I'm working on a song for a friend that needs a background vox vaguely similar to "thunderstruck" by AC/DC where they all shout, "thunder" and it sounds huge. Something in the ballpark of a big group shout of single word lines. I'm guessing it's a combo of several vox tracks and reverb, but could use some help here.
If you have some ideas, I'd appreciate it.
You'll want to keep them all in pitch....maybe have 1 or 2 copies an octave above or below the original pitch of the song...sitting lower in the mix.
But the thing in "thunder" that makes it sound so big is really the tom hit's during the "thunder" part....big toms with lot's of verb make it sound bigger than it really is. If you listen to the vocals by themselves they aren't that big sounding.
Thanks for the tips. Yeah, "Thunderstruck" probably wasn't the best example of what I'm talking about. I guess a better example would be Def Leppard's "poor some sugar on me" during the "I'm hot...'hot'...so hot...etc" part where the bkgrnd vox are going back and forth with the lead.
I'll give 'er a shot with 4 tracks of the same then try the octave vox idea on top of it and see if that works.
Something I've started doing again recently is actually putting a few people round one mic. When I used to work with limited tracks ( pre Daw days ) I used to do this a lot for Punk and Rock stuff but when I got into Daw recording with virtually limitless tracks for some reason I stopped. I don't believe that this makes it sounds bigger but it definitely changes the performances think of it like a sport crowd with each singer pushing the others harder. It certainly changes the feel and sometimes for the better. The only thing to be aware of is positioning the singers for their relative volumes and tones.
I just checked out Def's "Sugar" and it sounds like they went with the one singer approach (I didn't hear multiple timbres) doing multiple tracks with the singer going for a kinda air-y hollow style. In other sections of the song--the call+responses in the verse, harms in the Bsec + the big BGs singing the hook in all the choruses--I heard a larger "gang-style" sound, but still sounded like it may have been one singer. The verb sounded like a relatively bright plate set @ about 1sec.
For some insight, on both Pyromania + Hysteria the BGs aren't actually credited to any of the band members, only to two mystery groups: "The Leppardettes" + "The Bankrupt Brothers" respectively. But since both records BGs have a very smooth even sound which can usually only be achieved by multi-tracking one singer, I'm pretty sure it was really one person. I've heard the secret to their unique BG sound was that they were actually sung by Mutt Lange. (Apparently the same singers were available for Shania Twain's records... ;-)
Anyway, some techniques I use to achieve a gang vocal sound that you may want to try are:
Multiple people (4-8) around the mic (as Jam said). Put the mic in omni mode (if poss.) and place everyone in a circle around it. Depending on how football/soccer stadium you are going for you can use anyone. For a real crowd effect use a mixture of people who don't normally sing (drummer, studio receptionist, assist. eng., the more off key the better sometimes) and those who can.
In multiple passes do two passes with them singing melody in their regular register, two passes in high octave kinda girl like, and two passes of low octave.
For an even more gangie stadium effect do two passes of high shouting, mid shouting, and low shouting.
To insure that you will have enough in key tracks you can also do some tracks with just the real singers. By blending between the larger group and the real singer tracks you can control the gang quality.
Optionally, during the shouting passes instruct them to change their distance from (and poss. location around) the mic between each of the six passes to change the color of the ambience as their voice interacts with the room.
It's hard to say how many tracks is too much or little. This is clearly a taste thing, depending on the size you are going for.
When mixing, to give the song a feeling of growth, don't use all the tracks from the start. You can use fewer tracks earlier in the song poss. leaving out the shouting tracks. Add them in (or turn them up) as the song progresses. You can optionally build the vocals by saving the higher octave tracks for the second chorus, and the lower ones for the third. Or a combination of these two approaches.
For processing I like to bus all the tracks to a stereo bus and compress + EQ the entire blend and put any aux send effects off the processed blend.
For effects I like using more of the split harmonizer effect (see 3rd section More Effects: Pitch Shifter — Split Harmonizer Effect) than I would normally use on anything else. Maybe -10 or -11 dB. (I normally use about -17 to -21 dB for any other vocals or instruments I may put it on.)
I've also found that using gated reverb can really heighten the excitement of the vocals. You can make them big, with a shoutie like quality without mucking up your mix with long verb tails.
