Author Topic: Singing and dynamics (in the mix)  (Read 138 times)

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Online Mar T.

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Singing and dynamics (in the mix)
« on: October 04, 2017, 02:06:36 »
Hi all,

I'm struggling to record (especially) my lead vocals with the right timbre/loudness. There's a lot of variables that we can influence as a 'recorder'.
Sometimes I experience the 'experience' after recording differs from the 'intention', especially when recording 'imtimate' vocals. In that particular case I'm always searching for a way to make the lead-vocal sound as natural as possible (although that's subjective as well, I'm hoping for kitcheners 'getting' what I mean).

Imo these are the variables we're in control of when recording/mixing:

1. Input metering (-12dB, -18dB)? What peak levels do you use?
2. Distance from mic. I'm using a large diafragm condenser mic (Rode NT1a). It has a proximity effect, so the closer you sing into the mic, the more bass sounds will be recorded. I tend to turn away from the mic when singing louder and move towards the mic when I sing softly. Because of the proximity effect it's very hard to 'get' a consistent 'in-the-mix' sound that covers all timbres at all volume levels naturally.
3. Compression/EQ.. Imo there's no way to naturally compensate for 'unwanted' differencies in dynamics and I always recognise the 'correcting' shaping fx.
4. Vocal track fader loudness in the mix.. Yes, we can UP a softly sung track in gain. But that doesn't 'sound' natural.. We want 'whispering' just loud enough so it can be deciphered and 'shouting' not that loud that it sounds as being 'on top of' the mix instead of 'sitting in' the mix..

I'm sure you all 'get' what I'm searching for. How do you achieve natural sounding vocals?
Let me/us know!!

:mart:

Offline Leonard Scaper

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Re: Singing and dynamics (in the mix)
« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2017, 13:14:26 »
This has always been my biggest challenge. Once I accepted my voice for what it is I decided to try to be as natural as possible with my vocal presentation and that all starts in the room and at the microphone.

1. I track softly...pretty much around -18dB, but I really don't pay much attention to that number. I just make sure that I am above the noise floor and that I have my preamp in its sweet spot. I like to crank my monitoring gain a bit so I can really hear what I'm doing. I add gain to the signal right away with the clip gain function in protools

2. Microphone technique is everything imo. If you can capture your performance perfectly so that you need very little processing you will be smiling a lot earlier in the mix session. For me that means doing some processing on the way in. I track through a channel strip that lets me shape my sound with a little EQ and gentle compression on the way in. Once I get those settings right for the particular song I feel as though I am singing to the compressor.....it becomes a part of the performance. I listen for what it is doing and work with it.

3. I know I joke around about my compression addiction ( ;) ) but the truth is I am very judicious with compression, especially with vocals. As mentioned above, I try to get it right on the way in. These days I actually use two compressors to compress vocals in the mix. I see these compressors as like sandpaper shaping the finish of the wood........using different grits. The first one is set very fast but hardly works at all....just shaving off a few peaks. The second is set a little deeper and slower for a bit of leveling and body. I never take much off and I use very little make-up gain. I listen for breathy parts and try to accentuate them just a bit with that second compressor. I also keep my EQ moves as gentle as possible but, again, that all starts from getting it very close on the way in with my channel strip EQ. I am a firm believer that you should limit your plug-ins for a more natural sound as every instance of processing is degrading your original signal.

4. Volume automation is a huge part of getting a natural vocal sound. Done right, it becomes an extension of your mic technique. If your DAW has a way to do this.....automate your gain prefader to get some gentle leveling done before you hit the compressor. After everything is set and you get your general gain feeling right, additional volume automation can make a huge difference. I work with what I have, carefully attenuating some of the "heavier" spots and carefully boosting things that I did not quite capture right at the beginnings and end of phrases.

A few more things.....

5. The room is incredibly important. If you have a bad room and deaden it or choose to sing in a tent or a vocal booth you'll need to add a lot of reverb to create a sense of space. It is very hard to get that sounding natural. I have worked hard over the years to get my tiny room sounding right. I chose to use diffusion techniques to redirect the sound waves rather than to go with a lot of high frequency absorption. I listen to my room. Remember that you are not really recording your voice......you are actually recording the sound of your room with you singing in it, especially if you use a big microphone like @Mar T. 's NT1a.

6. If you want natural sounding vocals you need to be very careful with your reverb decisions. I do not want to hear reverb in my vocals but I want to miss it when I take it away. Putting the reverb on a bus will give you a lot more control over it through EQ and compression on that bus with the reverb plug.

7. Delays (on buses) can really help to place your vocal naturally in the mix. I always have a stereo delay working almost imperceptibly.

 :) :) :) :) :)
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Offline MichaelA

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Re: Singing and dynamics (in the mix)
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2017, 14:58:30 »
Fabulous lesson @Leonard Scaper , thanks for sharing!  ::thumb::
If you like novels with a musical theme, why not try 'Sixth Beatle - When Music Changed The World', easily found on Amazon and Google. It is amazing, although as the author I may be biased!

