Vocal recording and processing tutorial

Jun 8, 2006

  1. WALSH350

    2,131 posts
    Since Jan 1, 2005
    hello peops, someone was asking for advice on vocal recording in another thread so i decided to write a quick tutorial, you can download the tutorial as a text document if you want to keep it for reference when offline or you can just read it here,

    Walsh350`s vocal recording tutorial

    Ok dudes and dudes with vaginas* i`ve decided to write a quick article on basic vocal recording techniques.
    I vomited on myself this morning whilst taking a pooh due to a hangover from last night and I still feel a bit ropey so i`m staying out of the studio today and have a little free time.
    Also With all the help and advice i`ve gained from the dogs on www.dogsonacid.com it’s the least I can do.
    By the way, I`m not spell checking this or even going to read it after ive writeen it so if it doesn’t make sense sorry.

    *(female sound engineers, please send me a pic to [email protected] if you are a female sound engineer that isn’t a man beast to disprove my potentially offensive opening statement)*

    Try and use a half decent capacitor mic when recording studio vocals, you can pick up a decent one for around £200. If your budget wont stretch the far, a Shure sm58 or sm57 will do the job nicely, I think you can pick up an sm58 for around the £50 mark if you look about a bit. The sm58 has a nice punchy characteristic to it and can be pretty good for capturing grimey/rap/mc type vocals.
    Being that a lot of peoples budgets wont stretch to £200 for a mic, especially when people are not working professionally within the industry i`ll focus on using the sm58.

    Ideally we would choose a cardioid polar pattern mic with the vocalist directly on axis in order to minimise recording room reflections and other generallt noisy and unwanted shit on the vocal take.
    Being that i`m only focusing on the sm58 which has an omni polar pattern we need to take a few precautions in order to capture a clear vocal. A cheap and easy way of isolating the microphone from reflections is to try and set up a temporary vocal booth using duvets. Try and place a duvet or at least part of one on each side of the performer. Stopping reflections from directly behind the performer are worth worrying slightly less about due to the performers body absorbing some of the rear reflections. Try attaching a cushion from a sofa or summat to the ceiling above the mic position and if you have a wooden floor lay a rug down underneath. Hopefully youll have a mic stand but if you don’t youll need to get the mic fixed into the right position some how, personally with my carpentry experience id just cut a piece of wood to the right height and lean it against a chair or something. Fix the piece of wood and the mic with a bit of sticky tape or something. Bear in mind that what you use may cause reflections. Next up youll need a pop shield, they are cheap to buy but if you don’t have one just get an old coat hanger, bend it into a decent sized hoop and stretch some tights/pantyhose over the hole, use the end of the coat hanger to fix the makeshift pop shield onto the piece of wood/mic stand in the right position. If possible try and set up your temporary booth away from the walls and not in the centre of the room.

    If you have any traffic noise in your room close up your windows and or don’t record during rush hour or when ever you think the traffic is particularily noisy. Also make sure you turn off any fans or other electrical equipment that may make any unnecrssary noise.

    Its easiest to record the vocals without any eq or compression as you wont be able to change the settings afterwards. Set the record level to a point that wont cause the audio to go over 0db, you can use a limiter in the recording signal chain but unless you have a good one, software or hardware, it may add its own unwanted characteristics to the recording.

    Set up a headphone mix for the singer, add some reverb onto the vocals to make the singers own voice sound a bit nicer to themselves during the recording. Try using closed headphones to minimise spill from the monitor headphones. If you still end up getting headphone spill due to the singer wanting the monitor mix to loud or whatever i`ll give you one of my secrets. After recording the vocal take/s get the singer to stand in the same position as they did for the vocal take, put the headphones on the singer and set them to exactly the same level as they were set for the previous takes, then record another take without the singer making any noise.
    Call this take the spill take or whatever works for you. What you can now do is, reverse the phase on the spill take, you can do this by switching the hot and the cold pin wiring on the xlr before the take, or if you use cubase there is a handy phase reverse button on each track in the cubase mixer. When you layer the spill take over the other vocal take with its phase reversed you it will cancel the headphone spill out pretty much all together, with the spill fader at the bottom and slowly fade up until you hear the headphone spill disappear, then bounce the two layers down to one file and youll have a nice vocal recording without the spill in the back ground. By the way i`d advise doing more than one acceptable take, sometimes in post production you may want to edit different takes together in order to achieve the sound you want.

