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Author Topic: Terry: About Vocal Production  (Read 22608 times)

Curve Dominant

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Terry: About Vocal Production
« on: February 03, 2005, 11:11:29 pm »

Terry,

First off, thanks for guest-hosting this forum! I was really happy to see you begin posting here at REP recently. In addition to the knowledge and experience you bring, I also enjoy your upbeat and positive tone (no doubt a factor in your success!).

OK. It seems now more than ever (or perhaps always), vocal production makes or breaks a song recording. And it's a particular interest for me since I'm making a specialty of producing vocalists.

So, I was hoping you could discuss with us your philosophies, techniques and antecdotes regarding vocal recording, editing and mixing...mic placement, signal chains, compression approaches, EQ, getting the lead vocal "present," etc.

As well as the "non-gear" factors such as arrangement, performance coaching, and the like.

Thanks in advance! ...and looking forward to a fun and informative month (nasty Philadelphia winter weather is going to keep me in front of the computer a lot!).

compasspnt

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2005, 03:15:45 am »

Hi Eric,

Thanks for your questions.

I imagine that almost anything I can say about vocal recording is being done by many others as well, but I will try to at least give my viewpoint about the process, and provide some details.

I think that vocal recording and production is the single most important ingredient in music making.  You can have the greatest track, the tightest feel, and the best sounds ever, but without a great vocal to which the listener can relate, you really don't have much.  Unless it's an instrumental, where the vocal is much less important.

The primary concern is the relationship between the producer and/or engineer and the vocalist.  I find that I must develop a good rapport with the singer, and try to understand his/her needs, moods, and motivations.  A good knowledge of music theory and of singing mechanics is very helpful, also.  I like to start by discussing the lyrics in the control room; I want to understand (especially if the singer is also the author) what is actually being said, and why.  This helps me to guide the vocalist through the process, where that guidance is necessary.  (Of course, there are those few special singers who need no help or guidance.)  If small changes are necessary for timing, alliteration, etc., this is a good time to figure those things out.

I like to build a special area for the singer, moving tall baffles into a "squared-off U shape" behind and to the sides of the singing area, not only for the purpose of controlling unwanted reflections, but also to provide a "cocoon" space in which the singer can feel comfortable.  I usually put a small table inside this area for their lozenges, kleenex, tea, or whatever.  I use a music stand with a light, covered on the face by special acoustic cloth, so that the stand doesn't become an undesirable 'reverb source.'  I hang tube/valve condenser mics with the capsule at the bottom, so that any heat from the tube itself doesn't radiate upwards onto the capsule.  Having said all of this, when you look at photos of The Beatles in AR2, they are standing right in the middle of that huge room, with no baffles, and the mic hung the other way...and they did just fine.  I have recently been using the Stedman pop screen, but have found that in some cases of extreme air output, I have to put a second nylon one behind it.

When doing an entire album, one of my main concerns is always to use the one microphone suited to any one song, or even to any part of one song.  I hate to just set up one mic, in one spot, and do every song that same way.  On the album I'm working on right now, we've just finished the 14th song's vocal tonight, and we've already used 8 or 9 different mics, just on lead vocal.

I have used many different mics for vocals over the years.  Of course, I love the sound of an LDC (who doesn't?)  I still have one U48 which I like [my OTHER U48, which I used extensively for lead vocals over many years, was stolen from my studio a while back; please see the Klaus Heyne mic forum for details.  Klaus has very kindly locked the relevant post and placed it at the top!  Thanks, Klaus!], and also several 87's, 47fet's, Soundelux 251, Gefell UM-92's, two early Neumann M-49's, an AKG C12VR, etc., etc.  I recently added a couple of R
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RMoore

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2005, 05:34:54 am »

compasspnt wrote on Sun, 06 February 2005 09:15

 

Stories....? .....  Well, Bj
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compasspnt

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2005, 09:52:05 am »

Ryan Moore wrote on Sun, 06 February 2005 05:34


Hmm, not much different than anyone else? Smile
Can't say I've heard of too many ocean splash or bat vibe sessions...
Whatever it takes - classic!
I am <loving> all the info and anecdotes in this forum - thanks Terry!
RM




Hi Ryan,

I feel a little strange here...this idea was Bj
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Curve Dominant

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2005, 01:29:45 pm »

Quote:

posted by Terry Manning:
Ever notice how often they "get sick" just when it's time to sing?


So it's not just ME who they do that to??!!!

