Well recorded vocals can make or break song. The good news? It’s not really that hard to capture a great vocal recording. In fact there are basically two main steps you need to follow. In today’s video I show you exactly how I follow these two steps to get a great vocal recording for myself and all my clients. Enjoy!
When I was in college, all of my audio professors and books taught me to record as clean as possible, no effects. Just microphone to preamp to converter. Leave the EQ, compression, and other effects for the mixing phase.
The rationale was that you can’t undo effects on the way in so don’t play with fire. Just record things clean and then you can commit to the type of sound you want later. It’s a great idea in theory, until I realized that it was one of the biggest philosophies holding me back from making better music.
Why Wait To Make It Better?
What I’ve come to accept is that by recording “clean” all these years I’ve basically been telling myself that I’ll make it sound better, later. In fact, one band I was producing an album for used to joke on me in the tracking sessions saying “Graham will make it sound better…later!”
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Recording and mixing has become increasingly a software driven world. With mixing consoles and tape replaced by DAWs, outboard gear replaced by plugins, and records replaced by MP3s, everything seems to scream “software is king.” But with all the investment I have made in software over the years, it seems to me I have gotten more value out of my hardware.
Hardware Is Backwards Compatible
Have you ever updated your DAW to the latest version only to realize that it doesn’t work with your current computer’s OS? So then you update (potentially paid) your OS only to find out some of your plugins no longer work on the new OS. Ugh!! Now you potentially have to pay for an update of those plugins that are in essence the exact same thing you’ve been using for a few years, just compatible. Yep. Been there. Done that.
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Recording and mixing used to be simple. You had some microphones, hooked up to a console with built in preamps and effects, and it all dumped to tape. Somehow though, somewhere along the way someone went out and made things complicated by bringing in outboard preamps and effects and things went nuts. And now, many people getting into recording are simply confused and overwhelmed at the possible preamp and effects combinations available. I believe, it’s smarter to think of your studio with the mixing console mindset.
Consoles Only Have One Type Of Preamp
It might be hard to believe, but for many years people recorded all of their tracks with the built in mic pres on their console. Whatever studio they were in, that was the console they were using and therefore their preamp choice was already made for them. Recording on a Neve? Looks like you’ll be using Neve preamps. Tracking on an SSL? Yep, you guessed it, SSL pres are your only option.
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This week, in celebration of The Recording Revolution’s three year birthday I thought I would share three core principles I live by in the studio. Hundreds of posts and videos later, these truth statements continue to be the foundation of this revolution we are all witnesses of in the recording world. My studio lives and works off of these principles and yours can too!
Thinking about buying some new stuff for your studio? I’ve got news for you: you probably don’t deserve it. Sound harsh? Well, maybe I’m being a bit sarcastic today, but I actually do have a helpful point to make.
More often than not, we lust after a piece of gear (hardware or software) thinking it would make our music better or at least make us feel cooler, when all the while we haven’t produced much music on our current setup to warrant the cost. Hear me out on this…
When Was The Last Project You Finished?
I’m assuming you already own some studio equipment. A computer, an audio interface, a microphone or two, etc. Have you made any music with it yet? Ok, good. When was the last project you finished? A month ago? Six months ago? Last year? Here’s a better question: how many projects have you produced with your current studio setup, ever? Five? Three? One even?!
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What if I told you there was a way to make all of your current gear immediately sound better? No I’m not talking about getting new converters or upgrading your DAW (like that will instantly make you sound better). Rather I’m suggesting that if you tighten up the sound of your room with a little speaker adjustment and acoustic treatment you’ll get better performance out of all your current stuff. Let’s examine this theory shall we?
Better Recordings With Your Current Microphones
When you’ve considered your room’s sound and treated it with with some simple acoustic panels, you’ll hear immediate improvement in your recordings. Your microphones aren’t that smart. They hear everything and anything that is happening in your room, for better or for worse. If your room sounds untreated, that’s what your mics will pick up.
However, if you’ve tightened up the slap back and that nasty ring we’re all so familiar with, then what your mics will “hear” is likely what you want them to “hear”, your source. Your acoustic guitars will resonate better, vocals will be clearer, and of course, percussion will be more crisp. It’s amazing what modestly priced microphones can do if you just put them in a decent sounding room!
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If you’re not getting the sound you want in your studio, chances are you need a studio reset. We always tend to think that our gear is the problem and that if we could only buy something or upgrade our studios with something more “professional” we’d be closer to what we hear in our heads. More than likely you just need to re think how you use your stuff and start from scratch. And good thing too, because it costs you nothing to do!
At some point in your studio adventures you might be asking yourself this question: do I need to buy an outboard compressor? Maybe you’ve heard that recording with some compression can be helpful. Or perhaps you’ve seen the “big boys” using outboard compressors in the mixing stage. You know they exist. So do you need one?
What It Can Do For You
The best reason I can think of for someone to use an outboard compressor (i.e. a physical hardware compressor in your signal path) is for recording purposes. A little compression on your vocals, kick or snare drum, or even your bass guitar can be a nice touch when going in to your DAW.
For a dynamic vocalist (someone who varies between loud and soft passages of singing), a simple compressor inserted after your mic pre but before you converters can be a life saver. You’ll tame the peaks, bring up the quiet parts, and get a more even performance going to “tape.” The same is true for recording snare drum. I usually like to compress my snares to get a fatter sound in the mix, so with an outboard compressor you can get this sound set before you even hit record. Nice!
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Tell me something about that fancy new plugin or microphone you want to buy: how well do you know your current gear? If you’re like many people, you probably have only used your current gear for one or two projects and you already want to buy something else. You’re looking for that elusive magic bullet. Instead you should be learning your gear.
Owning Does Not Equal Knowing
Here’s something to consider. Just because you own a certain piece of gear (hardware or software) doesn’t mean you really know it. Just because a certain mic preamp or plugin has been sitting in your studio for two years does not mean it has been put through its paces. And if you don’t really use your gear enough, how can you ever know what it truly is capable of?
You can’t, that’s the issue. Just simply buying a set of studio monitors doesn’t mean you will know how they sound in your room instantly. Or how they will affect your mixes after an afternoon. It takes time to learn gear, which means you really aren’t in a position to give an opinion on something unless you’ve used it enough.
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