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Let's talk pop vocals! Tracking, Mixing, Gear, Technique. Condenser Microphones
Old 3rd June 2014
  #91
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Igotsoul4u's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by spitfire52mm View Post
All of this is fantastic information. I'm mainly doing acoustic (Dustin Kensrue, Bon Iver style)/indie rock (Minus The Bear, Death Cab For Cutie style)/rock (Foo Fighters, Sunny Day Real Estate style) but I wouldn't mind implementing some of these principles into these styles. Some of the best songs have come from borrowing ideas from different genres.

Out of curiosity, what does a typical vocal chart for a pop song look like? How many tracks are usually added in each part of a typical pop song?

For instance

Verse:
Lead vocal track
How many tracks of doubles (if any)
How many harmonies (if any)
How many special effect vocal tracks (if any)

Pre Chorus/Chorus/Bridge, etc.



I know that there is not a predetermined rule for every pop song. I'm just curious about what a typical song looks like for someone who is focusing on pop.
I usually have two lead tracks. One track is geared towards parts where the singer is really belting it out. One is usually dedicated to the verses. Sometimes the hook LD will get it's own track. I try to keep similar tonalities and amplitudes together. If a line overlaps (which I hate) then I will make a lead bus. I don't usually double unless its an effect or the singer sucks. If so, then I only do one. Poor performers are not great doublers.

My vocal stacks are usually 4 per note. Sometimes I like 2 per note when ad libbing a verse.

I generally have several busses for various duties. One is for melody stacks like a hook or b section. One will hand all the higher notes throughout the song and the same for mids and lows. If a stack has more of an opposite feel from the rest of the song it will get it's own bus. If always try for minimal processing so if one stack can share another
Old 3rd June 2014
  #92
Gear Nut
 

Igotsoul,

That's exactly what I was looking for! Thanks. There are a lot of threads on how to mix a lead vocal but not too many people divulge what a typical track count looks like.

Would anyone else care to share what their typical verse/pre chorus/chorus looks like in terms of track count?
Old 4th June 2014
  #93
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mobilemozart's Avatar
 

Absolutely agree - vocals recorded in a small, untreated (or not enough treated) vocal booth are very difficult to handle, lots of resonances that are impossible to tame. Even worse when recorded with a precision mic like the C800G.

Ideally, the recording room is big and treated, so at least the reflections that come back are not causing comb filtering effects. In addition to that you can of course still put a few absorbers around the singer to get that ultra-dry and direct sound that will still have no room sound on it even when compressed 20dB.

Quote:
Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
I don't think you read the original post or topic very well.

Pop vocals are hyper compressed, stacked, and layered with harmonies. Try doing that with a lot of room tone in the mix, and see if you get rehired. It doesn't work - the room tone gets overbearing.

James asked specifically about pop vocal technique. He didn't ask for your taste, what you thought about pop singers, or what you'd do recording a different style.

If you don't like, or record pop at this level on a regular basis, I'm not sure you can add anything. Certainly what you do or don't like isn't important.

You might want to open your ears to different styles and techniques though. Plenty of times when you might want a controllable, dead vocal booth that don't involve tuning or editing. I can tune a vocal with room tone no problem too.

So yeah - POP vocals?
Old 4th June 2014
  #94
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jmikeperkins's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aaron Rash View Post
The most important thing about pop vocals is how bright you can get them without being harsh. I think the attention to high end detail is most important with pop vocals.
Aaron's quote is so true but there are different ways to get a bright sound that is not harsh. Rather than use a bright mic in a dead room or vocal booth, I prefer to use a darker vintage Neumann in a brighter sounding room with an optical compressor at tracking (I use a Manley ELOP or an Anthony DeMaria CL/1500 depending on taste) rather than a heavier sounding FET compresssor for vocals (but again different people get good sounds using different methods, and I might use an FET compressor on a vocal for extra compression during mixdowng for certain songs). A good Neumann is smoooooth, never harsh, well balanced and is both clear and warm at the same time which is a hard thing to do. My goal is to use as little processing as possible to preserve the delicate high end detail which, in my opinion, can get lost if you use too much or the wrong compressor. I am also careful with adding reverb and eq, again to preserve the delicate high end of the vocal.