    Now were at the mixing stage at last, its time to polish up your vocal track.
    set up a noise gate to get rid of unwanted noise between the parts when the vocalist isn’t making any sound.

    Removing 100hz-400hz will clean up any “boxiness” but don’t over do it or you`ll end up losing too much body.

    A boost around 7khz with a wide q curve can add `sparkle/air/sizzle`.

    Now what I generally tend to do with all elements I use in a track is high and low pass each sample. Push the settings as far as they will go without having any audible effect on the sound, this is one of the main reason its also worth investing in a decent pair of studio monitors. I`m using the alesis mkii`s at the moment and they have served me well considering I bought them for under £300 a while back, but now im saving u for the adam p33 thingys, expensive bastards though.

    Heres a few ideas for the processing, obviously theres no set way to do things but try this.

    Add a little bit of nice and tight plate reverb then resample.( the number 1 rule with resampling is save as before each bounce)

    Now add a little bit of rhythmic delay, and add little more plate reverb onto the delay, filter out the low freq`s on the reverb on the delay if you know what I mean.

    To thicken up the track get a different take and layer it over the original at an appropriate level.
    There isn’t much point simply copying the same take and placing it under neath the main vocal track because all that’s going to do is raise the vocal level and it wont have any thickening effect. It’s the interaction between the nuances of the different recordings that cause the thickening effect.
    Try offsetting the second vocal track a few milliseconds aswell, experiment, use what works.

    Another thing you might want to try is adding some sort of extreme effect to the thickening layer, such as a vocoder or something, then just slowly push the level up until you get a bit of the effect without losing the overall clarity and punc of the vocals.
    Adding a little bit delay with a different time setting to the main delay can also make the second vocal sound more pronounced without interfering with the main vocal.

    now resample and then paste a copy of the vocal recording into another free track in your sequencer/editor.

    Lets call these two tracks 1 and 2,

    Compress the bejesus out of track 2 then slowly raise the fader level to a point where you have a balance between dynamics and loudness. Don’t go too mad here. Now add any additional eq you may need on the overall vocal signal, then add another compressor on the overall vocal signal, set the threshold to something like -10db with a low ratio of something like 2 or 3:1, adjust make up gain to taste, setting a really low threshold and a low ratio helps to subtly glue everything together, this is also a use trick to apply to entire mixes, although multi band compression has better effects on entire mixes I cant be arsed and don’t know enough about it to write any thing about it. Another little tip I picked up from the grid is too save your final mixes without any compression incase you get signed and the track needs to be mastered properly.

    Now Put all the duvets and shit back before your mum gets home from work and decides to send you for psychoanalysis.

  2. WALSH350

    2,131 posts
    Since Jan 1, 2005
    oh yeah and another tip, dont get caught looking through your mums knicker draw looking for tights
  3. WALSH350

    2,131 posts
    Since Jan 1, 2005
  4. the mysteron

    the mysteron
    2,052 posts
    Since Jul 24, 2005
    twaz me who asked for advice in another thread and mucous gracias for this :slayer: :slayer: :slayer: :slayer: :thumbup:
  5. WALSH350

    2,131 posts
    Since Jan 1, 2005
    no problem mate.
  6. ill-esha illustrious

    472 posts
    Since Aug 30, 2001
    Nice tutorial, except I'm not a man with a vagina, and neither are my lovely friends that produce......

    here's me on the right, with Jen Mas on the left..


    queenie, another woman who's not a man with a vagina


    and i'm pretty sure reid isn't a man with a vagina either.

  7. B-complex renoise head

    2,384 posts
    Since Jun 8, 2004
  8. evilsoft Long haired, Hippie Freak

    448 posts
    Since Dec 6, 2004
    Wow you are very beautiful...
    Where are your tunes...do you have them online?
    I am curious about something...Does Jen Mas produce? Where are her tunes at (if any).

    And what is your set-up like...

    Hell maybe you could do a Q&A:teeth:
    but seriously
  9. RAzzalina RAAT 77

    1,285 posts
    Since Dec 31, 2005
  10. WALSH350

    2,131 posts
    Since Jan 1, 2005
    :laughing: :laughing:

    I stand corrected.

