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Tips to get vocals to stand out in mix/sound good
Old 26th October 2008
  #1
Gear Nut
 

Tips to get vocals to stand out in mix/sound good

Hi All,
I have been consistently running into the problem of making a single vocal track stand out in a dense rock mix. I am running a fairly hi end mic pre combined with a distressor feeding into an SM58 (soon to be TLM 49). I run logic 8 studio and will usually further compress/limit, and eq once recorded using the stock plug ins. Time and time again however, I find myself having to stack vocals to get proper girth and depth within the mix (even after adjusting levels). I would love to get that wonderful kind single intimate vocal track that stands out (much like you'd hear on something like a david bowie track etc...) Considered dishing out the money for something like an 1176, but not sure if that would be the real solution seeing as how the distressor should suffice. Any tips that some more experienced folk can help me out with whether it be gear tips, mixing tips, recording tips? etc....thanks in advance!
Old 26th October 2008
  #2
Gear Guru
 
Sid Viscous's Avatar
 

IMHO if you can't do it with that gear and a 58, you can't do it. I don't seem to have problems with a cheap ass pre and a 58. I don't usually limit vocals but I do like to compress the dookie out of the and frequency limit them as much as possible. Are you sure you aren't too close to the project and are being hypercritical? How about the verb/delay? I doubt any of that was all that helpful, but it was my best shot.
Old 26th October 2008
  #3
Here for the gear
 

If the vocals are not standing out in your mix, turn them up! Besides that i throw in some 1176 and a bit of chorus f/x ...
Old 27th October 2008
  #4
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doorknocker's Avatar
Making a vocal 'sit prefectly' is one of the most difficult things to get right. As the lead vocal is practcally always the most important element in a mix, that's where all the elements come together (or not).

- The lead vocal needs its own space in the arrangement. Often there is simpyl too much clutter i.e say a guitar player doing 'great' parts that only get in the way of the singer. Don't be afarid of the mute button!

- Some voices just cut through. There's an interesting point that Chris Blackwell made about Bob Marley. He said that Marley's voice and delivery that just had the right midrange character to poke thu a mix. Therefore the vocals could be mixed lower and thus the power of the instruments came through better as well. Simply making the voice louder can often result in a kind of '60ies Nashville'-sound....singer WAY upfront but power in the backing tracks.

- Another example is Led Zeppelin. I always thought that Plant's voice fit perfectly over the low-end and midrange artillery of Bonham/Jones/Page. Often the voice isn't mixed that loud but Plant's high register and extreme power make for a perfect blend. 'Whole Lotta Love' is a perfect example.

- Mixing in one-speaker mono is a good way to find room for the lead vocal. Especially in regard to the snare.

- As for Bowie I really think that he's an amazing singer with great attitude. That's at least 90% of the sound and mix right there.

-Did I say it's hard? I guess we're all looking for the right way to do it......
Old 27th October 2008
  #5
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BOWIE's Avatar
Distance from the mic is key.
The mics, preamps, and comp need to match the specific voice or they won't do much in bringing it forward.
Getting all these right and avoiding EQ helps a lot.

David has a voice that naturally comes forward because he can control his dynamics and the tone of his voice is rich enough in harmonic overtones that it always leaps off the speakers. "Sons of the Silent Age" is an awesome example of forward vox. Tony said he used to use a 67 a lot on David and sometimes an 87'.
Old 27th October 2008
  #6
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Osumosan's Avatar
 

Don't have the vocals through the same compressor chain as any of the other tracks, especially an agressive buss compressor. Do all your compression and then put the vox and it's own compression on top of that so that nothing pushes it down.
Old 27th October 2008
  #7
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Don't have the vocals through the same compressor chain as any of the other tracks, especially an agressive buss compressor. Do all your compression and then put the vox and it's own compression on top of that so that nothing pushes it down.
............that would seem to be what Michael brauer does, up to 5 comps chained for the lead vox but going to a diff buss from the main compressed one.
Old 27th October 2008
  #8
Niv
Gear Maniac
 

it depends on the compression ratio between the vocals and the other elements as well as the compression of the whole mix. therefore i dislike recent rock/pop producions where all gotta be lined up in the first row, and prefer music where elements are integrated (maybe by a more intelligent room design of the sound) rather set in competition. usually this goes hand in hand with better songwriting and higher dynamics.

