Saturday, June 15, 2013

HOW TO RECORD VOCALS (a guide for dummies) PART 2/2


Once we have chosen the right microphone, there are other tools that we will need in order to record a vocal take properly: an Antipop Filter and a Headphones Set
The antipop Filter is a plastic ring with two layers of nylon inside, and it's crucial in order to avoid that certain consonants (such as the letter "P") that are catched badly from the microphone, can ruin a whole take due to the excessive air movement and "snap". 
This Filter is mounted on the mic stand and its distance from the microphone varies according to the mic type: it can go from 2-5cm away from a dynamic microphones, to 10cm with a condenser one. 
A good producer of Antipop Filters is, among the others, Samson
Headphones also are very important: we will use them to send the base to the singer's ears avoiding it to be recorded from the microphone (although a little amount of bleed is almost unavoidable). 
There are headphones of any price, from the cheapest ones (for example the one produced by Behringer) to the most high end ones, which are good for editing and mixing too (for example the BeyerDynamic ones, which cost 5 to 10 times the Behringer ones). 
My suggestion is, since for tracking isn't necessary an absolute fidelity of the frequency reproduction, to aim for a cheap set, just make sure that the headphones are closed, so that the sound spilling on the outside is as low as possible.

Distance from the microphone: while with dynamic microphones the distance, as in a stage environment, should be as reduced as possible, if we are tracking vocals with a Condenser Microphone we can choose the distance from according to the result we are looking for.
As a general rule, the more the singer is close to the microphone, the more the vocals will result "in your face", and due to the proximity effect lower frequencies will increase, as well as the sounds produced by the mouth, like the sounds produced by lips, tongue and throat. 
The farther the vocalist will sing from the microphone, instead, the less highs and lows will be captured from the capsule, and the more the "room" will be catched (so beware if you don't want to record on purpose the natural Reverb of the room).
Usually with a Condenser microphone the good compromise is to sing 15 to 25cm away from the capsule, this way the track will sound clear and upfront enough, avoiding too much room reverb, but also the proximity sounds will be avoided.

Gain Levels and Tracking Compression: when tracking vocals, a control of the amount of input gain is critical: it helps avoiding distortion due to excessive peaks, and to keep the signal-to-noise ratio optimal.
First off let's say that it's very important to set our project to a 24-bit resolution, then we should keep our signal on a maximum of -12 dBFS (decibels relative to full scale), in order to avoid clipping (which is our n.1 enemy). This level is enough to have a good amount of signal and to stay far enough from clipping levels.
If our singer has a large dynamic swing inside the same song, we can add a little Compression to the incoming signal. 
Beware, because in this case we're not talking about sound sculpting, the use of Compressors in order to modify the tone is a prerogative of the Mixing Phase, in this case we just need to tame the loudest parts in order to not make them clip: if we'd just lower the volume gain of the channel in order to avoid it to clip on its highest peaks, we could lose energy in the quieter parts; some of them could even result so low that part of the sound wouldn't be even catched from the microphone.
Keeping in mind that hardware Compression cannot be modified later in the mixing stage (and it has to be decent, because if it colors your sound in a way that you don't like, it's better to leave more headroom and to not compress while recording), it can be a good idea, to apply 2/3 dB of gain reduction on the peaks of the vocals when tracking, with 10-20ms of attack and a release between 150 and 200ms; this will be enough to reduce the loudest peaks, while mantaining a decent level on the quietest parts.

...And now, time for some track EditingAutotuning if needed, and we're ready to Mix!


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