AF’s Weblog

August 30, 2012

Tips for Controlling Vocal Sibilance

Filed under: Singing — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:31 am

To read the full detailed article see:  Tips for Controlling Vocal Sibilance

Vocal sibilance is an unpleasant tonal harshness that can happen during consonant syllables (like S, T, and Z), caused by disproportionate audio dynamics in upper midrange frequencies.

Sibilance is often centered between 5kHz to 8kHz, but can occur well above that frequency range.

This problem is usually caused by the actual vocal formant, but can also be exaggerated by microphone placement and technique. This article will discuss some ways to control vocal sibilance, and keep the problem from becoming a musical distraction.

Sibilance at the Source (best read with sibilant whistle)

In phonetic terms, sibilance comes from a type of vocal formant called a fricative consonant. During these sorts of utterances, the airway (usually the mouth) is drastically constricted by two anatomical features, like the teeth, tongue, or palette.

This pressurization causes some amount of noise that forms the consonant sounds we would recognize from a phase like, “Sally sits sideways on the tennis trolley.” Sibilance is a very necessary feature of human speech, but when there’s (subjectively) too much noise created during these consonants, we get a very distracting harshness.

It isn’t really practical or productive to address micro-muscular vocal technique during a session, so your best bet to mitigate sibilance at the source is microphone selection and placement. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Every vocalist is remarkably different, so don’t pre-suppose that anything you’ve tried before will or will not work again.
  • Be sure to leave some space between your vocalist and the microphone. Twelve to eighteen inches would be a nice starting point.
  • A pop filter won’t do anything to help with sibilance.
  • Once you find a microphone and distance combination that helps, try angling the microphone downward 10 to 15 degrees to place the 0-degree axis toward the throat instead of the sibilant source.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Other Precautions

When you’re recording a vocal performance that may have a sibilance problem, resist the urge to compress the signal in the channel path. Over-compression can exaggerate sibilance. Instead, try using a fader to level the vocal performance, or just record with an adequate amount of headroom.

The same applies to the mixing process. Once you’ve done your best to control vocal sibilance, try using a fader and automation to maintain a consistent vocal volume in the mix. If you simply must instantiate a compressor on every vocal track, keep the attack time slow (> 30ms), and the ratio low.

Finally, don’t listen too loudly when you mix. That’s good general advice, but quality control issues like sibilance highlight its importance. Try a control room volume of 78-83dB(C) SPL. You might be surprised how much detail you’re suddenly able to hear.

To read the full detailed article see:  Tips for Controlling Vocal Sibilance

April 20, 2012

Mixing Rap Vocals – Part 3: Compression

Filed under: Compressors, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:54 am

To read the full detailed article see:  Tips for Mixing Rap Vocals: Compression

Time for the third installment of the Mixing Rap Vocals series: Compression.

I highly recommend you check out part 1 & part 2 before reading this article.

Compression is a difficult subject because there is a lot you can do with it. So let’s look at the main reasons to grab a compressor before getting into some of the more intricate uses.

Quick Macro-Dynamic Control

Macro dynamics refer to words and phrases. These are the clear dynamics you can hear as “this part is louder, that part is softer.” The most transparent way to get things sounding even is to actually automate the vocals manually. But sometimes time doesn’t allow for this approach. So if you aren’t automating, a light ratio, slow attack, slow release, just catching the louder moments with the threshold is a good way to even things out.

Micro-Dynamic Control

What volume automation might not catch is the very quick dynamic changes – loose spikes at the fronts of words. These spikes aren’t heard so much as “volume” but more as an overall quality to the vocal.

The issue with these spikes is two fold – first, they eat away at your headroom pretty quickly– second, they will trigger any compressors you are trying to use for purposes besides micro-dynamic control.

It can be useful to dedicate a compression stage toward pulling back these vocal spikes. Generally a fast attack and release, and a light ratio does the job. The light ratio is to retain the articulation of the word and minimize frequency skewing. The key is to set the threshold low enough to catch as much of the peak as possible while effecting the body of the signal as little as possible. I try to avoid using limiters for this purpose. I like the Empirical Labs Distressor for this (especially for controlling peaks while tracking), as well as digital style compressors such as the Logic or Pro Tools stock compressors or the Waves C1. The attack setting is very important – it’s usually between a number of nano-seconds and two or three milliseconds in the digital world, and on the faster side of things for the analog world (totally varies unit to unit).