if you don´t care about all that, the center and upper mid range is the key. compress and raise the higher/middle mids of the vocal tracks or set back these frequencies of the other tracks around, and you´re done.
Old 27th October 2008
  #9
Gear Maniac
 

The human brain perceives a delay greater than approximately 30 miliseconds as beginning a phenomenon know as "slap back" delay/echo. The longer the delay time the more obvious the echo and eventually comes the noticeable "long" delay. In contrast, a delay time of anything less than aprox 30 milliseconds and your brain perceives both signals as a single event! The trick is to use a stereo delay and delay the right side something like 29ms and the left side something like 23 ms. Adjust parameters to taste obviously. Your vox should cut through the mix much better now. You've quite literally fattened up the sound. If that does not work try also running the analyzer function on an eq plug-in and check out what frequencies your vocal is riding at. Then use some EQ to attenuate those frequencies from the close competing tracks.
Old 27th October 2008
  #10
Gear Nut
 

thanks for the feedback. i am also wondering if treating the room better would help as well, since most everything else I am recording other than the vocals is picking up very little (or in the case of DI of midi) none of the room as much as the vox. do you think that running everything through the same mic pre can have a similar result to running everything through the same compressor as well? meaning, not allowing the vocal to stand out on its own as much as you like due similar overtones and color.

also, am really am aware it has everything to do with the singer and the performance. but i have been in more professional type settings (which i know the bedroom is no substitute for) where my voice, one track sounded huge, stood out, and barely needed anything other than some reverb during mix down. i would really like to achieve more of that kind result, but in a project setting (which i know is opening up a completely ridiculous can worms in itself).

anyways, thanks so far. any other personal tips that you find yourself using time after time?
Old 27th October 2008
  #11
Gear Nut
 

craschowder, i have mostly used mono delay so i will experiment more with stereo delay next time around. thanks for the tip on that one. i will try that out.
Old 27th October 2008
  #12
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by floater138 View Post
craschowder, i have mostly used mono delay so i will experiment more with stereo delay next time around. thanks for the tip on that one. i will try that out.
cool, keep in mind mono works too but the stereo method gives you 2x the boost. Play around with the delay times and just make sure the L and R parameters are different. Works well with some light counter EQ. The volume will increase after applying the delay, you can try backing off on the level a bit. The vox are fatter now so you don't necessarily need the volume boost.

When setting this up...I recommend inserting the delay plug-in (100% wet) on a new and seperate aux track and then sending the original dry vocal to it using the aux send. That way you can control your wet to dry ratio with the original dry tracks fader and the wet aux track fader.

Also remember that a good compressor (plug-in) is useful in controlling the possible volume swells created by the delayed signals. You could insert a compressor into the aux track to compress the delayed signals and get a variation of parallel compression going on. Good Luck.
Old 27th October 2008
  #13
Gear Addict
 

Cut away all the low end, de-ess if necessary and then smack the living bejesus out of it with an 1176 or your distressor. That will be so in your face you'll know if the vocalist washed their teeth that morning. Then fine tune with delays, EQ etc.
Old 27th October 2008
  #14
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by craschowder View Post
The trick is to use a stereo delay and delay the right side something like 29ms and the left side something like 23 ms. Adjust parameters to taste obviously. Your vox should cut through the mix much better now. You've quite literally fattened up the sound. If that does not work try also running the analyzer function on an eq plug-in and check out what frequencies your vocal is riding at. Then use some EQ to attenuate those frequencies from the close competing tracks.
I like this tip, i'm gonna try this next time! I kinda achieved this with chorus, but delay might sound nice and less phasy ...
Old 27th October 2008
  #15
Lives for gear
 

+1 on distance from mic. Type of mic and preamp can be important too, for specific voices. I usually add quite some LA2A compression afterwards, makes the vocals sound coherent but still dynamic enough. And some nice Plate reverb. That just about does it for me.
Old 27th October 2008
  #16
Gear Head
 

Nuke !

