Sunday, September 25, 2016

Recording two vocal layers for thicken up the song

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This article is related to our Vocals mixing article and our Vocals recording one. 

We are talking about a technique that is sometimes overlooked but that adds weight to a vocal track in the same way we record different layers of guitar to thicken up the "wall of sound".
We are talking of tracking two exactly identical takes of a same vocal track (sometimes of ALL vocal tracks), to give more weight and thickness to the performance.

This technique requires a singer with a perfect sense of timing, otherwise it will force the mix engineer in a huge editing work, sometimes almost impossible, with the result that he will just mute one of the two tracks.
If the performance is good and well timed the vocals will sound like they are recorded with a chorus effect, but unlike using that effect the sligh imperfections made by a real second take will make the sound much more alive and thick, and less '80s pop.
This technique of doubling the vocal track is also important to cover better some performance imperfections, since the two tracks will give the impression of masking each other's weaknesses.

This technique is used very often in r'n'b music, sometimes also in rap, and it is very effective in general in every "vocal centric" genre.
If vocals are distorted (es. growl, scream, rasp, false chords), the thickness effect is exaggerated, like doubling a very distorted guitar track: the number of voices will seem to be more than two, and it is very often used in choruses.

When doubling vocals we can both record 2 identical takes or get creative using 2 different ones (for example one sang 1 octave lower and one 1 octave higher, or one in deep growl and one in scream, or one sang from one singer and one from another - this last one requires even more skill from the 2 singers to get each take exactly at the same time one another): in this case we can get crazy with creative automations, deciding for example that during the verse we want to add a couple of db to the lower track and put the high pitch one in the background and then during the chorus we can switch them, but the usages of this tools are really infinite, and it will really add a new dimension to our songs.

Once we have started recording more takes, we may even arrive to see the classic way of recording just one vocal as dull or limiting (for certain genres, obviously if our singer is Freddie Mercury it is sufficient his own voice raw and without background music, and the album will be perfect :D ).

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Review: Behringer HPS5000 Studio Headphones

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about a very inexpensive model of headphones that can turn out to be handy for recording: the Behringer HPS5000.

When it comes to music production there is some people who prefer (or cannot use monitors in their bedroom studios) to work with headphones;
for this reason many producers have started offering "studio grade" headphones, with a serie of features that could make them usable also for mixing, although a realistic representation of the final sound is hard to obtain even with the most high end ones.
Among the various producers there are also some like Behringer who rely on the price as main selling point: their products are usually very economic and draws the most money attentive users.
Unfortunately as we know there are some elements in our home studio that can also not be "top tier" without affecting too much the final result, but mixing headphones are not one of those elements.

These headphones are marketed as "mixing level", but the truth is unfortunately different: the reproduction is not reliable for mixing, since they cut out most of the bass frequences and boost the medium-highs, but nevertheless they can turn out to be useful for example when recording a singer, or when sending the click to the drummer.
Construction wise they are not very solid either, with the "plastic-leather" earpieces breaking down quite fast after the purchase.

Our suggestion is to look for other producers, who provides also budget headphones without the poor building quality of these ones, for example Sennheiser.

Specs taken from the website:

Ultra-wide frequency response

High-definition bass and super-transparent highs

High-efficiency cobalt capsule

Single-sided coiled cord with oxygen-free copper wires

Optimized oval-shaped ear cups

3-Year Warranty Program*

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Dynamic volume fader riding (creative automations)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about a topic that is connected to our Automations article and to our "The focus of our mix" one.
We are going to talk about a practice that was very common in the past ('60s, '70s, '80s) but that with the advent of the digital domain has become less used, and that it has remained more as an arranging tool than a real technical need: riding the volume faders.

There was a time in which compressors were not as effective as today, or harware studios did not have many compressors to stack one above the other to make a track steady as a rock, therefore volume peaks, especially with songs with a high dynamic range as a vocal track with whispered parts and screamed parts, had to be manually trimmed down by raising and lowering the actual volume fader at the right moment: this practice is also known as "riding the fader".

Today as we have seen in the automations article we can still do it in real time, recording the changes, or programming it not in real time, letting all the changes to take place at the specific moment.

What is important to say it's that today this practice is an arrangement tool, and rarely a professional album can be considered completed without some volume automation to polish the final result: we need to draw the attention of the listener to the focus of that particular part, in a way that he will not even notice that we are putting something in the front or in the background.
We can also arrive to the point of bumping up one or two db a single word in a verse to give it importance, or lower the guitars in the verse to make the listener focus on the lyrics and bump them up in the chorus to give more of an explosion effect, emphasize the kick drum on a more "dance-like" part and then switch it back to normal when the part becomes back more classic... The examples are infinite, the concept to remember from this week's article is to use the volume automation to further arrange the song and make it even more understandable, more easy listening, to increase the dynamic range underlining stop and go, drops, explosions, and to make it in general more exciting, instead than relying excessively only on compressors.

Don't be shy to experiment!

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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Testing our mix on various sources

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we will talk about my routine when finalizing a mix.
The topic is transposition: how do our mix translates on the media that will be used by the majority of the consumers?
Will our mix made with super fancy monitors sounds the same also on some cheap laptop speaker or will it suck?
The answer is reverse engineering.

The rule of thumb is to use the best monitoring device we can, for example the best pair of monitors or the best mixing headphones, because the better they are the, the better they will translate to the other media, but this does not spare us the reverse engineering phase (although if they are good they will make it much more painless).

What do we mean by reverse engineering?
We mean having some critical listening session on a medium quality car stereo, on a private youtube video, on laptop speakers, on mobile phone headphones, and so on.
This because not only every hardware will emphasize some frequency which could potentially screw up our song, but also because software often applies some "post mastering", like some eq or some limiting, that could do even more damage (es. Youtube or iTunes), to the point that there are mastering courses today aimed just to prepare a separate mix for these specific media (which sucks).

Our aim here is, if we don't want to make a different mix for every media, to make a song with a limiting not too extremely pushed (with a ceiling of -1db to -0.2db), that can sound great from every source, so in my case I

1) listen to the song in my car taking notes of what elements of the mix pops out too much (or too little) compared to my studio monitors and I correct it (someone even connects the mixing laptop to the aux in of the car stereo and makes the corrections on the fly).

2) I do the same with cheap pc speakers

3) cheap pc headphones

4) mobile phone headphones.

Eventually I get back to the car stereo, which is my main source of music listening, and if it still sounds good after all the adjustments I upload the song on a private video on Youtube to hear if the processing affects the sound in any way.

If it still sounds good, the song is ready to be published.

Do you have a different mix checking routine? Let us know!

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