Getting a Vocal to Stay Audible Through a Mix

The power of compression is that you can make something louder while not actually raising the peak volume of the signal. This becomes extremely useful for making something cut through a dense mix or to come forward. This is probably where the majority of compression work for rap vocals come in.

Rap is generally an in-your-face, visceral style of music. The kick is physical, the snare is physical, subtlety isn’t really the overall goal. And the vocals are paramount. I’ve mixed a number of rap records where the vocals are lower in the mix, but never have I thought it was a good idea. Generally I want the vocals to be equally as strong as the drums or stronger, and I want them as “forward” as possible. Compression is usually a part of that equation.

Let’s consider some more issues…

Conclusion

Compression is a powerful tool that many people struggle to fully understand, so try to get your hands on one and start experimenting. As always I’ll keep an eye on the comments in case there is anything that needs clearing up. I also encourage you to share your own compression tips!

To read the full detailed article see:  Tips for Mixing Rap Vocals: Compression

December 15, 2011

Mixing Rap Vocals – Part 2: EQ

Filed under: Mixing reviews, Singing — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:24 am

I’ve read (too) many articles about mixing vocals. Cut 300Hz, boost 2kHz, compress 4:1, yada yada. Unfortunately these articles don’t actually give you any real resource – they simply speculate on generalities. What I’m going to give you is specific things to listen for and how to address them. This article will focus on EQ.

In my previous article, Mixing Rap Vocals Part 1, we discussed the importance of having an end game for your vocal sound. In this article I’m going to give you techniques for actually getting there.

Microphones

A vocal recording is an interaction between the vocalist and the microphone. In order to treat the vocal we’re going to have to address both the character of the voice, and the character of microphone interacting with the voice. Two common issues that arise from the microphone are low-end proximity build-up, and mid-range resonance.

Proximity Effect

When a vocalist gets too close to a microphone the low end will build up. If you have control of the tracking scenario, the optimal solution is to get the vocalist at the right distance from the mic. In the mix, the best way to eliminate this is to use a high-pass filter. I recommend not doing this haphazardly – the weight of the voice is caught in that proximity mud. Try using a gradual slope where the build up begins, or a medium slope to knock out the heavy build-up in conjunction with a low shelf or bell to ease off any residual build up in the higher bass range.

Mid-range

Microphones also tend to be sensitive to the mid-range. It’s not uncommon for an airy-resonance to perk up somewhere in the 300-600Hz range. Usually a couple 2 dB cuts at a narrow Q will suck that right out. However, don’t make any cuts if there’s nothing there you want to get rid of! In fact – be very wary of this range – this is sort of the area where everyone wants to constantly cut – but that’s the body – the “thickness” of the voice. You want enough content here that the vocal feels “full”, but not so much that it feels “unmixed” or “sloppy.”

Now let’s take a closer look at vocals…

Conclusion

In conclusion – I am giving you certain things to listen for – not necessarily certain things to do. If a vocal sounds great – don’t mess with it. You have to rely on what you are aiming to hear, not the processing. The key isn’t to do a lot of processing, but to do just the right amount of the right moves. Also, these ideas apply to the vocal on it’s own merits – once we start bringing in the rest of the mix we may have to reassess our tone settings. Anyway, check back for my next installment: Mixing Rap Vocals Part 3 : Compression.

July 15, 2011

Vocals Processing Tips: Part 2

Hard disk recording techniques have affected every aspect of recording, including vocals. Although overdubbing vocals has been a common technique for years, today’s programs let you do multiple tracks of vocals, and make a “composite” with all the best bits. We’ll cover how to do that, then talk a bit about compression and reverb.

Composite Vocal Tracks

Cutting and pasting has benefited vocals, as you can do multiple takes, and splice the best parts together to make the perfect “composite” vocal. Some producers feel that stitching together vocals doesn’t produce as natural a “feel” as a take that goes all the way through from beginning to end, while others believe that being able to choose from multiple takes allows creating a vocal with more range than might occur with a single take. If you want to try composite vocals, here are the basic steps.

