My friend, Kirk, made a topic request. Just like a musician likes it when someone in the audience requests a song, a writer likes it when someone requests a topic. He asked about recording and mixing vocals. Here are some thoughts:
First of all, when recording vocals, it's important to remember one thing that's really true of all recording: It's much easier to do a great recording of something great.
Let me clarify: I'm not a great singer. I am a better singer than I used to be, but I'm not great. All the tricks in the studio can help me sound like an even better singer than I am, but they won't make me sound great. They can compensate for this or that weakness in my voice, but they won't make me sound great. To truly sound great in the studio, you have to BE a great singer.
And, trust me, in the LDS music world, there are some GREAT singers!
Now, having said that, keep in mind that there are a lot of very famous, very rich vocalists, who are NOT great singers. They are rich and famous for other things, like being great songwriters or entertainers. Bruce Springsteen comes to mind when I think of these artists, as does Bob Dylan.
Still, there are a lot of things you can do in the studio that will enhance the final result.
First of all, get a decent mic. A large diaphragm condenser mic will capture the high-end "air" of a vocal much better than a hand-held dynamic mic with a foam ball on the end of it. Those are used on stage because they are very durable and can stand up to a beating, not because they're the best sounding vocal mics. The fact that they are LESS sensitive (especially in the high frequency ranges) actually makes them BETTER suited for the stage, where feedback is a bigger problem.
So, if you can, get a decent mic. They're not very expensive these days.
Second, get a mesh "pop" screen, because you're going to be singing into this mic "up close and personal", with your nose two to three inches away from the mic. If you don't, every time you sing a "P" or a "B" (called "plosives"), you'll sound like a beat-boxer. If you can't get a pop screen, make one by stretching some panty hose material over a coat-hanger wire.
Second, adjust your input gain to a decent level, so you're getting a good strong signal. Watch that, because you warm up, and start getting into the song, you will often start singing stronger and a bit louder.
Third, set up your compression. Few singers, even the best, can keep their sound levels even. It's not in the nature of speaking or singing. Set up your compression lightly, not heavy. Set it so that you're only gently shaving off the top of the peaks, reducing the overall gain at the loudest parts by a few dB. Too much compression will change the sound, and you'll be able to hear it.
Fourth, sometimes I'll add a little high-end tweak in the EQ as I'm recording. Don't mess with the recording, in-bound, EQ too much, because once you've recorded it, it's set. It's much easier to make changes like that in the mix.
Finally, make sure that you can hear a good blend of your backing tracks and your voice in your headphones. For me, hearing my voice strong, with just a little reverb for sweetening will make me more confident in my voice and I'll sing stronger and better. Remember not to RECORD the reverb, though, just have it in the headphones. You'll want to adjust and lock in the reverb and other effects in the mix.
Now, you're ready to sing.
Before all else (because this is an article on making LDS music), I try to remember to say a prayer before I sing. Remember: 2 Ne. 32: 9
Sing the song all the way through a couple of times. You can do this just monitoring, or you can actually record. You'll probably not keep these tracks anyway. They're just for warmups. I usually record them, because, hey, you never know... You might get something great before your voice gets tired. It doesn't usually happen.
At this point there are a couple of ways you can go through the song and get the best possible performance. They each have advantages and disadvantages.
One approach is to sing the song line by line, using "punch-in" and "punch-out" recording to fix one line at a time, until you get it right. You sing it, listen to it, and then redo it if you need to. The advantage to this method is getting immediate feedback on how it sounds. If it needs fixing, you do it immediately. The main disadvantage is that it can be tough to maintain emotional energy over and over again, one line at a time. This method is easier when you have a vocal producer coaching you through the song, telling you when you need to go back and redo a line.
Another approach to this method is that you can fatten up your sound by "doubling" the track. You set up two tracks and you sing the same line twice. Almost all pop stars do this these days. The trick is to match exactly what you sang before, in both pitch and timing. This is easier to do if you're singing the song line by line.
The approach I use is a little easier when you're recording alone, which I do most of the time. Before recording, I set up ten or so empty tracks, and set up the compression and reverb, etc... Then, I sing the song through, recording, ten times. One right after the other. The final step is "comping" or making a composite track from all of the raw tracks. I listen to each line, one track at a time, and pick the best take. Then, I assemble a completed track from all of the best puzzle pieces.
The main disadvantage of this method is that I usually do the comping on a different day, so if all of the tracks on a particular line aren't great, it's tough to go back and fix that one. A big advantage is that I can try out different stylistic things, and pick the one that worked the best.
Once the lead vocals and all of the other tracks are done, it's time to mix.
I actually start mixing with the lead vocals. That's the focal point that all other things relate to. You can read more about that approach to mixing here.
There are several in-mix tricks you can use to improve your sound and performance. One is a mimic of the "doubling" I mentioned before. Simply duplicate the track, and delay the copy by a few milliseconds. Then, adjust the volume of the secondary track so that it's not as noticeable, and merely an enhancement of the primary track.
Auto-tune is a big deal these days. It's a processor that analyzes the pitch you sing and adjusts it to the closest correct note. In theory, it's a way to fix little pitch errors in a vocal track. I, personally, have problems using it, because sometimes it will correct my pitch to the wrong note. That's right, sometimes I don't even sing well enough to use autotune. I must hang my head in shame.
EQ (Equalization) is another issue. As you're listening to the vocal track, you'll want it to sound as natural as possible. Sometimes, to do that, I have to add a little high end. If it's a backing vocal track, I'll want it to sound a little more thin and distant, so I'll take out a bit at 500 hz or lower.
There are many many more things that could be said about the vocals in recording and mixing. The bottom line is: The better it sounds before it even gets to the mic, the better it will be when it's all done.
Come back often to hear about new songs and shows. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including his Dutch Oven blog: Mark's Black Pot and his LDS pop culture blog: MoBoy blog.
Mark Hansen Music - LDS Rock Music - Free Downloads
Mark Hansen Music - LDS Rock Music - Free Downloads
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|WARNING: Listening to this music doesn't require parental approval. It's a bit of clean rebellion. It keeps your outlook up and your hope alive. It's got strong drums and screaming guitars. It pumps you up and drives your life. It's a hunger for exploration. It chooses the right and returns with honor. It's music you don't have to confess to your bishop.|
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