Thanks for sharing all that, Terry!  Can I ask one more question?

About headphone mixes, and the general subject of how vocalists monitor their performance: I was wondering how you generally approach this aspect, and if there are certain things you find consistently work well (or cause problems)?

(BTW: I'm also a big fan of the Stedman, been using it for years.)

Thanks!

compasspnt

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #5 on: February 10, 2005, 02:23:50 am »

Eric Vincent wrote on Sun, 06 February 2005 13:29

 

About headphone mixes, and the general subject of how vocalists monitor their performance: I was wondering how you generally approach this aspect, and if there are certain things you find consistently work well (or cause problems)?



Man, do I hate headphones!  If there were any other way, I would do it in a flash.  I often sing myself, so I see it from both sides, the bad side and the bad side.  I hate the Sony headphones, they are so brittle.  The ones I have found that I like are the Fostex T-120 (I think that's the number, T-something.)

I find that it works for me, and I often tell the vocalist, to move one earpiece off of the ear itself, so they can hear themselves more naturally.  This seems to help pitch.

I find that most vocalists want themselves insanely loud in their mix.

Our cans systems here are transformer balanced, which seems to help general sound quality and loudness without bass overload; also helps with impedence matching, if there are two different brands of phones being used.

I sometimes send the artist the stereo mix, but more often use a stereo cue send with everything in "pre," just in case I move a fader which would upset them.  All of this is probably very common practice, though.

I've tried to use speakers instead, and put two together out of phase, so that the live sound would more or less cancel out at the mic.  Worked OK, but most find it strange.

I often sing in the control room, and just listen with the Genelec monitors instead of headphones.  But there is always that bleed, and you can't really get it loud enough to hear phrasing and pitch properly.

Thanks!

TM
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Bob Olhsson

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2005, 11:04:43 am »

I once talked a great vocal coach into co-teaching a vocal recording class with me. (How else could someone like me who can't sing learn?)

Something I had always wanted to do is to give beginners the experience of singing to both a screwed up track and a really good one. (I've worked with too many singers whose confidence had been destroyed by inept production or engineering.) As part of this exercise, we compared singing with both phones on, one phone on and each way both with and without the vocal mike in the cans. To my surprise the pitch was best by far with both phones on and no vocal mike in the phones! These were beginners with no preconceived notions about how vocal recording should be done.

I've never been able to talk anybody experienced into trying it but it's been great food for thought.

ted nightshade

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2005, 11:18:58 am »

compasspnt wrote on Wed, 09 February 2005 23:23

 

Man, do I hate headphones!  If there were any other way, I would do it in a flash.  


Well, you *could* track the vocalist with a live band in the same room! Now that's my idea of a good time.
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compasspnt

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2005, 11:28:22 am »

Bob Olhsson wrote on Thu, 10 February 2005 11:04

...To my surprise the pitch was best by far with both phones on and no vocal mike in the phones! These were beginners with no preconceived notions about how vocal recording should be done.

I've never been able to talk anybody experienced into trying it but it's been great food for thought.



Hi Bob,

I will try this tonight!  Let you know...

T
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mitgong

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2005, 03:03:08 pm »

Rolfer!!  That's great!!

Not to nag, but would you happen to remember which tunes Bjork sang in which location?

You are royalty.  Thanks for sharing.
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Bill Mueller

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #10 on: February 10, 2005, 10:01:00 pm »

Rolfer huh? I had a Rolfer in the studio once.

This guy was an acoustic guitarist who sang real soft. I had two mics close up on his guitar and a vocal mic pointed up at his face, and for some reason I had the Urie monitors cranked up loud. All of a sudden, he SCREAMS AAAAAAGGGGGG!!!!!! AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS RIGHT INTO THE MIC!!!!!!!! I was literally knocked off my chair. The crossover lights on the Uries lit up like strobe lights. I think my assistant wet herself. She ran out of the room and never came back.

The entire office staff came running into the control room, thinking that someone was being killed. (They didn't want to miss it, of course.)

Turns out that in addition to being a Rolfer, he also practiced PRIMAL SCREAM THERAPY. His playing sucked.

Best Regards,

Bill
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compasspnt

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2005, 10:38:34 pm »

Awesome story, Bill!

Hopefully, a once in a lifetime event.

Thanks for sharing it.