Record the Takes

Record enough takes so there’s plenty of material to piece together a good performance (loop recording is particularly handy for doing vocals). While you’re in a recording mood, record a little bit of the track without any input signal. This can be handy to have around, for reasons described later.

Audition the Takes

Audition each take, and isolate the good parts (by cutting out unwanted sections). I recommend setting loop points around very short phrases.

Solo each take, one after the other. If you’re not going to use a take, cut the phrase. If a take is a candidate for the final mix, keep it.

Pick the top 3 or 4 candidates, and remove the equivalent sections from the rest of the tracks. Now repeat this procedure, phrase by phrase, until you’ve gone over the entire performance and found the best bits

Ligne de chant compilée

In Sonar, several takes of vocals have been recorded. A mute tool has muted portions of each track (the waveforms are shown as shaded), with the remaining parts making up the final vocal.

Next, listen to combinations of the various different phrases. Balance technical and artistic considerations; choose parts that flow well together as well as sound technically correct. Sometimes you might deliberately choose a less expressive rendition of a line if it comes just before an emotional high point, thus heightening the contrast.

Once you have the segments needed for a cohesive performance, erase the unused parts. If you want to archive everything “just in case,” go for it. But if after putting the part together you think it could be better, you might be better off re-cutting it than putting more hours into editing.

Ligne de chant compiléeSeveral takes of vocals were recorded into Cubase SX, and edited to create one final vocal. The program shows the elements that make up the final vocal by highlighting them in green.

Bounce the Takes

This isn’t absolutely necessary, but converting all the bits into a single track simplifies subsequent editing and processing.

Before bouncing, play the tune through from start to finish and match the segment levels as closely as possible. Also check the meters for any send bus or master bus the tracks are feeding, and adjust levels (if needed) so there’s no distortion. Generally, the bounced track will be derived from a bus or master; if there’s distortion, the bounced track will have distortion too.

This is also where the recorded noise might come in handy. Sometimes I’ve had to do a quick fade on the end of one segment, and a fade in on the beginning of another, leaving a dead silent gap between phrases. Layering in a bit of the noise signal gives better continuity, and keeps the part from sounding too “assembled.”

After everything’s set, implement the program’s bounce or mix to hard disk function. You can typically bounce to an empty track, or “render” the audio to disk and bring it back into the project.

Edit the Composite Track

At this point, I bring the composite track into a digital audio editor for clean-up. Here are some typical processes:

  • Phrase-by-phrase gain adjustments. If a phrase has mismatched levels, use the program’s level change DSP or mix automation to fix the problem.
  • Fix breath noises and inhales. There might be “flammed” inhales from combining two different takes, so cut one. However, don’t eliminate all inhales and breath noises — they keep things “human.”
  • Add overall dynamics control, reverb, EQ, echo, etc. if needed. Do not add these while cutting individual takes; it will be much harder to match the effect, and in the case of reverb, tails might get cut off. Adding processing after optimizing the entire track will give the best results.

Tidy Up Your Hard Disk


After the vocals are done, check how your program deals with deleting unused segments, as this can reclaim significant space from your hard drive.

Now let’s take a look at compression…

Reverb Tips for Vocals

Nothing “gift wraps” a vocal better than some tasty reverb. My favorite reverb for voice is a natural acoustic space, but as reverb rooms are an endangered species, you’ll likely use a digital reverb. Reverb settings are a matter of taste, but two parameters are particularly important.

Waves RVerb (Renaissance Reverb)

A reverb’s Predelay and Diffusion parameters are crucial to getting good vocal sounds. This reverb, the RVerb plug-in from WAVES, offers an exceptional amount of control.

Diffusion: With vocals, I prefer low diffusion, where each reflection is more “separated.” Low diffusion settings often sound terrible with percussion, as the individual echoes can have an effect like marbles bouncing on a steel plate. But with vocals, the sparser amount of reflections prevent the voice from being overwhelmed by too “lush” a reverb sound.

