How to Record Vocals. Tips & Techniques for Better Vocal Recording.

Question: I beg you, tell me how to get the best creamy / silky vocal sound. I use the SM57 or the E-100, they are all connected to the tube preamp, compressor and then it is all written on the hard disk. Sometimes I use my Mackie “D” as the equalizer and then write it on hard drive.

Answer: When you hear a track with the most silky vocal sound – it was painstakingly produced on many levels, while being recording and processing. Let’s go all the way. This information will be useful for you to understand what things will be necessary for you to do for a better sound.

Level One: Vocal Source.

The human voice itself, singing technique and tone may have a lot of variations, not to mention the use of the correct distance to the microphone (6 to 1 inch in the studio and 4 inches when recording live, how warmed up is the performer. In my 20 years work experience in the studio, I often use the equalizer. One day I was recording a live big band singer – an elderly gentleman quietly agree, when I showed him the place where he should stand in the room. When we recorded the song, I was struck by the sound of the voice of the man. It was clear. It was smooth. It was bright. It was warm. This was spectacular. Classical voice that did not need even a modicum of the equalizer. It was possible to write the voice on the tape and sell just like it was – and it would sound great.

Start with the source. Your singer should give the best of what he can do in the studio or on stage. Thousands of artists, winning a Grammy, use “Seth Riggs Technique”, so find someone who will teach you the technique. Hint: Do not fool yourself with thoughts that 8 or 9 lessons will make of you Adele. Singing takes a lot of time, always remember it. I learned this technique with the help of Andrew Boettner, here in Southern California, and my range has increased by one and a half octaves. Only years of practice will increase your subsequent performance.

Level Two: Microphone.

Top engineers of well-sounding tracks probably use vintage AKG C12, Neumann U47, Telefunken, or any other super-exotic microphones. There are certain cases when they use cheap microphones, but most of the time – no. Your budget is the main factor. If your actor is just trying to be recorded is not the key point, it is nothing about quality. His performance is a key point. If you are hiring a large firm as an engineer / producer, it is essential. If you have your own studio, the importance of an expensive microphone depends on whether your customers will afford it or not. Sometimes studios rent some devices, so that their fee would not be so high.

Level Three: Mic Preamp, Equalizer, Compressor.

Again – the main sound producers use certain ancient mechanisms, such as Neve, Teletronix, UREI, DBX 160’s, or newer digital or tube Avalon, Prism, Millennia, GT, API or Manley. Some engineers use automated faders and do not use the compressor at all. This is good old school!

Level Four: Monitors.

Yes. If you do not hear truthful sound how can you expect the equalizer to correct exactly what you need?

Level Five: Multichannel Recording Device.

While analogue is appreciated, digital recording systems are improved. Roger Nichols says he will never come back to analog. What can I say. Experts always argue. That is why we follow rule number 1 – “There are no rules.”

Level Six: Mixing.

Bernie Grudman used to say – “Analog is the choice of the majority of high-quality mixing formats”. But this has changed, particularly when mastering was performed using Separation.

Is the use of vintage instruments important? I believe that it is so, otherwise there would not be a huge amount of all these programs, simulating their performance, imitating them! If you can – use vintage devices, otherwise compare your vocal on an average track, and use every opportunity to improve result. Good monitors and a good sound will always help you with this.

You can adjust highs on equalizer, so that voice will perfectly fall in the “pocket” left in the mix. Do not add the same frequencies as other instruments in the mix. I do not recommend a blockage at high frequencies. There are good upper harmonics there. I usually add a little highs in the range of 10-15kg and a little middles in the range of 2.5kg and a base of approximately around 100 Hz, sometimes cut to 50 Hz, but this varies from voice to voice. If in doubt – simplify!

Level Seven: Mastering.

Separating mastering – it’s the perfect way to raise your voice to a new level. I don’t even want to argue about it. A huge scope for optimization is available. But read this, this is a quote by respected pro in July 2006 in the main magazine. It is about the sound recording industry in mastering vocals:

“I believe that mastering can do much to enrich the vocal part of the mix. Of course, the client should bear in mind that the tone control that directly affect the vocal will also affect other instruments in the same frequency range”.

Gary Baldasari said that people should get rid of the belief that there is only one way of human voice recording. Sound engineer and producer Gary Baldasari from Florida has spent his entire life in studios in front of the mixing console, recording famous actors for the Disney company, and artists such as Whitney Houston, Manhattan Transfer and many other famous persons. In this article we will discuss several ways to record vocals.