It also helps if your singer can learn how to use the proximity effect of the mic to help with tone and can learn to move back from the mic when they get loud and closer for the softer parts which would allow you to get away with less compression. However, it's hard to find singers with good mic technique and you do the best you can with whatever you have to work with. The challenge with the dark mic/brighter room is having a good room to work with

As far as how many tracks to use for doubles and harmonies, you do it by ear and whatever sounds good is good. There are no rules. I have used anywhere from one to 12 tracks for doubles and harmonies. As much as possible, and again it depends on the singer, I try to capture and use as complete a vocal performance as possible and avoid the temptation to make everything too perfect because it's easy to get hung up on fixing small imperfections no one else will hear or care about. Keeping the emotional content of the vocal intact should always be the #1 objective.
Old 4th June 2014
  #95
Gear Addict
 

What also surprises me, when reading about production, or mixing, is how completely different items and plugs are used on pop records. I think if you have the skills, and you have a minimum bench mark quality of equipment, you can get the sounds. a Tele u47 will respond to EQing well enough that will make it sing on teh top end.
Old 5th June 2014
  #96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Igotsoul4u View Post
I don't usually double unless its an effect or the singer sucks. If so, then I only do one. Poor performers are not great doublers.
Vocalign and/or manual editing can fix this. I double for effect, but not because someone sucks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Igotsoul4u View Post
My vocal stacks are usually 4 per note. Sometimes I like 2 per note when ad libbing a verse.
I always find this quite funny (using the term "adlib"). By definition, an adlib is supposed to be improvised; rarely does this happen (and obviously if you're then doubling it, the idea that it's improvised is destroyed; I deliberately never double anything supposed to be spontaneous for this reason). I sometimes refer to them as "contriveds" instead of "adlibs"...keeps me amused anyway!

I don't know if anyone can see this outside of australia...I hope so.

Anyway for a good recent example:



A few of the tracks I recorded earlier this year are now getting released, so I can talk about them a bit! I recorded, tuned and was involved with the vocal production on the above song.

The verses are single tracked, with some of the harmonies doubled in 2nd verse and on.

The choruses are quad-tracked on the leads - most of the harmonies also are quad tracked, with occasionally just doubles on some of the parts that are barely audible. I'm not sure everything got used in the mix, but that's what I recorded!

Some of the BV pads were probably doubled with "whisper" tracks, and in the post-hook section in the 2nd verse, I think we stacked unisons from the different singers as well.

Vocal chain was M149 -> Schoeps VSR5 (a really clean tube pre - the production model of the preamp Schoeps test their mics with) -> distressor. I don't know what the mix engineer used on the final track, but I was getting "pop bright" using a combination of Slate VTM+VCC, SSL channel for EQ cuts, bit more compression from the CLA 1176, tiny bit of top end boost from VEQ4 and a bit of L2 to level the final vocal (my roughs have more of this than my final mixes), since I don't do much automation on a rough mix! Sounds like a lot of processing - but nothing is doing that much.

For comparison, and again I hope it's viewable outside Aus (if not, and anyone's really interested in checking these out, go to hola.org and download their browser plugin - switch to Aus - done!).



This is the same recording chain, probably a very similar mix chain, 4 voices and no doubling (the video is obviously mimed, and of course I've tuned the vocals, but there's no stacking). I think I mixed through my Hammer EQ for a bit of top end, and my TK Audio BC1mk2 compressor (that probably wasn't doing much) but the rest would have been ITB.

Hope that's useful to some!
Old 5th June 2014
  #97
Gear Nut
 

Great thread even for the non pop enthusiast. I learned plenty. Pyscho Monkey- nice sounding tracks you posted up there. Living here in Brisbane via LA, I am sure I will hear the soccer tune plenty. Well done.
Old 5th June 2014
  #98
Quote:
Originally Posted by animal eater View Post
Great thread even for the non pop enthusiast. I learned plenty. Pyscho Monkey- nice sounding tracks you posted up there. Living here in Brisbane via LA, I am sure I will hear the soccer tune plenty. Well done.
Thanks - yeah, Sammi's "Up!" is getting rinsed a bit...just need it to climb the charts a little now!
Old 5th June 2014
  #99
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MRJ STUDIOS's Avatar
 

Wow, thanks monkey! Insanely valuable info from you (and everyone else) in this thread!

I'm struggling to get that "rich" pop vocal tone on all of my isolated spots. I'm talking about sections of the song with no harmonies or background vocals (during verses or runs, etc.) The first video you posted is a great example of what I'm talking about. I hear a lot of polish and sparkle, all without being harsh in the high end -- but those single vocal parts have tons of "excitement" and "interest" tonally. Ignoring the performance, which is good of course, and focusing just on the sound of the voice, nothing tonally sounds lifeless or flat about them at all... the magic is there. Hard to describe in words, but I think you can hear what I mean.