    Fancy a collab? My AIM wont work so youll have to come and stay with me, i`ve got a spare room. :teeth:

    p.s. do you have a boyfriend??;)

    edit: just been thinking, you may not be a man with a vagina but how are us poor unsuspecting dogs supposed to know that your not a lady with a penis? pic or stfu:teeth:
  11. evilsoft Long haired, Hippie Freak

    448 posts
    Since Dec 6, 2004
    yep...pathetic isn't it...:teeth:...but not as bad as ol' WALSH
  12. ill-esha illustrious

    472 posts
    Since Aug 30, 2001
    You can hear my tunes on Myspace or check out my website for other info :)

    I don't think Jen Mas produces actually, but she's a hella cool girl and DJ anyways!!!

    I posted pics of my studio setup, shortly after that I got robbed. So I'm not posting the pics again :) but I have a really nice little building that my ex-partner and i constructed which has an iso booth and a decent control room.

    Athlon 3ghz
    Cubase SX 3.1
    lots of Native Instruments, TC, Spectrasonics and Waves VSTs
    Tascam FW-1082 digital mixing console (this got stolen, so currently I'm just using a Tascam US-122 to get by till my new one gets here)
    Mackie HR-824 studio monitors
    M-Audio 88-key semi-weighted midi controller
    MicroKorg synth
    Behringer Bluemax compressor
    Universal Audio 6176 analog tube mic pre! (on loan.. YAAAA!)
    Kawai upright piano
    Fender Jazz bass
    Simon & Patrick acoustic guitar
    Simon & Patrick classical guitar
    Technics 1200 turntables (x 2)
    Shure White Label needles
    Vestax PMC17-A mixer
    American DJ CDJ (Piece of Poo!)
    Shure SM-58 dynamic microphone
    Shure SM-57 dynamic microphone
    AudioTechnica 3035 condenser microphone
    AudioTechnica 4050 condenser microphone

    umm.. i'm typing this from the office all from memory so I may have forgotten something

    I don't deserve to do a Q&A yet.. but maybe by next year!! I've got lots of collabs coming out and a few solo records.
  13. ill-esha illustrious

    472 posts
    Since Aug 30, 2001

    ahahaha. I actually do a lot of my collabs with a combination of AIM and Skype now actually.. it's particularly useful when I'm doing vocals and the other producer has an idea they want to show me. My friend TheEgo, a Chilean producer, will call me up on Skype, and we'll voice/video chat.. he'll sing an idea to me and I'll sing it back.. almost as good as real time!!!

    The Ego Myspace - you can hear two tunes we've collabed on, one called "Hypnotized" with me, him and DNK.. another one called "Rock the Crowd" or "Universe" with me, him and DJ Roots from Innerground!

    No I do not have a boyfriend, nor do I want one. All you blokes get in the way. I was in a common law marriage for the last few years and have you seen me release anything since Social Skillz (made before i met the guy)? No. I am privileged that the tune did so well and kept getting rereleased, because I really slacked on making music while I was "married"!

    and i'm not going to show you any pics.... but I DJ at a Sunday night party where there's a sauna, and I usually end up in there... I'm sure anyone in there with me would definitely vouch that there's no penis there. :finger:
  14. WALSH350

    2,131 posts
    Since Jan 1, 2005

    cool, thats a nice setup.
    I havnt been working in the industry that long so i dont have that much kit, but im working on it.

    sometimes i have to live on toast for a few days just so i can get my hands on a new synth or whatever.

    cant knock it though love my job:twothumbs: :twothumbs:

    p.s. sorry if i offended you ;)
  15. ill-esha illustrious

    472 posts
    Since Aug 30, 2001
    haha no offense, i'm just answering your silly questions with smart answers....
    nyah nyah!
  16. SquirrelTamer

    2,998 posts
    Since Nov 11, 2003
  17. WALSH350

    2,131 posts
    Since Jan 1, 2005

    How can you say I`d get in the way, we`d be the perfect couple, we could write an album called the love reese or something.

    nothing turns me on more than a beautifull girl talking dirty, i tried to get all my exes to do it but it sounded so fake when they were saying things i told them to say like,

    "oooh thats a nice parametric equaliser**spank, spank*,

    we could could give each other tips and secrets on break processing or whatever whilst making love.

    id be like, come on baby, and youd be like no, ive got a headache from all that mixing we did today, and i`d be like we`ll i`m not going to tell you how i made such and such bass.