Of course there are times when the large hall or stadium verb is exactly what is called for with these kind of vocals.
Play around with the panning. Hard left/right can sound big, but sometimes it sounds more realistic for these kinda vocals to be panned more center. Also try fanning the vocals to give the effect that there are people standing everywhere from left to right. Keep in mind if there will be a lead vocal going on @ the same time you may want to leave some space in the center for it.
I am producing a singer at the moment that wanted a gospel choir sound on a chorus. I had her do 2 takes of low, mid and high (harmonies) through one mic (CAD E300), then the same through a different mic (sm57). I also had her face the opposite way in the booth each pass. Then I just panned all of them a little differently and added a bigger reverb than the main vocals (more 'in-a-church' like) to make it sound wider and deeper...
She loved it, and it was fun for her as well (especially when she tried the bass parts..heh ).
A little different than what you're looking for (shouting) but the technique could work for that too.
For the Def Leppard backing vocals on "pour some sugar" we layered 3 people singing in unison on 20 tracks..bounce them to one track..do another 20 tracks and bounce them to one track....EQ'ing heavily on the bounces ..then we would repeat the process..we would rebounce the vocals a few times ..taking out the offensive frequencies very heavily on a narrow bandwidth first the honky frequency build up , then the shrill middle freq. the same way so the sound ends up kind of "concave" sounding with a lot of smooth high end.
One of the biggest parts of the sound though , is how Mutt would make everyone over emphasize the diction of the words...hard to explain...being animated in the pronunciation of the words gets the sound of the those B/V's....so does how tight the tracking up is...but by that record , Mutt and the Leps had had a lot of practice in tracking up vocals. With some of the 4 part harmonies we would end up with had such a distinct sound 'cos of Mutts voice. We would actually wear the tape out on the 2" because of playing and replaying the tape for months and months and......months.
We would not use reverb on the B/V's ..but I would use multi tap delays to thicken and widen the sound as much as I could..but of course , even more eq in the mix!
Hope this helps.
P.S ..."back then" we didnt have samplers and working out the offsets for the tape machines to fly the vocals was such a pain in the ass !!!
On their previous album I had to fly the vocals in to the choruses from half inch..two tracks at a time for however many pairs there were for all the harmonies and fitting it all on 24 tracks !!!
I don't take Protools for granted these days!!
I also used to have to fly in Queen's B/Vs as an assistant engineer and that was really very tricky because of so many overlapping parts its so different to how we do it now "cut and paste " wasn't even in the English language yet !!!
Thank you very much for the real story on the Def Leppard BGs. And thanks for all the detail as well. Sounds like you're saying it was at minimum 120 voices. (at minimum!!!) That's pretty amazing. I never would have guessed that smooth, homogenized sound came from that process, but it makes sense that by using so many tracks it would create such a silky sound.
I was just listening to both Pyromania + Hysteria the other day, and they both are brilliant sounding pieces of work. I can see why you wouldn't need to use reverb on some of those BGs, they almost have the sound like a very rich reverb of the lead vocal sometimes anyway. Absolutely love the sound of those records.
Rob......yes we used the AMS delay.......and the pcm 70 (we had 24 AMS's).one thing about that kind of vocal sound is that it kinda sounds best done on Analog , cos of what the multiple bounces do to the sound. We have done similar B/V's with Shania Twain( yes I know..you all hate that music)..and doing it digitally needs boxes like the "Hedd" to get the right kind of saturation.
Charles , we would use a lot of tumbling flanged delays and it was a lot of fun doing those records.
Listening to those Def Leppard CD's the other day I was thinking exactly what a blast you must have had making them.
And personally, I'm not afraid to admit that I LOVE pop music. I'm a kid who grew up on the radio. I especially love the Shania records. Of course, once again your work on them set standards for the rest of us to keep up with.
Desmond Child once asked me to match your piano sound on Shania's "The Woman In Me". At the time my best guess was compression, kind of a bright hi-mid EQ + a touch of split harmonizer effect (+9cents/-9cents/few ms delay), along with a short bright plate.
Mike Shipley is my favorite mixing engineer of all time. (I'm assuming Shipshape is Mike Shipley) His mixes are the standard which I always try to achieve. Pyromania is my favorite rock album. What you guys did back then was amazing and set new standards that are used to this very day. And it was all done without any DAW. Listen to many Hip Hop and R 'n' B tracks and there are layers and layers of vocals.