I've tried the usual suspects... subtle doubled takes quiet behind the lead, different short and long mono delays, verbs, subtle detune using both Waves doubler and my Digitech 2120 hardware unit (which has some nice detuning and delay algorithms btw) etc etc

Anyway, when I have isolated parts like that, I'm struggling to get that subtle but definitely noticeable "magic" and interest in them. I don't think it's the talent I'm working with (I'm lucky to be working with some REALLY great singers), and regardless of the high-end or mid-end-ness of my vocal chains (I've used many, and had many other tracks sent in to me using even more other gear), I just can't seem to get the mojo on it like you have, and that is so common on the best pop vocal productions I hear.

There is a certain consistency of that subtle interesting tone on a lot of pop vocals I'm into (both in the US market and in Kpop -- which has some of the best vocal production I've ever heard), so I'm wondering if I'm just missing a key step or "trick" to all of this.

Because you have generously shed light on how you captured the verses in the first video, I'm now leaning even more towards that the particular "mojo" I'm speaking of must be something POST mic and preamp, assuming that we are starting with an excellently recorded raw vocal of course, (which you clearly have).

I'm wondering if it's the distressor? Clever plugin EQ and compression? Or perhaps the effects that the mix engineer ended up using... or maybe just a good old-fashioned "there's no trick to this" and it's just a culmination of doing the right things from the mic on out to the final mix.


The other thing I'm curious about is the choruses. Do you know how your quad tracks are used in the mix? For example, is it usually 1 main lead down the center, 2nd main lead quieter down the center, and 2 other leads panned left and right? etc etc. I really like how they blend together, and it's done well enough that I'm having trouble picking out where the parts are sitting, and how many doubles there even are.

Excellent work, and thank you so much for posting!!!
Old 5th June 2014
  #100
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
Thanks - yeah, Sammi's "Up!" is getting rinsed a bit...just need it to climb the charts a little now!
Can't imagine the game is any different here than it used to be in the states. The record company pays and the radio plays

Hope it climbs the charts for you.
Old 5th June 2014
  #101
Quote:
Originally Posted by MRJ STUDIOS View Post
Wow, thanks monkey! Insanely valuable info from you (and everyone else) in this thread!

I'm struggling to get that "rich" pop vocal tone on all of my isolated spots. I'm talking about sections of the song with no harmonies or background vocals (during verses or runs, etc.) The first video you posted is a great example of what I'm talking about. I hear a lot of polish and sparkle, all without being harsh in the high end -- but those single vocal parts have tons of "excitement" and "interest" tonally. Ignoring the performance, which is good of course, and focusing just on the sound of the voice, nothing tonally sounds lifeless or flat about them at all... the magic is there. Hard to describe in words, but I think you can hear what I mean.

I've tried the usual suspects... subtle doubled takes quiet behind the lead, different short and long mono delays, verbs, subtle detune using both Waves doubler and my Digitech 2120 hardware unit (which has some nice detuning and delay algorithms btw) etc etc

Anyway, when I have isolated parts like that, I'm struggling to get that subtle but definitely noticeable "magic" and interest in them. I don't think it's the talent I'm working with (I'm lucky to be working with some REALLY great singers), and regardless of the high-end or mid-end-ness of my vocal chains (I've used many, and had many other tracks sent in to me using even more other gear), I just can't seem to get the mojo on it like you have, and that is so common on the best pop vocal productions I hear.

There is a certain consistency of that subtle interesting tone on a lot of pop vocals I'm into (both in the US market and in Kpop -- which has some of the best vocal production I've ever heard), so I'm wondering if I'm just missing a key step or "trick" to all of this.

Because you have generously shed light on how you captured the verses in the first video, I'm now leaning even more towards that the particular "mojo" I'm speaking of must be something POST mic and preamp, assuming that we are starting with an excellently recorded raw vocal of course, (which you clearly have).

I'm wondering if it's the distressor? Clever plugin EQ and compression? Or perhaps the effects that the mix engineer ended up using... or maybe just a good old-fashioned "there's no trick to this" and it's just a culmination of doing the right things from the mic on out to the final mix.
Well, sometimes the distressor during tracking isn't really doing much at all! in the harder sections it is of course.

I think it's a combination of things. I find having multiple stages of compression helpful - compressing during tracking, mixing and a limiter at the end of the chain - nothing is working that hard in my mixes, it's all just doing little steps.