Predelay: This works well in the 50-100 ms range. The delay allows the first part of the vocal to punch through without reverb, while the more sustained parts get the full benefit of the reverberated sound.

To read the full article see: Vocals Processing Tips Part 2

July 8, 2011

Vocals Processing Tips: Part 1

It was late at night, at a live-in-concert recording session in Germany. As several thousand fans waited anxiously, the vocalist walked onstage, and picked up a set of headphones. I saw him plug them into the mixer, and figured he was going to make one final check of his vocal sound before the band kicked in. He then turned the preamp gain control up full…not too unusual, as mics don’t have a lot of gain. But then he held the headphones up to his mouth and — started singing. He had plugged the headphones into the mic in, not the headphone out…and he had done it on purpose. Is this what recording vocals in the 21st century is about?

Well, the answer is yes…and no. No, in the sense that a well-recorded vocal through a high-end mic feeding a state-of-the-art preamp remains a supremely important part of the recording art. Yes, in the sense that it underscores a fundamental truth about recording today: anything goes.

The tools of the vocal trade have undergone as dramatic a transformation as the recording process itself. Microphones are better and cheaper; today’s “budget” mics sometimes outperform the champions of yesteryear. Preamps, whether tube or solid state, have noise levels that are measurable only with the most sensitive test equipment. Processing gear ranges from “vocal strips” dedicated solely to vocal, to technologies such as Antares’Auto-Tune (which can correct out-of-tune-vocals) and mic modeling, which mimics the characteristics of particular “signature” mics. Compressors, reverbs, even vocal booths have all enjoyed the results of technological progress.

So what’s the best way to record vocals these days? The answer, of course, is that anything goes. Following are some of the possibilities.

Recording Vocals

Few topics inspire more debate than the optimum vocal mic and preamp. But note that a mic and preamp combination that sounds great with one vocalist might not work with another. Case in point: once while recording, my voice was recorded with a sub-$100 dynamic mic and a $995 condenser mic. The unanimous agreement was that the dynamic sounded better.

Was it because the mic was better? No. From any objective standpoint, it was inferior. But it had some response anomalies that flattered my voice. The condenser mic was accurate, but my voice didn’t need accuracy: It needed a high-frequency lift, and warmth from the proximity effect (i.e., the tendency of a dynamic to produce more bass as you sing closer to it).

I sometimes wish that all mics looked the same, and had no labels on them. That would force engineers to take a fresh approach with every session. It’s very easy to rely on using old favorites — the assumption is that the mic that worked great on the last session will be equally good on the current session, but that isn’t always true. Furthermore, there’s a matching issue between mics and preamps, so mic X might sound great with preamp A and not so great with preamp B.

Bottom line: Try every mic with a vocalist, record the results, then choose which one sounds most appropriate. I suggest comparing two mics at a time to prevent “option overload.” Choose the best of each pair, then have a runoff among the winners.

Let’s take a look at some other tips…

Synthesizing Vocal Harmonies

Normally, I sing my own harmonies. But sometimes, pitch shifters — because they’re not perfect — add timbral and timing imperfections that actually sound better for some applications.

 

Here’s an example of creating harmonies using Sonar’s real-time pitch shifting plug-in (the principles are the same for other programs). Note that Sonar Producer Edition also includes a high-quality, but non-real-time, pitch stretch processor. I usually use the real-time plug-in to get the harmonies right, then go back and process the files destructively using the higher-quality, non-real-time algorithm.

Harmonisation d'une partie de chantThis shows harmonies being generated within Sonar using real-time plug-ins. Higher-quality, offline plug-ins can be used for the final processing.

Note that there are four tracks of vocals: The teal one at the top is the original vocal. The violet one below that is a “cloned” version, which has been processed with the doubling technique mentioned previously.

The next track (blue) is also a cloned track, but it’s being processed through the pitch shifter set to a major 3rd. However, note that some elements have been cut from this track and moved to the next track down, which is processed through the pitch shifter set to a minor 3rd. As Sonar doesn’t know which notes should receive minor 3rd or major 3rd harmonization, you have to cut up the track appropriately, and move the right phrases or notes to the right tracks. This may require zooming way in on the cloned track, so you can make cuts in the space between phrases.

