Originally Posted by Paeak
I've been trying to achieve this too. A vocal track that will just pop over the instrumental track crystal clear and every word is understandable, instead I have decent (at best) vocal tracks, no matter how many times/ways/distance I record the vocal track. My noise gate just clamps to fast or not fast enough, my eq settings are OK to bring my vocals a crisp sound (at4047 sounds dull no eq) but then theres slight background noise, if with out the noise gate, but still creeps in. Ugh. I guess that's the best you can get thought with a AT4047 & a M-audio mobile Pre. I would like to know some hints to maybe achieve a better recording.
I seen YouTube tutorials videos where they just play an acapella vocal track and it's complete silence and the vocals pop in so crisp and clear and everyword is understandable even with out compressor, and the vocal wave track is real small.
Could be I mix tracks, as loud as most finalized mastered tracks, and I'm fighting to over power an already too loud beat. Usually to hear my vocals right on a track it's already red lining @ +6 on the master fader.... Ugh I'm just venting and am really envious of people who can just jump into a studio and just half ass there verse and it sounds so crisp and clear with no effort. Help us! Lol
Sorry with the story
Here's a couple of suggestions for getting better vocal tracks:
Lose the noise gate. You'll mess with it all day and still probably never get it just right. Instead, solo your vocal track and surgically cut the silence between phrases, applying short (~10 to 20ms) fades. Pay attention to the consonants at the beginning and end of each phrase, they're easy to cut off if you aren't careful and just go by the look of the waveform. That's why I suggested soloing the vocal while you do this. Also, depending on the tune, you may or may not choose to leave the breath sounds in before a particularly passionate section. Use good judgement here.
Now that we've cleaned up the vocal track, it's time to give it some legs to stand on.
Instead of just clamping down on the track with your favorite compressor, try using two or more in series. Shave a little more off with each successive comp, rather than relying on one plug or hardware comp to do the whole job.
Sometimes you need to just do it the old fashioned way, and ride the fader. This could mean using an analog console or your DAW's automation, either way, YOU are the compressor. Watch the waveform on the screen to see what's coming, and follow along as you make an automation pass. This same technique can be used on the front end, as you record your track. Get one rough take, and then ride the gain just as I described for automation, while watching the waveform of the rough to get an idea of what's ahead. This will take some more practice to get just right, and can ruin an otherwise great vocal take if you don't have a steady hand. Automating or riding the vocal fader can really bring out the detail in a vocal performance.
The amplitude, or size of the waveform, has little to do with how a vocal track sits in the mix. If you are red lining your meters, you're out of headroom (obviously). Bring the levels of all of your tracks down, and turn up your monitors. There is really no reason to record or mix anywhere near digital zero. If you're recording at a bit depth of 24, you've got a theoretical 144dB of dynamic range available to you. What's 12 or 16dB? Leave some room to breathe.
When I approach a mix that I did not track, I like to bring down the levels of all of the tracks with a trim plugin, or the trim knob on my console, so I have 12-16dB of headroom. On a typical green/yellow/red meter, I want them just tickling the yellow. If you're still pounding the master bus, bring them down some more, and turn up your monitors further.
It may help to calibrate your monitor volume settings if you are often running out of headroom. For instance, using an SPL meter ($50 at radioshack works nicely), I have my monitors set to 93dBspl when playing pink noise generated at -16dB in my daw. This means that when the master bus output is -16dBv, the monitors are at 93dBspl. No matter how hot I run my tracks, it will be painful to listen to before it clips anything. I can completely ignore my master meter with confidence that it won't clip. If you allow proper headroom in your mix, you can crank the vocals far more than you probably want to, without maxing out the sub or master busses.
You mentioned EQ....
I prefer to approach vocal EQ with caution and restraint. If it's clarity you need, go the subtractive route first to clear out some of the muck in the low mids, then bump up the fader. If you need some more air, maybe give a very slight shelving boost above 10k. By slight, I mean less than 3dB. This is easy to overdo. Sometimes I will boost a dB or two in the presence range, with a fairly wide Q. Of course this is all to taste, as appropriate for the song you are working on.
If your vocal sounds great solo'd, but disappears in the mix, maybe more volume isn't the answer... maybe eq'ing the vocal isn't the right answer either... perhaps you need to carve out a spot in your mix for the vocal to sit in. Sometimes I'll subgroup the instruments that are in or around the vocal range, and apply eq to gently pull down the 2k-8k range a smidge. Again, with a wide Q. We're just nudging those other things out of the way to make room here. Nothing extreme.
Many of these principles can be applied to more than just the vocal track.
Of course, a great signal chain will go a long way too, like I said, gear matters. But don't let that discourage you. Being able to do the things I described are why they say it's the engineer, not the gear that's important.