Q) Could you please
tell me how to get
that creamy/silky vocal sound? I use a SM57, or an E-100 patched into
an all-tube pre w/eq, then into a compressor direct to my hard disk.
Sometimes I use my Mackie"D" to utilize it's EQ, then into the hard
disk. Is rolling off the top end the key or is it boosting the bottom?
A) When you listen to
an outstanding CD with that silky
vocal sound, chances are that there was red carpet treatment at many
levels, starting with the expertise of the engineer and producer. Let's
go from the top to see what could be different, and what you can do in
Level One: The source. The sound of
a persons voice (technique and tone) has much to do with the sound, not
to mention using the correct distance to the mic (6" to 1' in
studio, up to 4' live), how warmed up the person is, how consistent
they are from take to take. (More
In my 20 years of studio engineering, I often used eq. Once when
recording a live big band, the singer, and older gentleman, quietly
agreed when I showed him where to stand next to the mic. When they ran
down the song, I was astounded at the sound of this man's voice. It was
huge. It was smooth. It was clear. It was bright. It was warm. It was
.... perfect. A classic voice that didn't need a shred of eq! His
master tape could have been a cassette and it would have sounded
the source. Your singer should be committed to producing their
very best in the studio and on stage. Tons of Grammy-winning artists
use the Seth Riggs technique, so finding someone in your area that
teaches his method can be a good idea. Key:
Don't kid yourself into thinking that 5 or 6 lessons will get you
sounding like Celine Dion. Singing is an art - it takes time. I learned
this technique from Andrew Boettner, here in Southern California, and
my full-voice range increased an octave-and-a-half. Increasing your
skill increases your opportunity.
Level two: The mic. Top engineers on
the best sounding CDs are probably using a vintage AKG C12, Neumann
U47, Telefunken, or some other super-exotic mic. There are times when
lessor mics are used, but the majority of the time there is a priceless
piece at this point. Your budget
is the determining factor here. If your artist is trying to get signed,
this isn't a key point. Their performance is. If you are trying to get
hired by the majors as an engineer/producer, this is essential. If you
are in the studio business, the importance of a priceless mic depends
on what your clientele can afford. Sometimes studios rent their prize
pieces so that their basic rate is affordable.
Level three: The mic pre's, eq, &
compressor. Again, the top
engineers are probably using vintage
gear like Neve, Teletronix, UREI, DBX 160's, or newer discrete or tube
units like Avalon, Prism, Millennia, GT, API or Manley. Some engineers
ride automated faders and don't use a compressor at all. That's
good old school for ya!
Level three: The monitoring system.
Yep. If you don't hear it right, how do you expect to eq it right, much
less pick the best sounding gear? Check my article on Studio Monitor Madness and Mixing
otherwise I'll be writing
another page here!
Level four: The multitrack
device. While analog is highly prized, digital audio workstation
improving, especially with better A to D converters. Roger Nichols says
he's never going back to analog, and Roy
Thomas Baker aligned his machines at +12. What can I say. Experts all
have something different to say. That's why we suggest Rule #1 --
"There are no rules."
Level five: The mixing stage.
was a time when Bernie Grundman stated, "Analog is the choice of most
high-end mix formats." But that's been changing - particularly when the
mastering will be done using Separations.
Does it make a difference to use vintage
gear? I think it makes
more of a difference to sing in-tune, but
the real vintage gear sounds great - otherwise there wouldn't be so
many pluggins out there that are imitating it! If it's cost-effective
for you, go for it. If not, compare your vocals with the vocal sound on
commercial CDs and use your best judgment to get what you like. Great
monitors (and/or a great mixing engineer) always help you make the
adjust the enhancement frequencies of vocal eq so that the
voice sits in a "pocket" left vacant by the way you have eq'd and
panned the instruments. Don't let common frequencies build up - a
sweepable eq is important so that you're not adding the same frequency
to everything in the mix. I don't recommend rolling off the top at all.
That's where the upper harmonics are. I usually added some high end at
around 10-15K, and some mids at 2.5K, and some bottom around 100hz, and
sometimes rolled off 50hz.... but it varied from voice to voice. When
in doubt, SIMPLIFY. Less is more.
Level six: The
mastering stage. Separation
is the most ideal way to take your vocal sound to the next level.
No question about it. Much optimization is available here.
But check this out -- here's a quote from a respected professional in
the July 2006 issue of a major recording industry magazine about vocal
sound in mastering:
believe that mastering can really do quite a lot to enhance the
vocal portion of a mix. Of course, the client must keep in
mind that manipulating the frequencies that directly affect the vocal
will also affect any other instrument in that frequency range."
NOT SO with
example, a difficult problem to fix would
be that of isolating a sharply sibilant vocal while enhancing the snap
of a snare drum... mastering
engineers may choose to de-ess an entire stereo mix in an effort to
de-ess a vocal. Although.. this
technique can instantly destroy the snap and sizzle of the drum kit..."
There is NO RISK of
loosing any drum snap with proper Separation Mastering.
versions of your mix. Giving the mastering engineer
more options to work with can ease your session tremendously."
Why spend time making
multiple mixes when you can make Separations and have TOTAL control
over your vocal sound in mastering?
“Running your mix past a
engineer's ears before the scheduled session gives you an opportunity
to get a fresh perspective and — if necessary — go back and fix some
The excellent engineer quoted in this magazine article made
good comments if you're stuck making a 2-track mix. Some
mastering engineers, we hear, have told their clients to go back and
remix when they didn't get the sound they wanted! Separation
Mastering nearly eliminates the "go back and fix it" syndrome!
Doing something new takes a little
willingness! We invite you to be
to check out this format! It should take no additional
equipment... just the tools you already are using! Read more here.
at the imaging, separation, and detail that you were able to reveal. On
a couple of
songs I could swear that you had access to the raw audio and were able
to remix the track!!! Thanks also for bringing a warmth and depth to a
fully digital recording that I was fairly sure was impossible without
starting from analog tape." -Tom
Harter - Green Bay, WI
Q) Could you tell me a little about trim,
we have it on our board and need to know exactly what it does. -Rick
the gain of the mic or line preamplifier. That is the
electronic component that enables you to change the *sensitivity* of
either the mic or the line input. Usually the line input stays at one
point, but variations are good when a track comes back too hot.
differs from the faders, in that they brings the signal up or down
*after* the sensitivity control. If the trim is set to high and the mic
signal becomes distorted, the channel faders bring the entire signal up
or down, including the distortion. When you set up your mics, set the
fader for "0" or unity gain by sliding the fader up to a little more
than 3/4 of the way up toward the top of the fader distance. This is
the ideal place for the fader to be when using it as a mic input. Then,
adjust the sensitivity of the trim till you hear no distortion at all
even in the loudest case, leaving the fader where it is.
rarely, if ever, use the fader to control how hot the signal
is going to tape. It should stay put and the trim brought down if you
hear distortion or break up. Mic pre is a grittier distortion than
actual capsule break up at the mic itself. Mic breakup is a tubbier
sounding distortion because the capsule is flexing out of its coherent
consoles will have a meter to actually view the sensitivity
setting, but most these days don't have this feature. Some consoles
also have LEDs that light up when clipping is occurring. Pay attention
to those lights! They shouldn't come on, unless you want that harsher
sounding distortion. I don't recommend it. It's not as cool as creating
distortion at the source where it's smoother (like guitars or raspy
voice tones, etc.).
fader is at unity and a good signal is going to tape, and
you've adjusted the trim for a clean sound, the gain structure should
• Modified 8/15/06
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