Vocal Music Production Techniques
WEDNESDAY 07 JANUARY, 2009
By Laura Watkins
Before you mix or put any effects on your vocal track you need to get a good recording. Getting a good vocal sound from your recording is one of the most important things you do in your track. I am going to share some of the things that help me in my sessions. These tips will not work for every type of music, but I have had good luck with them in Hip Hop, Pop, and Rnb tracks.
1: Record each vocal line three times. Record the first time and pan it center. Then record the second and third takes and pan them left and right. Bring the left and right vocal lines down in the mix so that you don’t hear them too clearly. You should do this for all the main lines, and all the harmony lines. This can result in a lot of vocal tracks. I often have around fifty vocal tracks. The reason you do the three tracks is to smooth out any intonation problems. Only one doubling will sound out of tune with itself, but with two doublings most tracks will sound in tune.
2: When recording Pop and Rnb songs I like to have a lot of harmony on the hook. Usually I record at least three harmony tracks and usually more. If you are having trouble coming up with the right harmony tracks try experimenting with three steps above or below the main line. If your main line is a C, E, G, then try harmony A, C, E and E, G, B. These are basic harmonies. To make them more complicated and interesting takes experimenting and experience.
3: Record as hot as you can without clipping. Most preamps have input gain and output gain. I like to get a hotter sound with the input gain first. Then when I have to get those last few decibals of hottness, I use the output gain.
4) Pop filter and shockmount.
3: On the equipment side of things, the better your gear, the better sound you will get. That being said, We can’t all afford a class A studio. I have been adding to my vocal recording gear slowly over the years. The things that have made the most difference to my sound are:
a) A good Analog to Digital convertor. Get the best one that you can afford. It makes a huge difference. Ideally get one that can record at 96khz. Recording at 96khz gets you much closer to a big studio sound.
b) A Class A preamp. Spend your money here. It will make a noticeable difference to your sound. Depending on the style of music you are recording, you will want to experiment with different preamps. I went into my local Guitar Center, took in my vocal mike and a set of headphones, and tried each and every preamp that they had. I personally liked a Neve modeled preamp. I have also recorded many a track using a tube preamp which is also great. The Tubes are a little warmer, and the Neve a little clearer to my ears.
c) A good vocal microphone. Notice that I have placed this third in importance. As important as it is, I still would go for the A to D convertor and the preamp first. That being said, I have recently been reminded of the importance of a good microphone. I have a Blueberry Microphone, which I like a lot, but my friend loaned me their tube mic and I got a whole new sound to my tracks. Not necessarily better for every track, but different and great. Again, I suggest going to your local music store and getting one of the sales people to bring you each mic one at a time to test out. Now, make sure you test the mic in the preamp that you own. If you have an Avalon, ask the sales people to set you up with your test microphones in the Avalon. Otherwise, you will not be getting an accurate test.
d) CABLES! If you get the best A to D, pre and microphone, but then skimp on the cables you will be very disappointed. Cables are what takes the sound from your awesome mic to your new pre and then into your A to D. If your cables are not top quality then your sound will not be top quality.
e) Compressor. I myself have a pretty ok compressor, but not the compressor of my dreams. I know that it will make a difference, everytime I borrow a better one my session goes much smoother and my sound is a little less choked. I put this last because if you are on a budget, I think this is the piece of gear you can kind of skimp on. Another option is to get a Mic pre and compressor in one.
Times are tough, and if you can’t afford to get a bunch of new gear, then you can focus on refining your harmony skills, your mixing skills, your writing skills etc. Go for gear one piece of gear at a time, and try to find it used. I have found some good deals on www.recycler.com and www.craigslist.com.
Listen to lots of music recordings to get better ideas on harmony. I have a friend who swears that he learned all of his harmonies in church. I myself went to a catholic church and we didn’t do too much crazy harmony, but my friend is really good at harmony so I don’t discount it.