I also find multiple EQ stages useful - I tend to use a plugin doing subtractive EQ (I use the Waves SSL), then compressing, then additive EQ (The VEQ4), then limiting. Often a De-esser in there too (just before the limiter. Sometimes a touch of decapitator just at the end of the chain (parallel, just blended in using the wet/dry balance).

I find using top boost in parametric, not shelving mode useful - with the VEQ4 I peak at 16k, and then I find it's more subtle than hoiking up everything from 10k up - you're boosting maybe 3dB at 16k, but it's gradual up to there.

But again, this is MY mixes - I didn't mix the 1st example (although I'm hoping their next single is my mix). In a couple of weeks there'll be hopefully be one of my mixes used for a different artist - it's just a promo/tie-in thing - that I can describe exactly what's happening.

In the 2nd example (which hopefully has some of the same mojo, even though it's much simpler) there's really just a rich reverb, probably some filtered delay, and I use the Waves Doubler just for a chorus-y pitch up/down on each side - you don't really notice it till you lose it, it just makes the vocal "bigger". That might well help you! Soundtoys Microshift also helps here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MRJ STUDIOS View Post
The other thing I'm curious about is the choruses. Do you know how your quad tracks are used in the mix? For example, is it usually 1 main lead down the center, 2nd main lead quieter down the center, and 2 other leads panned left and right? etc etc. I really like how they blend together, and it's done well enough that I'm having trouble picking out where the parts are sitting, and how many doubles there even are.

Excellent work, and thank you so much for posting!!!
Not in the 1st mix here. When I mix, I always have one or more vocals central, usually with a double track and then hard L/R for the other 2 (as you describe really!). For this track, I can take some of the credit in that I supplied tightened and tuned vocals - the lead was meant to sound exactly like that, all the esses and so on are lined up, using vocalign (and manually at times). If I'm going for more of a rock pop "gang lead", something more along the lines of Lawson (who I've also done work for), then I won't tighten and tune the doubles so much, just fix anything that stands out.

The BVs I'll sometimes pan hard LR with nothing in the middle. I hear this in the leads in some songs - there's stacked vox but nothing in the centre. I don't really like this - don't think it sounds as good. Even in pop, I like the illusion of a single lead vocal throughout the song, even if different vocalists are leading the song.
Old 5th June 2014
  #102
Quote:
Originally Posted by animal eater View Post
Can't imagine the game is any different here than it used to be in the states. The record company pays and the radio plays

Hope it climbs the charts for you.
It's TV syncs as much as anything. The Justice Crew "Que Sera" was featured in My Kitchen Rules for several weeks before release - that on top of touring and their profile from the last single meant a hit. Even major labels can't get their tracks from their less "flavour of the month" artists on high rotation unless the radio wants to! Yes they have the ear of the heads of radio, and they can pay for advertising, but they can't guarantee hits.

But that's off topic I hope it does well too!
Old 5th June 2014
  #103
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MRJ STUDIOS's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
Well, sometimes the distressor during tracking isn't really doing much at all! in the harder sections it is of course.
Thanks a lot!

I'll have to keep playing with my EQing and my detune settings. I also do multi-stage compression using plugins, and usually 2+ eq's as well. I must not be twiddling the knobs quite correctly on them... haha

I do have the free version of the Soundtoys pitch shifter that they gave out a while ago, but I should probably look into buying the full version. I wasn't sure if I needed it because I really like the 2120 detunes (think Eventide H3000), but even those weren't doing the trick for me in the mix I'm working on.

The last thing is that I almost always use an L2 as the final step on vocals... glad to hear this isn't such a no-no, so to speak. I always felt like it was necessary, but I'll admit it was a bit concerning at first using an L2 on vocals, L2 on a couple other busses, and then L2 on the final 2-bus... Oh who are we kidding, this style of music is smashed to bits anyway.
Old 5th June 2014
  #104
Quote:
Originally Posted by MRJ STUDIOS View Post
I do have the free version of the Soundtoys pitch shifter that they gave out a while ago, but I should probably look into buying the full version. I wasn't sure if I needed it because I really like the 2120 detunes (think Eventide H3000), but even those weren't doing the trick for me in the mix I'm working on.
I actually have access to a "real" H3000, but I find it's just easier to keep everything ITB for this sort of thing!

