thread: Vocal Tracking
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Old 12th February 2014
I love tracking vocals. I usually give the engineer the day off as I dig in for a one-on-one with the singer.

I prepare by creating 16 or so Work Tracks in the ProTools session, all with the same input and output (I don't use playlists). I open the "comments" boxes on the tracks in anticipation of making performance notes. The returns will have no effects. I don't want the singer to hide behind reverb wash.

My favorite vocal chain is a Telefunken U47 into a Neve 1073 mic pre/EQ with a UA175b and a Urie1176 limiter/compressor on the way to the recorder. Not much EQ adjustment during vocal tracking, but I'm not shy with compression and usually have them set fairly strong. I ask the vocalist to get loud so I can set the peak level, then I ask the vocalist to sing softly to make sure the quiet stuff comes up.

I start by recording two full passes of the song, so the singer will feel comfortable and I can get to know the song. These "warm-up" tracks provide a visual guide of where the vocals are in the song. Those first two takes are usually full of good performance bits that I can put into the comp later.

After the first two "warm-up" takes, we will concentrate on one section of the song at a time, recording four or so takes of verse one, etc., each take recorded on its own Work Track, staggering tracks as we go. As we record, I tap notes into the comments box, identifying what parts of that performance I like, using an easy labeling system:

V1 = verse one
PC1 = pre-chorus one
C1 = chorus one
BR = bridge

So, if I like the performance on the third phrase of the first verse, I will mark it as:


More stars signify liking it better. If I don't like the take, I don't mark it. If I really like the take, I'll mark it with three or four stars! By the end of recording, the comment boxes are usually full of notes, which I use to make a comp of the best parts of our vocal recording. I'll create a Lead Vocal Comp track in the session and drag the best bits from the Work Tracks onto this track. The notes make it so easy that often I will have the Comp finished before the end of recording, as I'll be cutting, dragging and pasting while the vocalist is still singing. I'll then listen back to the Lead Vocal Comp, detail it, move anything with timing issues, clean up and add fades.

Often there will be good left-over lead vocal takes, and I'll use those to create a pair of unison doubles to add dynamics in the choruses. I will also build color by adding pairs of harmonies in sections of the song. If the singer does not have an idea for a harmony, I will sing some harmony ideas, using a talk-back mic to record parts into the session, then have the singer copy what I have done. Many vocalists do better to sing the harmony part without hearing the lead part that they are harmonizing to.

Oh, there are so many situations and challenges in vocal recording to address. I have a whole bag of tricks to get what I want out of a vocalist. I'll often distract them in ridiculous ways to get their mind off of their throat. Tasks like "pretend you are swimming", or "jump up and down", or "run around the block three times and come back and sing". Once I had a singer dress up in a wedding dress to get her magic vocal performance. On the System Of A Down record, I had Serge hang up-side down and scream. His face turned bright red and his eyes started to pop out. Almost killed the guy... so I stopped doing that!

Here is a photo of a finished vocal session, with the Lead Vocal Comp at the top, Lead Doubles directly under it and pairs of Harmonies and other backing tracks. Ready to mix!

Vocal Tracking-vocalprotools.jpg