The standard pitch shifting caution applies — the further you stretch pitch, the less realistic the sound. Sonar’s real-time pitch shifter does not preserve formants during shifts; however, when pitching up a major third the formant change adds a bit of voice-on-helium effect, which when mixed behind the main vocal, can actually sound pretty cool.

Starting with Sonar 5, the Producer Edition includes Roland’s VariPhrase technology in their V-Vocal plug-in. With this plug-in, you can “draw in” harmonics and constrain a melody to particular notes. This makes the process of harmonization much easier, as does a similar feature in Samplitude and Digital Performer. There are also programs like Antares Harmony Engine, and zplane’s Vielklang (among others) that are designed to generate harmonies.

To read the full detailed article see: Vocal Processing Tips Part 1

March 21, 2011

TC Helicon VoiceLive Touch Review

Vocal effects are present more than ever in modern music, but if you want special effects, you don’t give the control to the sound engineer. Loopers are also hip, especially for artists making solo performances on stage. So, when such a serious manufacturer as TC-Helicon offers a voice processor, harmonizer and looper in one single box (everything you need for a single voice, voice + guitar or voice + keyboards performance) it is worth taking a closer look at it. Let’s go!

Who is TC?

TC-Helicon is a Canadian company belonging to the TC-Group, a holding that controls several prestigious pro audio manufacturers like the very famous TC-Electronic, but also Lab.gruppen amps or Tannoy speakers… TC Group merged with Gibson in 2008. TC-Helicon specializes in voice gear, from processors to mics. Their products have a good overall quality and a rugged construction plus they sound pretty good.

The VoiceLive Touch is a variation of the VoiceLive 2 footboard, which offers more possibilities (to a certain extent) and is also 60% more expensive. The street price of the Voice Live 2 is around $800 while you can get the Voice Live Touch for only $500. And unlike the VoiceLive 2, the VoiceLive Touch includes a looper. And not a toy one.

The VoiceLive is not just a light version of its predecessor. In fact, its designers had the idea of developing a concept with a radically different user interface based on a “touch” interface. Definitely trendy, but is it a good thing? We’ll have to discuss the matter further. Let’s start discovering the unit!

Heavy Duty!

TC Helicon VoiceLive Touch

At first hand, the VoiceLive Touch gives the impression of being quite sturdy. Its heavy weight, in spite of the compact size, is responsible for that, but also the materials. The housing, except for the front panel with the touch interface, is made out of some sort of rugged rubber plastic. Why this material? Because the VoiceLive Touch’s special shape allows you to place it on a table or on a microphone stand, which is a very convenient solution to always have it at hand. The fixation system is well thought out as you can see from the pictures. However, the rear handle used to fix the unit to a microphone stand makes connections a bit harder, even if it hides the connectors from the audience. You can’t have everything, right? Long jacks can be problematic.

Although the overall design of the VoiceLive Touch is very nice and original, the touch interface looks a bit awkward, as if it had been designed in the 80’s. In some (rare) circumstances, you’ll be dazzled by the reflections. The external PSU is the same as for many consumer products, which is hard to understand for a stage device, especially at this price. An adapter plugged into a multi-outlet power strip or an extension power cord is not exactly what you want to have or see in the middle of the stage. Luckily, the length of the cable should be enough to hide it behind a monitor speaker. I know, it’s an insignificant detail, but once you discover its features you’ll agree with me that such a product deserves better.

An All-Rounder?

The features of the VoiceLive Touch are very comprehensive. Just take a look:

  • Voice effects processor
  • Automatic tuning correction (so you can sing in tune)
  • Harmonizer (to add a choir to your voice)
  • Basic guitar effect
  • Looper
  • Phrase sampler

Phew!