TM
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Etch-A-Sketch

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #12 on: February 11, 2005, 09:30:08 pm »

Bob Olhsson wrote on Thu, 10 February 2005 08:04

 As part of this exercise, we compared singing with both phones on, one phone on and each way both with and without the vocal mike in the cans. To my surprise the pitch was best by far with both phones on and no vocal mike in the phones! These were beginners with no preconceived notions about how vocal recording should be done.



That is very interesting, I'm going to try that one.  There's two things I do all the time that seem to help singers.  First, I never put any reverb or delay into the cans.  For some reason, reverb always seem to skew their sense of pitch.  Second, when doing harmony/background parts, I never play any of the other vocal tracks in the cans, just the one they are singing at the moment.  Sometimes the rhythm is a little out, but the pitch is dramatically better.  Like Terry said, these are things most people probably do anyway...I'm just throwing them out there just in case someone has never tried it.

One question I have for Terry, you mention slightly overdriving each piece of gear in the vocal chain.  Do you do this often?  I've always liked that type of distortion Lenny uses on his vocals, Like in the PreChorus for "Live" and to a lesser extent the sound of the vocals on "Can we find a reason".  I've never been able to fully get that same sounding distortion and had always wondered how it was achieved.  Every time I overdrive a preamp it sounds too harsh.  I have a Manley, an Avalon and a Neve 1073 reissue that I use a lot for vocals.  But I've never been able to get that pleasing yet subtle distortion.  I've tried putting a tape delay on the vocal to see if that, in conjunction with the distortion from the preamp, would get the sound but it hasn't worked for me.  Do you think very lightly overdriving each piece of gear in the chain is the key?

And by the way, while I'm here posting...THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BEING A GUEST MODERATOR!!!!  I must say, I find myself sitting infront of the computer, waiting anxiously for your replies to all the questions being asked in this forum.  Thanks again for all the time and expertise you've shared with all of us.
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compasspnt

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #13 on: February 11, 2005, 10:23:55 pm »

Etch-A-Sketch wrote on Fri, 11 February 2005 21:30

First, I never put any reverb or delay into the cans.  For some reason, reverb always seem to skew their sense of pitch......

..... I've never been able to fully get that same sounding distortion and had always wondered how it was achieved.  Every time I overdrive a preamp it sounds too harsh.  I have a Manley, an Avalon and a Neve 1073 reissue that I use a lot for vocals.  But I've never been able to get that pleasing yet subtle distortion.  I've tried putting a tape delay on the vocal to see if that, in conjunction with the distortion from the preamp, would get the sound but it hasn't worked for me.  Do you think very lightly overdriving each piece of gear in the chain is the key?




Thanks for the kind words Derek.

I agree about the 'verb in the cans, but every time I try, the artst always asks immediately for reverb.  I try to explain, but usually there is no point in arguing with them.  I just try to put it in, then back it out slowly once they're used to it (please don't tell them this, I'll never get away with it again!)

The only pre I have found that does the vocal distortion I like is the API 512 (at least of the ones I have, or have tried).  I always said I would never  give away any 'trade secrets,' but anyway, if I want max voc overdrive, I will run the mic into the first API pre, then actually go line-out into mic-in of a second one, which sends it into orbit (be careful!), then do the overdriving slightly of each subsequent piece as mentioned before.

But if course this is only a rare thing when needed for effect; most of my vocal recording is totally normal!

Thanks,

Terry
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Lee Flier

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Re: Terry: About Vocal Production
« Reply #14 on: February 11, 2005, 10:39:50 pm »

compasspnt wrote on Fri, 11 February 2005 22:23


I agree about the 'verb in the cans, but every time I try, the artst always asks immediately for reverb.  I try to explain, but usually there is no point in arguing with them.  I just try to put it in, then back it out slowly once they're used to it (please don't tell them this, I'll never get away with it again!)


LOL... I often have the same experience.  But then too there are some singers who DO have better pitch with a bit of verb because they can tell if they're off pitch with the verb tail.  I put a goodly amount of predelay on the verb and if they're singing right on with it, they know.  And if they can't, they can tell that too. It's the really "washy" reverb - long tail and little predelay - that seems to throw them off.  A little bit of plate or room verb with a lot of predelay makes them happy AND helps with the pitch, at least in my experience.

FWIW, I recorded a number of metal singers in the 80's who sang without any of their voice in the cans as Bob described.  Mind you these guys were LOUD singers, and not hearing themselves in the cans would force them to sing stronger and louder and push their voices more - which they liked.  Singers who like to hear a lot of nuance, wouldn't like it I suppose.

Awesome stories once again Terry!
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