Online Mar T.

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Re: Singing and dynamics (in the mix)
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2017, 23:52:53 »
I absolutely agree with @MichaelA , that's an excellend guide @Leonard Scaper ! Thank you for writing down your process!! That's very helpful!
We completely agree about microphone technique is sooo important (as well as singing technique) from the aspect of 'capturing it 'right'' before even starting to mix/master.
About room treatment: I'm on the attic, with floor carpet, lots of curtains and no concrete walls. I only use a reflection filter around my mic. I love to capture as free from space/reflections as possible and tend to add the 'space' factor in mix/production. You do have a point though, it's good to think about this choice before you start with a song.
Yes! Delays work well with vocals imo!

I'd love to hear everybody's best practices, so keep them coming! We can learn from each other (and see what choices we have).
I'm especially interested in the 'distance from mic while singing soft/loud' experiences  vs proximity effect experiences and best practices..

Cheers!!
:mart:

Online Bill from November Sound

Re: Singing and dynamics (in the mix)
« Reply #4 on: October 07, 2017, 14:25:14 »
You all that sing your own vocals can talk about mic technique, mic positioning, position in the room and everything like it's so easy.  :D

Try recording someone else: "That's not where the mic was setup last time." , "That's not the microphone I use.", " It's too high.", "It's too low." , "That's not the way you set it up last time." , etc..

First, mic check:                              "check 1,2,3,4,5"

Then, singing:               suddenly  "Whoa oh, oh, oh, oh, oh  ::Note:: "

(She does one of those powerful notes ...signal clipped ..... okay start again. ) Ha, ha I love it!
Bill
Songwriter, Keyboards, Arranger, Producer & Engineer for November Sound

Offline redmando

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Re: Singing and dynamics (in the mix)
« Reply #5 on: October 08, 2017, 12:59:16 »
I'm learning so much from this discussion - thanks esp. @Mar T.  and @Leonard Scaper. My big problem is that my ears are either not trained enough or not sensitive enough to hear some of the subtle changes in reverb or compression. At the moment I have to rely on others saying "there's too much reverb" on that or "it doesn't sound natural". Keep these type of discussions going - they're very informative.
Working for the Bellmetal Banana Company

Online Bill from November Sound

Re: Singing and dynamics (in the mix)
« Reply #6 on: October 10, 2017, 04:32:09 »
+1   the vocal sent to almost imperceptible delays.

I like a stereo delay doing its own thing and a mono synced at the whole note .....barely there........ sometimes I even like to automate the send to make it perceptible.  :)

Offline tuff bransch

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Re: Singing and dynamics (in the mix)
« Reply #7 on: October 10, 2017, 16:54:26 »
im not sure this is the right thread for this since its been more about the comp/FX/mic technique side of things but just wanted to add
the importance of choosing the right takes. its obvious i know but anyway.

i rarely record vocals separately anymore but when i did i used to keep the mic up for a couple of days so i could edit
between the takes and rest the voice etc. it sometimes takes time for me to realize what in a specific take that annoys me.
so if i have everyhing set up for a long time i can go back to rerecord that little word or part or whatever it may be.

to record vocals the first thing in the morning can be really nice imo. when hung over its even better!
as you can hear im not at all a fan of warming up :)

Offline Leonard Scaper

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Re: Singing and dynamics (in the mix)
« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2017, 19:32:20 »
to record vocals the first thing in the morning can be really nice imo. when hung over its even better!
as you can hear im not at all a fan of warming up :)

Chuckling at hung over.....but this is actually an excellent point. For me the mood at the time of the final vocal take is crucial. I always wait until I am really feeling the song before I start warming up the microphone. Then it is almost always done in a single session.

Offline Rachel_D

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Re: Singing and dynamics (in the mix)
« Reply #9 on: October 13, 2017, 07:32:15 »
This is a great thread! Thanks for sharing your in depth insights esp. @Mar T. And @Leonard Scaper. I still consider myself as a beginner in those technical knobs and compression jargon so it's really useful to read. I relate a lot to what @tuff bransch and @Leonard Scaper are saying about selecting the best time to record. It really makes a difference when you're in the best mood for that particular song. For me that's usually the moment when I create it or that same week. That's when I'm still extremely over excited about it and usually a song is a reflection of my current feelings -so definitely I'm in the perfect mood for it. And that really makes a difference on the number of takes required - you won't need much takes to get it right -and even the voice itself seems to sound better even than if I try taking multiple takes to 'refine it' - I end up still keeping the very first takes - they seem to capture something subtly special. + I also get that kind of feeling when I record a whole song from beginning to end in contrast to when I record it piece by piece in several takes -it seems to loose something when fragmented. (The difference might be barely noticeable, but I do notice it) (+it becomes a nightmare to choose the best takes if you have tens and tens of them)... I prefer doing those many extra takes to refine the backing vocals instead.