Some thought and highlights from the 2019 NAMM convention in Anaheim, CA.
Everyone is looking for advice about how to get those sweet full-sounding vocals into their mix. There are many options out there and I can only offer my thoughts and experience, but I encourage all engineers to think outside of the blog, book, or videos. Come up with your own way of recording vocals and you'll be much happier with the final mix. It's a great idea to take information and techniques from multiple sources and experiment to find out what works best for the music and the equipment that you have access to at the moment.
Microphones are a major factor when you're recording vocals. Not all microphones are created equal and they certainly all won't give you the same sound. The price of a microphone isn't a concern that you should worry about when searching for the right mic for your vocal tracks. Focus on a mic that will give you what you're looking to track as a solid base for your vocals. If you're looking for clean and crisp vocals, try to find a mic that has a flat frequency response or one that at least has a smooth response in the range of the vocalist. Some mics are specifically tailored for vocals and they typically do a great job. If you have the ability to audition mics before you purchase them, I'd highly recommend that route.
Now for the first tip / secret that I use to get great sounding vocals. Placement of the mic is by far the most important place to start. Move the vocalist around the mic to find the right spot for the amount of presence and clarity. Don't just have the vocalist stand right in front of the mic. Many times, vocalists will stand too close to a mic. This causes too much presence in the low frequencies and tends to pick up a lot of sibilance. A pop filter placed right in front of the mic won't alleviate this problem. But it is a good idea to use a pop filter to guide the vocalist to the proper distance from the capsule of the mic. There's not a specific amount of space that you can use on each vocalist, you have to work with how loud and what type of tone the vocalist has for each individual track. That's why they have a goose neck for being placed in different places depending on the vocalist. Plus, it's a great idea to mount the pop filter on a separate mic stand. This allows you to move the mic around while maintaining the spot where the vocalist stands. Keep in mind that the vocalist doesn't have to be on axis with the capsule of the microphone. It's quite alright to experiment with having the vocalist sing off to the side of the mic. This technique may reduce the amount presence and help the vocal fit right into the mix.
I hope this information helps you get started with tracking amazing vocals. The vocalist can be the most amazing singer in the world, but how they're recorded is half of the quality. So work with your vocalists and talk to them if you're hearing something that doesn't sound good. It's perfectly normal to have a vocalist do another take if there are problems with the recording. Never fall back on the notion that it can be fixed in the mix. Strive to be the best engineer you can be and do everything you can to get solid vocal tracks. Less is more and this goes a long way when you start to mix and the vocals already sound perfect. A few tweaks here and there and you should be able to get the right sound for the mix. Please leave a comment if you have any questions about the techniques that I've listed here.
Multiple mixes of a song is a technique that I've developed over the many years of my career. Music tends to unfold differently every time you approach a mix. If you're using a program that allows you to save or save as multiple times, such as ProTools or logic, it's not a bad idea to try a new mix even if you think you nailed it the first time.
Here's how I like to set up my sessions. After I record, I like to save the session as just a raw track that hasn't been mixed. Then 'save as' the name of the track_mix1. This way I have a template to go back to when I want to create a new mix. You can repeat this process as many times as you like. I usually tend to think at least three mixes is a good reference point to determine whether or not you like a mix. Sometimes it's a good idea to try up to 10 mixes.
Try this, set up a timer and give yourself a time limit for the mix. Anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes should be enough time to get a good rough mix. When the timer goes off, save your mix session, close it, & open a new session.
After you feel that you've made enough versions of the mix, go back and review each of the mixes. You can bounce each of the mixes down as an MP3 file and put them on your phone or MP3 player. Then go for a run, take a drive, or head over to a friend's house and listen to your mixes outside of the studio. This will give you a reference point as to which mix is probably the best and/or if a few mixes should be worked on and handed to a client for review.
Try this technique on your next mix and see what happens. You may be surprised that the third or fourth mix is actually the one that you wind up keeping.
The influx of recording equipment has moved the music industry to new heights. Companies like AVID & Focusrite, just to name a few, have made home recording possible for thousands of bands and musicians. Music is flourishing in the world and more and more people are finding out that making music is simple and rewarding. Virtual instruments can now be tracked with MIDI to accompany a solo artist. Now it's possible for one musician to compose a whole album on their laptop or tablet. This is truly the dawn of digital music and the possibilities continue to mount as more and more companies are networking to bring audio tools into the homes of millions around the world.
Now that you're excited about recording, I just want to help you get started. Before you buy anything, do a little bit of research. Read a few reviews from different sites and don't hesitate to ask a professional about what they recommend. The best information is going to come from actual musicians and engineers that are using the equipment on a regular basis. Pretty much all the gear available today is a good investment. Most hardware interfaces come with their own software, so you've got what you need to get started.
Take it slow at first. Buy an interface and some headphones to get you started. You don't have to invest in a whole studio right away. Build your studio piece by piece and spent time figuring out what works best for your recording and mixing setup. If you can buy used gear from a trustworthy source, try that first. Save some cash so you can get your studio off the ground without breaking the bank. I've had my Digi002rack for years and it is still tracking and mixing like a champ. You can find one on eBay for about $200-$300 and will be a great place to start your recording education.
Again, most of the gear out there is affordable and you don't need to spend all your savings on setting up your studio right away. Buy a few key pieces and then start recording. Once the cash flow starts coming in, you can put some aside for investing in new gear. Do some research and ask some questions. The reps at Sweetwater.com are really helpful and if you want to talk with my rep, Joseph Secu x1232, he's a wealth of knowledge for all the gear they have for sale.
I hope all of you have a happy holiday season and make some great music.