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Mastering when recording vocals to an instrumental wav?
Old 6th December 2017
Gear Head

Thread Starter
Mastering when recording vocals to an instrumental wav?

Lately I have been recording people singing on top of instrumental tracks that have been mastered and I am having a hard time when it comes to to exporting the mp3 from my session

What happens is I turn down the instrumental 9db so it doesn't clip then I record vocals, then I put a limiter on the master at -9db threshold so that the track gets back to it's original level. The result is whenever the singer comes in, I can hear the limiting on the track a lot

Is there any better way to combine the vocal and instrumental file in a transparent way? Or am I kind of screwed unless I can get an un-squashed version of the instrumental
Old 7th December 2017
Mastering Moderator
Riccardo's Avatar

Verified Member
You need to balance the vocal with the backing track into the limiter while making shure it is only doing very little GR (i.e. 0.5). The vocal track should approximate .... ahem.... the squashing of the backing track you are provided.

p.s Yes you coud try and educate the customer but I fear with such customers it would be a daunting task....
Old 7th December 2017
Lives for gear

Although there's no generic answer to that without hearing the instrumentals..
I'd say, absolute output loudness is just secondary thing to right musical balance between vocals and the rest.

It's quite natural, when given instrumental track is already very loud and you'll mix vocal to sit above that, it won't be working, if you push everything to the limiter and try to reach same loudness as the instrumental alone. Vocal would be really squashed then and limiter action (triggered mainly by vocal) would affect also backing track, which will be pumping etc.
So the aim for identical loudness at any cost is bit pointless to me.

Professionally crafted backing tracks (which are sometimes made for playbacks at live shows, sold for different language versions etc.).. are typically not so heavily limited and it's essentially complete mix minus vocals.. So it's already prepared for a singer track. There's a "hole" in the middle of stereo field, and it follows dynamics of a tune, so you can quite easily fit all vocal lines, adlibs there with possible verb, delays.

If you don't have those and tracks doesn't easily blend with overdubbed vocals.. then you need to try to improve that. For example, it's possible to play with volume of both vocals and backing track, carve some midrange at M channel using unlinked M/S eq, use some multiband compressor etc. All can be automated according to flow of the tune and vocal parts.. and of course, it's important to watch, how it affects the backing track and if such EQ or fader rides are noticeable like some pumping/breathing or whether it audibly moves some elements in music mix - so the right amount of modifications is important.
But generally don't be afraid to work with backing track and automate, nobody will judge it individually.. only in the context of whole mix with vocals. When it will be working musically together, it's right.
If the track is already limited, then you can try to compress and limit vocal individually at its track/bus, where you do heavier gain reduction for better blend together and then possibly put another limiter at master bus, which will catch just small short peaks after final makeup gain. Particular material will tell you, how much gain you can afford there.. It is not possible to do enter some calculated fixed values like -9/+9dB, put hands behind your back and hear how everything falls apart

Good luck,

Old 8th December 2017
Lives for gear
Sigma's Avatar
i hate when people bring 2 tracks in to sing can't interweave instruments in the holes of the vocals so it always has this "seperated" vibe
Old 8th December 2017
Gear Head

Thread Starter

Thank you I will give these suggestions a shot!
Old 9th December 2017
Lives for gear
Ironically enough, I too am getting a lot of requests to record vocal over backing tracks. It can be a pain to get the vocals to sit in just right. I really don't like not having control over the individual instruments. I have found some sited where you can customize the backing track by choosing which instruments you want, and then allows you to download each instrument as a separate file. Unfortunately, the quality/performance isn't always that great. Often it sounds like midi triggering samples rather than live instruments.

From a client perspective I can see why they they prefer backing tracks:
- They are vocalists and don't play instruments themselves
- They don't have a band
- It's cheaper than recording a whole band

That being said, in addition to all the great advice given so far, are there any recommendations for some high quality backing tracks? I have personally used companies such as Studio Pros and have gotten great results, but it is not cos affective to these "backing track" clients. Although they are not willing to pay for live musicians or a service like Studio Pros, I think I would be able to have them pay more that $1 - $5 for backing tracks.

I am a bit torn, on the one hand I would hate to turn these clients down since it is decent beer money, but on the other hand I don't want my name tied to these mediocre backing tracks. Any suggestions for high quality backing tracks that fit my situation as stated above would be greatly appreciated.
Old 13th December 2017
Gear Maniac

Sounds like a lot of the stuff that came my way when I tried to run a small studio out of a back room of a church about a decade ago. Quite a number of people would come in with all these songs they'd got music on CDs and/or cassettes of....I think Christian World was the name of one of the companies that cranked them out. So I'd have to deal with all the variations born of all those differing sources. Album after tedious album of this unholy sonic cheese.

I had one song where the person told me he couldn't hear the first part of the song very well in the monitors when he sang live with the track, then the music came in too I did some gain riding to 'fix' that. Another time someone said there was 'static and noise' on the start of a downloaded backing mp3. I was able to transfer the thing in such a way that minimised the sound--what you'd know as the sound of a rain stick.

The music director of a radio station I worked at about 20 years ago had a great name for this kind of stuff--he called it 'Baptist karaoke'.

Anyway....most of these I produced by transferring the music tracks to two tracks of a 4 track tape machine, then record the singer's vocal on a third track, and mix to stereo as needed. Vocal would have EQ and some comp/limiting going to the 4 track and I would leave room for being able to add more in the mix to stereo.
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