    P.s. what time do you wanna meet in the sauna/where is it?
  18. evilsoft Long haired, Hippie Freak

    448 posts
    Since Dec 6, 2004
    I tried you website, but due to being at work your tunes page is blocked by our filter...
    But I was able to hear the song that plays on your site and I have to effin laugh...
    Not because of your vocals, they are awesome, just because A friend of mine and I were listeing to that album and he was saying that you sounded hot, and I said that you were probably a fat cow with a large turkey leg in one hand and a mic in the other...

    Boy was I wrong...
    I just have had the experience before, where a woman had the most beautiful voice that I have fell in love with (not really, but you know what I mean) and it turned out they were trailor trash with 10 kids and girth like you would not beileve...

    Well it is an honor to "talk" with a person that has such a wonderful voice...And I am glad I was wrong in judging you...

    Good luck with it all, I'll AIM(or PM) you a few songs and see if you want to do a collab or something...But some of my clients my want to get some vox from you (for a price of course, on their end)...and on that note, how are you with sheet music? Can you come up with melodies based on Chord progression?

    Well have a great day

    EDIT: spelling, grammer, etc
  19. ill-esha illustrious

    472 posts
    Since Aug 30, 2001
    LOLOLOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!! hahhaa :laughing: :laughing: :laughing:
    I do really like turkey though.. mmm.. tryptophan....

    I'm fine with that. With all the collabs I do vocals on, they send me the raw tune and I just write the hook and verses based on chords that are already there. Sometimes someone will write a tune around my vocal idea, but it's rare. I've been classically trained for 20 of my 24 years, piano is my main instrument, so I can read music quite well. Get in touch with me - [email protected]

    my aim is illesha
  20. evilsoft Long haired, Hippie Freak

    448 posts
    Since Dec 6, 2004
    Will do...Being that you are classicly trained is AWESOME...I handle various groups that my be interested from Industrial, Hip-Hop, Electronic Jazz Dancy shit, etc...The talent pool for vocals are slim here in this town...We have a crap load of mucisians thank god, but if we just need some quick samples, etc, it's hard to get a person to jump out of there comfort zone...

    Also, btw...how is your French?
  21. ill-esha illustrious

    472 posts
    Since Aug 30, 2001
    It's fucking horrible. Pardon my French. :laughing:

    hehe... I took a little in school, but despite what people seem to think, not everyone in Canada speaks French!! I'm actually fairly adept with Spanish, as I spoke it quite often for about 8 years of my life, and I can pronounce French not terribly, but don't ask me to say anything other than...

    n'est ce pas
    parlez-vous anglais?
    voulez-vous couche avec moi ce soir?
  22. B-complex renoise head

    2,384 posts
    Since Jun 8, 2004
    Ill Esha if you will have some time I'd surely would like to make some collab as well since you mentioned you like teebee and photek before perhaps we could find something we could work on together I must say I really like tunes you have on myspace and altough it may sound sexist but I'm pretty surprised it was done by a girl but i'm just honest .. phoenix rising is cool. You can hear something i've done in links in my sig, there's contact also. :slayer:
  23. evilsoft Long haired, Hippie Freak

    448 posts
    Since Dec 6, 2004
    Check your e-mail when you get a chance...and I need to check into a couple things due to the international difference (how rights carry over, any taxes or what not I'll have to pay by entering any contract agreement involving payment, etc.)

    Never worked with people outside of Arizona, let alone the country...

    That's cool about the french thing, that's why I asked...I am working on a tune with my project Slightly Better...It's a Hindu Hip-Hop song, but we want to have the back-up vocals in French to make it even more obsure...
  24. evilsoft Long haired, Hippie Freak

    448 posts
    Since Dec 6, 2004
    EDIT: oh yeah...
    Je suis désolé.
    Je suis marié.
    J'également ne vous connais pas très bien

    Damn...that was supposed to be an edit
  25. WALSH350

    2,131 posts
    Since Jan 1, 2005
    French: Pure wankyness, fuck drinking stella I want special Brew!