Quote:
Originally Posted by floater138 View Post
Hi All,
I would love to get that wonderful kind single intimate vocal track that stands out. Any tips that some more experienced folk can help me out with whether it be gear tips, mixing tips, recording tips? etc....thanks in advance!
Begin to compress the vocal during tracking, I would say around 6:1 ratio, fast attack and fast/medium release.
Then during mixing I love (especially with rock music) the nuke ratio on vocals, with again fast attack and the fastest release that will not too much pumping. It will give you a very present and "urgent" vox.
Old 27th October 2008
  #17
Gear Head
 

How do you all feel about applying side chain compression to vocals? It's worked for me in the past...but i could be fooling myself.

I'm not a pro by any means....but I have definitely put in hundreds of hours (yeah, i was probably stoned) tweaking knobs. Just trying to learn as much as possible but naively experiment at the same time.
Old 27th October 2008
  #18
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Lumin One's Avatar
have you tried pans and some slight eq scoops?
can you strip some of the busyness of the instruments away?
Old 27th October 2008
  #19
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decibike's Avatar
 

* +1 on panning delays hard left hard right at different speeds. Even when these delays are barely audible they can add a lot of presence and body to a single track vocal. Sometimes its nice to put a tiny bit of chorus on the delays to fatten up the sound a bit.

* Different types of compression in series: fast 1176 ish compression followed by slower attack opto style compression. Experiment with different rates on both compressers. In most cases I prefer a couple of Dbs gain reduction on two compressors above a lot of dbs on one compressor.

* Parallel compression on duplicate of the vocal track

* A bit of distortion on duplicate of the vocal track

* Less distortion on electric guitars.

* Small eq cuts on instruments (the ones that interfere with the vocal; eguitars, keys, etc) in vocal presence range

* Btway: are you recording your own vocals or do have this problem with every singer? If you are only recording yourself a different mic might be the solution.
Old 27th October 2008
  #20
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insomnio's Avatar
 

Begin with the vox in your mixing sessions. Then, add and tweak the rest (instruments, BGVs, etc). Mix around the most important element of the song. During mixing, don't mute it unless you want to fine tune something for a moment. Is kind of difficult to get used to, but it has rewarding results. Some people even add the vox fx at the beginning. I do that only if the specific fx has to be heard.

The compression, eq and volume ridding too, of course.
Old 27th October 2008
  #21
Gear Guru
 
Sid Viscous's Avatar
 

Too much room in the vocal track? It shouldn't be so much of a problem with a 58, but it can be. You take a lot of room and add compression and FX and things can get washed out in a hurry, especially if one is using the extreme compression and EQ that is normally talked about around here.
Old 27th October 2008
  #22
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insomnio's Avatar
 

Hey, very good stuff so far!
Old 27th October 2008
  #23
Gear Guru
 

I use a lot of these methods, but I also rely a lot on automation.

After all the compressing and eq-ing and panned delays I usually find a place where the vocal sits well most of the time, then I usually automate the rest. Line by line - or even single words if necessary. A compressor will level the vox, but the relative levels are what matters and that will change throughout the song.


once you have automation, there goes your last excuse for not having the vocals stand out or sit well.
Old 27th October 2008
  #24
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Rednose's Avatar
I would try turning down all the other tracks. If the vocal isnt standing out, its not loud enough or the other tracks are too loud.
Compression can help for sure, but eq may not be the solution.
An sm 58 isn't the best mic for dense rock mixes. I've had better luck with LDC.
You can hear some samples of dense rock at my website:
sonicpalacemusic.com
Good luck!
Old 27th October 2008
  #25
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Beardhead's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by RollrCoastr View Post
If the vocals are not standing out in your mix, turn them up!

