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Professional Sounding Song Techniques - Part 2:

TUESDAY 23 JUNE, 2009

By Simon Rudd

You have a sorted out the correct microphone position. You have the correct EQ settings. The compression is giving your vocals a more professional and evened out sound. You have the main 5 mixes that you need. So, your song is finished, right?  Wrong! In part 2 weʼll explain the final, important steps to achieving your finished song.
Background Vocals:
Once you have the perfect lead vocal recorded and mixed, you need to still add backing vocals to bring the mix and song up to professional and commercial standards!

1) Make sure you treat your backing vocals completely different from your main, lead vocal. If you mix them the same way, it could get confusing as to whatʼs the backing vocals, and whatʼs the lead. A known technique is to add a silky feel to some of the background vocals. You can
achieve this by using a high-pass filter up to 850 Hz. If this still doesnʼt do the trick, just use your channel EQ and boost 1 - 3 decibels around the 12 kHz range.
2) Background vocals need that large and spacious sound. The only, real way, to go about this is to record lots and lots of tracks. This will include, stacking harmonies, double tracking, triple takes and vocal FX such as humming. To make sure you fill your stereo range, apply each backing vocal track itʼs own panning and even EQ. Keep your lead vocal central and try to have the backing vocals sit around it comfortably without coming to the forefront of your mix!
3) Something which is usually overlooked when it comes to backing vocals is to add distance!  Apply different effect settings (reverb, delay, phasing) to your background vocal tracks. When adding your effects and mixing your backing vocals in to the track, always do so with your lead
vocal in the mix. Never mute your lead vocal to mix the backing vocals. They both need to be heard when it comes to mixing your songs vocals to professional standards.

Become A Hit Maker:
Now that you know how to record and apply the correct techniques to achieving a great song. Is that really how all the top producers in the industry make the billboard chart topping hits?  No!  Too often amateur producers make beats and have their artists record over the top of the track and find it doesnʼt quite sound like a true hit record. Why is this? Well, when your beat is selected from your catalogue and is going to be used for a recording, this is not the end of the ʻbeat makingʼ process.  Take pride in re-arranging your productions to work with the vocal performances. You can use some simple techniques by opening up some space in your frequency spectrum for important punch lines, and also can add in some new fills and extra production that works well with the vocals. Sometimes even having a simple piano melody following the singers lead at the hook works wonders!
Make sure that when you make beats for your artists, to keep them fairly simple on the main melody, as it can get very confusing to singers / songwriters when trying to write lyrics and nice vocal harmonies / melodies. This could definitely be the difference in getting your tracks placed!
If you want to make hit records and bring your tracks to a new, higher level, follow these tips and techniques and become a true, hit maker!!
Achieving a professional and industry sound to your recorded songs is very important. Also knowing what type of mixes and techniques to use it key in having your tracks at billboard hit standards.

Vocal Mixing - The Insiders Techniques:
Obviously finding the correct microphone, EQ and compression settings are essential! Following the following tips will give your vocals an industry professional sound!
Microphone - The only way to go to get a close to industry sound is to use a high quality condenser microphone combined with a good pop shield / screen. Condensers really capture a vocals frequency spectrum and harmonics better than dynamic microphones. Generally you will want to use a cardioid polar pattern with a high pass filter enabled... This will remove any unwanted low end rumble that can come from the recording source!
Vocal EQ - Once you have the proper microphone positioning and techniques locked down, only a small amount of EQ should be needed. If you find you need to apply lots of EQ and editing on the vocals to achieve a better sound, then you should go back to the drawing board and get a better microphone position! Remember a microphone that might capture a certain singers voice perfectly, might give another singer a horrible sound! Know your equipment, know your artists and more importantly, be prepared! If you want an airy more throaty sound to the recording boosting a few decibels between 10 kHz and 13 kHz will definitely solve some problems. You may find that the vocals lack some clarity, boosting 1 - 4 decibels from 5 kHz to 8 kHz will help. All frequencies under 90 Hz should most definitely be high passed.
Compression - Here you want to give the vocals a more controlled and professional sound! Itʼs important to try and keep some of the natural dynamics in the singers performance. This will stop your song sounding computerized and over compressed. Always have a default setting of 5:1 to 8:1 on your vocal compression and tweak that accordingly! For most vocals a slightly faster attack and medium release time is a good starting block. When setting your threshold level, make sure to have it so only the loudest parts of the vocals recording are being compressed. Leave the rest unaffected.
This will keep the natural dynamics mentioned earlier and control the vocals for a more industry and chart topping sound.
The Big 5:
When it comes to having a song recorded. Donʼt just do the final master and think thatʼs all your work done! Have more pride than that, and give your songs the mixes they deserve!
Main Master - This mix is the one which you will most probably use for the album / single. Itʼs usually what will appeal to the majority of the audience.
Dropped Vocals - This mix is exactly the same as the main master, but with the vocals dropped by about 1 - 2 decibels.
Raised Vocals - Same as the dropped vocals mix, only increasing the volume of the recording by 1 - 2 decibels. These mixes are important because you may find that sources in the industry will request this type of mix.
Live Performance - Same as the main master mix, only with no lead vocal. This is used for all live performances that your singer will do. Depending on the performance you may want to edit this mix and have the lead vocal on only the hook, or at the dance break, for example.
Instrumental - No vocals on this mix! This can be used for media promotion, this also allows you the flexibility to record different vocals at a later date on the instrumental mix.
 

 
 
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