Quote:
Originally Posted by MRJ STUDIOS View Post
The last thing is that I almost always use an L2 as the final step on vocals... glad to hear this isn't such a no-no, so to speak. I always felt like it was necessary, but I'll admit it was a bit concerning at first using an L2 on vocals, L2 on a couple other busses, and then L2 on the final 2-bus... Oh who are we kidding, this style of music is smashed to bits anyway.
I don't use L2 on mixbuss (I'm sending stuff off for mastering) and if I am mixing for something without mastering (i don't think that "lazy love" video was mastered) I'll use Massey or Slate F-GX. I also don't do a lot of limiting on other tracks other than bass..but sometimes you need to especially with spiky synths!
Old 5th June 2014
  #105
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Igotsoul4u's Avatar
FWIW. This is an example of everything I was rambling about previously.
Mic is telefunken ak47 into great river pre, into buzz essence comp.

Old 5th June 2014
  #106
Gear Addict
 

Beyoncé uses a u47, Rihanna uses a c800g, Adele used a Rode Classic.

The lesson? Its all about the voice and the engineering skills, and little about the gear used, as long as it is above that 'quality threshold'
Old 5th June 2014
  #107
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Psycho monkey and del cosmos with some great threads!

Others also

But quick question and this is a bit of a blanket for other threads but for people who bring up Serban tips where are you getting it from? He has like 1-2 interviews ever from a long time ago and basically he's kind of a hermit who is off the radar.
Old 5th June 2014
  #108
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MRJ STUDIOS's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
I actually have access to a "real" H3000, but I find it's just easier to keep everything ITB for this sort of thing!



I don't use L2 on mixbuss (I'm sending stuff off for mastering) and if I am mixing for something without mastering (i don't think that "lazy love" video was mastered) I'll use Massey or Slate F-GX. I also don't do a lot of limiting on other tracks other than bass..but sometimes you need to especially with spiky synths!
Thanks again for the advice man. I'm gonna be mixing a super vocal heavy song soon, so I'm gonna spend a ton of time trying to get that "interest" going on in the solo vocal parts. I think I'm gonna be trying a lot of settings for ITB detune vs my 2120 hardware detune (try each using the same parameters). A shootout of sorts... see what really is working for me. I'll probably try the 2120 vs Wave Doubler and the Soundtoys plugs. Plus, I'm sure some of this is user error on my part, so I'll be trying different techniques getting it mixed in without it sounding robot-y or like a hairmetal guitar track

One question; are you guys ALWAYS using parallel compression on lead vocals or not for this genre/style of tracks?
Old 6th June 2014
  #109
Quote:
Originally Posted by MRJ STUDIOS View Post
Thanks again for the advice man. I'm gonna be mixing a super vocal heavy song soon, so I'm gonna spend a ton of time trying to get that "interest" going on in the solo vocal parts. I think I'm gonna be trying a lot of settings for ITB detune vs my 2120 hardware detune (try each using the same parameters). A shootout of sorts... see what really is working for me. I'll probably try the 2120 vs Wave Doubler and the Soundtoys plugs. Plus, I'm sure some of this is user error on my part, so I'll be trying different techniques getting it mixed in without it sounding robot-y or like a hairmetal guitar track

One question; are you guys ALWAYS using parallel compression on lead vocals or not for this genre/style of tracks?
Speaking for myself, I NEVER use parallel anything on vocals. I've got 100+ vocal tracks running sometimes, usually running through groups in sections - if I started paralleling things, I'd end up with too many tracks to keep on top of! I have to bounce down some stems as it is, much as you might send BV stacks up a board in stereo pairs (I usually try to work as if I'm on a desk in terms of grouping and processing etc).

The most I do is use a little bit of Decapitator at the end of a chain, maybe 70/30 dry/wet, so I guess that's parallel processing.
Old 6th June 2014
  #110
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Davido View Post
Beyoncé uses a u47, Rihanna uses a c800g, Adele used a Rode Classic.

The lesson? Its all about the voice and the engineering skills, and little about the gear used, as long as it is above that 'quality threshold'
Old 8th June 2014
  #111
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Glamdring's Avatar
 

Great thread guys - pleasure to read.

I've had great results with my Manley Ref C, Neve 1073 and CL1B on pop vocals. The vocal nearly always comes in sounding 'finished'. Interesting to read how people are using their CL1B, for me it's 3:1, attack and release between 10 and 11 o clock. Maybe I should experiment with a slightly longer release time, maybe around 12 o clock. Also, mostly hitting 6 db on peaks, but feel I should be a bit braver after reading this thread !
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