Mike did a short interview for MIX mag in June 1999.(I've read it over and over again) It's the only interview I could ever find of him. He shared a few techniques that I now use all the time. I use his shared knowledge where he would parallel the vocal up in about 6 or more channels and EQ it for different parts of the song.
I recently produced some vocals for a track and did a 'fake' 80 piece choir consisting of me and the lead singer. Def Leppard influenced. For EQ I followed a Mike Shipley tip in the MIX mag interview. He stated, "...it's a matter of hollowing it out so that it sits in the track; you take out whatever frequencies you need to, sometimes on a very fine "Q," taking out large amounts of middle so that the breathy thing is there and they just sit in the right place in the track." The Mike Shipley interview can be found at the MIX magazine website. Do a search on the MIX site. It's a good read.
Mikes' Shania and Faith Hill mixes are amazing. So much depth of field. He is the master of EQ and balance. I always use his tracks for reference mixes.
Mike, can you share with us some more info regarding the vocals on Pyromania and Hysteria.? What preamps and mics were you guys using on the lead vox and backing vox etc. ?
Thanks for contributing some of the best mixes in the music industry. From Pyromania to Shania to Aerosmith. I'm a very big fan.
Shan....you are gonna laugh at this,but on both Pyromania and Hysteria we never used any mic pre's other than what were in the SSL 4K we had. Admittedly it was one of the early hand built SSl's so it had a much differend sound than whe SSL got so popular and stopped the hand building and used different parts etc. for the 4K.
For vocals we used a u67 and a good old 1176. Everything ....gtrs , drums ,vocals etc were all with the SSL pre's , we would just struggle with what we had and try to make everything sound as" un" natural as we could on purpose 'cos we knew we could make records the right way and get "natural'' sounds of drums and gtr's but we always go for something different with Mutt..and spend as long as it takes to get it..and that can be a while. The funny thing about it all was coming to the U.S. to work and the reaction from a lot of engineers and producers here in L.A was that "how dare you f**k with how records should be made" This was back in the mid 80's tho....and L.A was the home of pristine , by the book recording techniques. But the records did well and Mutt wanted to make records for the the kids next door who had just gone and seen Star Wars which was so much larger than life and would also like something different with their music ..that was his theory and he was pretty much right. He always wanted me to come up with"larger than life" (which means a blend of natural and un natural) sounds "cos he knew that kids could hear a difference, but it took a lot of messing around and experimenting to get the "total sound" we were after but it was amazing being given so much freedom to try things. Anyway Shan.sorry for the rant...hope that helps .
Thanks for your reply Mike. I'm glad you guys expirimented the way you did. I was one of those star wars kids next door.heh I was 10 when I recorded 'Photograph' from FM radio(no mp3s back then). I listened to it over and over and over just amazed by the sound. Eventually got the money to buy the vinyl, 2 or 3 cassettes and later the CD Your new methods made everyone try to do something new and different instead of the textbook method. Great work.
I was wondering if you could follow up on Charles' question regarding what you did to get the sound of the piano from 'The women in me' by Shania. I'm curious myself.
I'd also like to know how you got that great Lead vocal sound on 'You got a way with me' by Shania. I hear alot of air and breath on the lead vocal. I have tried to get a similar sound with no luck.
One method I tried was a separate whisper track. Rolled off everything under 1kHz, boosted alot around 12-16 kHz and then compressed it like crazy. It worked okay but I found it was tricky to get a good whisper out of the singer and it has to be very tight or it just doesnt sound good.
The other method I tried was to parallel the vocal and on the paralleled track I filtered out all the bottom around 350-400Hz, boosted some 4-7kHz and then applied a high pass EQ boost around 17-18Khz quite abit followed by massive compression. I then mixed this in to add the air. It worked ok but not quite the same. I'm thinking that maybe it was just how she sung the track.
How did you do it on that track? What mics and pres did you use for the Lead and backing vox on that track? Thanks.
I also wanted to mention that I loved what you did to the acoustic guitar in Faiths' "Breathe". Julian King said it was one guitar miced and he took a direct out from it. It almost sounds like a double when the direct out is used. I've experimented with that technique. Sounds amazing.