I think the vocals must be able to be heard even if they are quiet in the mix. Most vocals on modern unbearable radio wanna-be rock songs are too loud for me.
Give them space in the right frequency range. I'd rather attenuate other instruments in certain frequency ranges than boosting some vocal frequencies.
Using harmonics and distortion helps, the 1176 can be good for that in all button mode.

My €0,02.

Claus
Old 27th October 2008
  #26
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RCM - Ronan's Avatar
Agreed that getting vocals to sit right is one of the toughest things.

Try and figure out what is fighting with the vocal and deal with that thing rather than the vocal. Try to make s space for the vocal to live.

Avoid using digital amp modelers on guitars. There are few things that will fight a vocal worse than an over driven amp modeler.
Old 27th October 2008
  #27
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insomnio's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Beardhead View Post
I
Using harmonics and distortion helps, the 1176 can be good for that in all button mode.
I don't think this guy is mixing OTB so, that trick should come from a plugin.

Yesterday I got a call from a client telling me that the mix he was evaluating was perfect but he wanted more clarity in the vox in a verse. Boosting the voice in that part didn't make me feel happy so, I doubled the voice track, high pass filtered up to 5k, compressed that, boosted a little 10k and turned it up just until the problem was gone. I never did that before...in this case, it worked.
Old 27th October 2008
  #28
arrangement is key. try to keep things operating in the same musical range as the lead vocal from being panned in the center to fight it. If you have a slamming guitar part right up the center channel during the verse of course you'll have trouble getting the vocal to come out. Doubletracking guitars and panning them out leaves lots of space for vox while keep the guitar sound huge. If thats not an option (either because of style or not wanting to overdub) you may want to sidechain the vox to the input of a compressor thats clamping down on other center channel elements, like a guitar or piano or something. That way your vocals are unobscured, but between the lines, those cool noodly licks or keyboard fills dont get lost.

also, have teh singer over-enunciate his/her consonants. while singing a cappella it may be easy to understand, but in a dense rock mix, a lot of times the vowels and notes come out clearly, but intelligibility is low because the singer rounds off the consonants out of laziness, then people complain that the vox are too low. well in that case, its not teh level thats the issue. the remedy i have found is to try to coach the singer to exagerrate the consonants just a hair more than usual without being uncomfortable. the result is that extra little bit of intelligibility without having to have the vox so loud that it kills the power of the music.
ymmv -dan
Old 27th October 2008
  #29
Gear Guru
 
Ethan Winer's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by floater138 View Post
I have been consistently running into the problem of making a single vocal track stand out in a dense rock mix.
My favorite tip is to send all tracks except the vocal to one bus, and send the vocal to another bus. Add a few dB boost around 800-1200 Hz on the vocal bus with a Q of about 1, then cut the same frequency and amount and Q on the other bus. Works like magic to make the vocal pop right out without being too loud.

Quote:
i am also wondering if treating the room better would help as well
It can only help to capture clearer vocals. And it will help you to mix better too.

--Ethan
Old 27th October 2008
  #30
Gear Nut
 

thanks everyone! I have got so many great new ideas now to work with. i just finished tracking the music to a new song and am just waiting for a couple of new toys to arrive (namely a se Reflexion sheild and my first good condenser mic) and then I am gonna get to tracking the vocals and trying some of these ideas out. I especially like the idea of the stereo delay, as well as copying the take to another track to apply distortion, eq, f/x etc...as I run into problems all the time when it comes to maintaining a clear sound that still sounds wet.

Other than that, the apogee duet has no analog ins/outs to run outboard gear so it is gonna make trying to use the distressor (in opto mode) a little difficult. I guess an apogee ensemble could help that a little further down the line when I'm not broke.

thanks again guys!
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