The Vocal Tips Roundtable

We threw out a request for miking tips from the forumites at Craig Anderton’s Sound, Studio, and Stage forum, and got some great ones. Here are the contributors.

We threw out a request for miking tips from the forumites at Craig Anderton’s Sound, Studio, and Stage forum, and got some great ones. Here are the contributors.

AB: Alan Barnes, BP: Bill Plummer, BS: Bruce Swedien, CA: Craig Anderton, EB: Ernest Buckley, JC: Jon Chappell, KL: Ken Lee, LF: Lee Flier, NW: Nat Whilk II, PK: Philbo King, RR: Russ Ragsdale

Minimize sibilance: Place the microphone so that it’s slightly off-axis from the signer. This really helps. —KL

The importance of the lyric sheet: For me it all starts with the lyric sheet first—then microphone second, processing last. I get more done with the lyric sheet and a pencil, I can make the story pop off the page. —RR

Better composite recording: Ideally I have several copies of the lyrics, and as the singer is recording, I make marks under particularly strong performances for each take. This makes it easier to comp the vocal tracks after doing several complete vocal passes. —KL

Make mic-shy singers more comfortable: I usually have a large diaphragm condenser or two set up. But if the singer is really performance-oriented and feels uncomfortable wearing headphones and singing into a big mic, I occasionally set up speakers (putting one out of phase to try and minimize bleed), and give the singer a hand-held dynamic mic. I’d rather have a great vocal performance than an emotionally flat performance that sounds pristine. —KL

All hail Vocal Rider: Lately, I’ve been using Waves’ Vocal Rider, which almost feels like cheating. I used to feel like I was getting carpal tunnel from automating my vocals, but now I just slap on Waves’ Vocal Rider and need to do very little automation— just a few tweaks here and there. I love this because I’m not hitting the compressor very hard at all, which gives a big, natural-sounding vocal. This has worked well for really big rock vocals as well as hip-hop vocals. —KL

Minimize room sound when compressing: If you pick up too much room sound because you compress vocals heavily, use a relatively short release on your compressor to minimize the amount of “room” that it brings up. Or stop using so much compression and use gain riding, automation, or Vocal Rider. —KL

Acoustic fix: I record in a small living room with hideous acoustics. I place a couple of RealTraps MiniTraps around the mic, which greatly improves the acoustics going into the mic. As a bonus, I can tape lyric sheets to the acoustic treatment panels. I’ll typically set up a small table nearby so the singer can place water or whatever for breaks. —KL

How not to deaden a room: Packing blankets, sleeping bags, etc. are mostly for upper mid/high frequency absorption, which is not generally considered good for vocals or anything else that has a wide frequency range. I prefer RealTraps, which do broadband absorption. —KL

Make a moveable iso-panel: Affix a moving blanket to a portable (on wheels) standing clothes rack to create a portable iso-panel. I usually put it about a foot behind the mic to help take the room out of the equation. —AB

Not too dry: I don’t think that getting the driest possible sound is necessarily the way to go, even if you intend to add other processing. “Dry” often equates to “dead,” which you don’t want. If all the life has been sucked out of the track in the form of high frequency absorption, it’s nigh impossible to put it back with processing. It also affects the singer’s performance to sing in a dead space—they’re used to hearing certain harmonics from the room reflections that affect the character of their voice. —LF

Reduce the proximity effect: If you want to minimize the proximity effect, put your favorite multipattern condenser in omni, and place something (like a bass trap or gobo) close behind the mic so you don’t pick up too much of the room. The EV RE20 has almost no proximity effect, so that might be a good choice too if the vocalist sounds good through it—which many do. —LF

Don’t work too hard: I’m pretty much a one take guy—I might comp verse B after verse A, but I almost never vocally comp a single section. That’s more work to me than just singing it again. —AB

Switch mics before you switch in EQ: Instead of EQing, I tend to change mics instead. —EB

Choices are good: I record the vocal from the mic pre out and mult it. The first track goes straight, the second gets compression set to taste. I normally end up using the processed track, but like having the clean track in case the singer starts opening up and hitting the compressor too hard. —BP

Better vocal reverb/delay depth: For certain musical styles, I like to record a second mic about a foot or more away from the primary mic. The distant mic gets used for feeding reverbs and delays. It often gives a better sense of depth than taking the primary mic and feeding effects from it. The distant mic never hits the mix dry. —BP

Favorite vocal recordings: The vocal recordings I’m most proud of have mostly all been done with the mic in cardioid pattern—an extremely high quality condenser microphone, vintage or newer, will do nicely. I have a pair of Neumann U-47’s that I bought new in 1953 that I absolutely adore . . . but I did use my SM7 most often on Michael Jackson for lead vocals. “Earth Song” is the one MJ vocal where I used a mic other than the SM7 on his lead vocal—I used one of my Neumann M-49s. I also used my MILAB VIP-50 on some of Michael’s vocal recordings. —BS

Getting a better stereo field: I was tracking three backup vocals (and doing all the singing myself) on a song, and wanted a realistic stereo field. So I set up a figure-8 mic and an LDC up as a Mid-Side pair, then recorded each part separately onto to a stereo track to capture the two M-S channels. I stood a couple feet left of the mic for the first part, about the same distance back from the mic for the second part, and the same distance off to the right for the third part. I bused all three to a common mix bus, and stuck in a M-S decoder plugin on it. The result was a pretty amazing stereo field—I was shocked that it worked so well. —PK

Compression point of departure: Every singer is different but for the most part, with pop/rock music, start with the threshold around –15, a 2:1 ratio, medium attack, and fast release. —EB

Intimate vocal sounds: The closer you get to the mic, the more intimate the sound becomes, as the lip smacks, breath variations, and other mouth-generated artifacts become more audible. Singing “across the path of the mic” is really an off-axis approach that mitigates the proximity effect and distortion-causing plosives, while retaining these intimate qualities you describe. I always tell people that if they really want to hear good use of the proximity effect, they should listen to Bill Cosby’s early comedy albums! —JC

Really quiet narration: When I need extreme quiet for narration, I’ll run a long headphone line to a room that’s away from the studio’s fans and hard drives, then use a Line 6 XD-V70 digital wireless mic. As there’s no long mic cable, the sound can actually be cleaner than using a standard mic, and the mic modeling options allow a variety of narration qualities. I set the DAW for cycle recording, and go for it. —CA

Better-fitting backup vocals: Although I use a large condenser mic for lead vocals—with as much mic technique as I can, moving in and out to smooth out the levels and avoid overs—for backup vocals I often switch to a small condenser or a dynamic, sing from about a foot away or so, and compress a bit heavier. The result is a sonic quality that fits “inside” the lead vocal easily. —NW

The three P’s: I always reach for the 3 P’s: Pitch, Passion, and Pocket. The first two should be self-explanatory. Pocket is timing—like a punchline, if the timing isn’t right, impact is lost. If a vocal doesn’t have all three, I’ll call for a retake. —PK

The Great Big Vocal Roundup
SONiVOX Vocalizer
Celemony Melodyne Editor
Realistic Pitch Correction With Auto-Tune Evo
Ten Do’s And Don’ts For Solid Vocals
Bruce Swedien’s Six Tips On Recording In Small Rooms
Bruce Swedien On The Proximity Effect And Directivity