Microphone Location: Close Frontal

Location technique when sound source is close to the microphone with a forward direction of its axis is the most common method for recording voice. Typically, this method is called “in your face”. This technique has several advantages: deep sounding voice, a good transfer of consonants, open sound in the foreground and the warmth of sound transmission in the near field. Nevertheless, there are some disadvantages: the suppression of sibilant sounds with de-esser, and the absence of explosive sounds, and the lack of depth and natural sound of the room.

The distance between the microphone and the artist’s mouth is chosen individually for each performer. By analyzing the ratio of the characteristic of features of voice and disadvantages, move the microphone to find its optimal location. Start from a distance of 10 cm, placing the microphone along the axis. You can tilt it up to 90 °, to mitigate unwanted shades. To this end, the microphone must have a very smooth frequency response off axis. With the help of an assistant move the microphone back and forth in the range of 5-15 cm from the mouth of performing artist and look for the best balance between preserving the sound warmth and pure consonants. When choosing technology proximity, always use a pop filter.

Microphone Location: Remote Frontal

A less common method is the remote location of the microphone from the mouth of the performer. Due to the uneven characteristics of the off-axis very few microphones will work with this technique. However, when using a microphone with a flat off-axis response in this position, excellent results can be achieved in a good acoustic room. After learning to use this technique, you will notice its main advantage – a natural sounding of room. The desired rate between the sound of the voice and the room is achieved by determining the distance between the microphone and the performer, as well as with the right location of the artist in the studio. Each room has its “sounding” point, and we hope that you will be able to find them in your studio. Look for a place with a short (0.9ms or less) reverberation. When using this technique, try to start with a distance of 30 cm from the artist’s mouth. Ask your assistant to move the microphone back and forth from the artist in order to find the optimal balance of “voice-room.” Try not to write too much room sound. By adding a bit of space to the voices, you will achieve the most natural sound. This technique provides a natural tone of voice, and is used in scenes where the singer does not perform “in your face”. You will see that the need for a de-esser, and low-pass filter cut-off is not relevant anymore. The warmth of the proximity effect is replaced by a natural surrounding sound that is used in the recording less and less. Realistic sound depth is able to “involve” the listener into music, and not to drop him back into the chair. This technique will be another trick in your professional collection.

Microphone Location: Top Position of the Over His Head

Sometimes frontal microphone location methods do not give the proper effect. This happens when the creative team starts to look for something new. First of all, it requires microphone with flattest off- axis characteristic. With the help of an assistant move the microphone above the nose level, analyzing the different shades of “direct sound facilities.” over the head position. This technique should be used, if the singer talks or sings with a strong breathing or is famous by his explosive consonants and the whistling sound “s”. Also, this method is well suited in cases where the actor actively uses his diaphragm and due to the proximity effect the voice is too tight. The man’s head – is the nasal resonator, so try to direct the microphone axis on the nasal space, which is located just above the eyebrows. At that time, when the artist is rehearsing change direction of mic at an angle of 45 ° downwards and 45 ° upwards. You can even place the microphone above his head – if you do not try, you will not find out if this method works or not.

Get rid of the belief that the human voice can be recorded only by pointing the microphone directly into the mouth of the performer. If your microphone has a sufficient level of quality and it has good off-axis characteristics, you have many opportunities to apply it in your daily practice. Sometimes you can even hung mic over the head of singer and direct it upwards away from the source of the voice.

Lower position the microphone (near chest).

You can try another technique – diaphragmatic. This method is difficult to implement, if the performer uses music stand, because it would interfere with the location of the microphone and, moreover, will reflect the voice, which could result in a distortion in the recording. Such problems can be solved by using high-tech anti-vibration and net music stands. Also, this method is suitable if the artist can easily remember the text of one or two pages.

What gives you this technique? The natural warmth of the diaphragm. Start with a distance of 30 cm from the microphone to the mouth, lower it a little and point it to the center of the chest. At that time, as a performer is singing, try to change the pitch of the axis of the microphone up or down by 45 °. Pick a balance between the pronunciation of consonants and low-midrange “buildup”, which gives the chest. Using this technique generally gives you a very dense sound that is again different from the result of the “in your face” method, used by many sound engineers. If the actor pronounces wheezing “s”, or he has a nasal tone of voice, you’d better try this technique. For voice recording in the studio, we recommend you to use Audio-Technica AT2035 and Rode NTK microphones.