely perfect, because what it’s doing — and like, when I say just hear it, I mean like, in solo. Like, barely in at all.

What it will do is it will push the vocal forward, because it’s giving it a bed of slight pitch changing, and it just works really, really well.

Now, a lot of guys I know use it for live as well. The other thing about it is it will kind of make the vocal feel bigger all around. It will give it some width, because it’s sort of adding some detuning, and you know, around it, and it does make the vocal feel wider, but I call it thickening, because to me, it’s like, it just makes the vocal bigger.

But yes, slip of the tongue, I always typically call it thickening, but widening is another way of thinking about it. But I would never do M/S technique or a widening effect on a vocal.

“Any chance you’ll do a giveaway for one of your 1173s?”

Oh, I’ll have to ask BAE market — BAE about that. We’re trying really hard, you know, to take a $1,500, $2,000 compressor, and a $3,500 mic pre, and put them together, and build them and sell them. They’re built in America, and the transformers are built in England, and so you know, it’s quite expensive, relatively expensive component-wise, so — and they’re selling, you know, they’re selling really well, but at the same time, I have to twist his arm to see if we can do a giveaway.

How about coming soon? How about that one, okay? Even if I have to buy one, we’ll do one as a giveaway, even if I have to buy it.

“When mixing vocals, do you compress each track separately, or do you compress the buss?”

Oh, interesting. That’s a really good question. I actually answered that on a video, but I’ll go into it again.

Both. If it’s a gang vocal, you’ve got five, three, four, five, six, whatever. Multiple people in a room. I’ll probably take four or five takes of the gang vocal, and then compress them together in one stereo buss. But, if it’s several different vocalists, or several different vocal parts, I’ll gently compress all of them, and then again compress them in a buss.

The thing when you’ve got like, four or five voices singing together, everybody’s dynamics are different, and you’ll end up with something that’s fairly even sounding. When you’ve got one voice on its own, the dynamics of course are going to be quite drastic, and so you will want to control the compression on the individual channel.

Either way, both of them should go into busses that are compressed as a whole.

As ever, amazing questions. Please, as ever, subscribe, hit the notifications bell, you guessed it, it gives you a notification, and leave a bunch of comments and questions below. I really appreciate all of the wonderful questions, and just this incredible community we have.

Have a marvelous time recording and mixing!

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.

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