TC Helicon VoiceLive Touch

Let’s just mention the tuning corrector briefly: it offers a single “strength” control (in %). If you sing like an angel you’ll set it to 0 if, but if you are a shower singer you’ll probably have to set it to 100. As always with such tools, the performance looses its natural expression with higher settings. In extreme cases you’ll even experience bizarre results (like the famous “Cher” effect). But it’s a very handy tool: it is not easy to sing in tune with choirs and effects added to your own voice. The tuning corrector makes up for this. Since it is global, we prefer to use the one included with some effects for presets that require it. Do note that the samples were recorded without tuning correction (I guess you’ll hear it anyway!).

The processor includes six effect categories: harmonizer, modulation (chorus, flanger, …), delay, reverb, “double,” and “FX,” which includes different effects (only one can be used at a time). The effect chain has independent sections you can switch on/off individually (like separate stompboxes). Each section offers several (quite) basic parameters. Let’s take the delay as an example: you can choose from 18 different delay types, set the effect amount added to the mix, the stereo width, and the tempo. And that’s it. No direct feedback nor damping nor feedback delay time: just select the delay type number to change to a new sound. The 18 delays cover a wide range of effects but don’t allow the precise processing you get with standard parameters. Below you will see that that wasn’t the goal of the VoiceLive Touch.

TC Helicon VoiceLive Touch

You also get a “lead level” setting for each effects section. It allows you to attenuate your voice when only that effect is active. It is similar to a standard dry/wet setting but the fact that it activates only when no other effect is on allows you to create (very) interesting special effects.

Some sections offer more settings, but some are very basic. Besides the “lead level,” the reverb provides you only with a send level (routing to the mix) and a selector to choose among 30 reverb types, which is quite a lot considering that they all have different colors and duration. This approach is good because of its simplicity (some people don’t know what all parameters of a delay or a reverb are for), but it can be frustrating for people who are used to tweaking effects. Especially given that the effects are identified only by a number rather than a name, which makes it difficult to find them and often requires you to try all of them.

Thus, fine tuning your presets with the VoiceLive Touch demands quite some time before going on stage. Even though most factory presets sound very good, they require you to at least adjust levels.

Now let’s take a close look…

Conclusion

While I was very enthusiastic about the concept in the beginning, I ended up with mixed feelings because the VoiceLive Touch has some excellent features as well as some irritating ones. The touch interface didn’t quite convince me. In fact, I was surprised by some design faults, as well as by some very nice ideas and some complexities. But the VoiceLive Touch has many advantages too: besides its perfect sound quality, some very intelligent features and its versatility (I couldn’t mention many of its applications in this review), it has a very powerful harmonizer and an excellent looper. Both are crucial in the decision to buy the unit. When I was a solo performer (voice+guitar), I would have been delighted by such a product.

Advantages:

  • Original concept
  • Clever features
  • Irreproachable manufacturing quality
  • Very professional sound
  • Excellent harmonizer and effects
  • Awesome looper
  • Affordable optional footboard

Drawbacks:

  • Questionable “full touch” interface
  • No possibility to tweak effects live on stage
  • Improvable ergonomics
  • Lousy display
  • Settings sometimes too complex

To read the full multimedia article please see:  TC Helicon VoiceLive Touch Review

March 2, 2011

Tips for Mixing Rap Vocals

If I had to pick the most frequent question I get asked on a regular basis – it would have to be “how do I mix rap vocals?” Or some variation thereof. At least once a week, if not more often.

I mix a new rap vocal four or five times a week – much more if you count different rappers on the same song. I have developed an approach – sort of a formula to create a formula. In truth, we know that all songs, vocals, captures, and performances are different. There can never be one formula to mix all vocals effectively. And there are many approaches to conceptualizing a vocal treatment – mine is one of many.

The Concept

It all starts with the concept. I say this time and time again, and it only gets more true as I say it – in order to mix anything – you need an end game. There has to be some kind of idea of where the vocal is going to go before you start getting it there. That idea can and probably will change along the way, but there has to be some direction or else why do anything at all.

The big problem most people have with mixing rap vocals is that they think of the word “vocals” without considering the word “rap.” Rap is supremely general – there are big differences between 1994 NY style rap vocals, and 2010 LA style rap vocals.

Now let’s have a listen to some mixing samples…

Processing

Now you have the vocals clean (or maybe they came in clean to begin with). It’s time to decide what to do with them. Now, I can’t write how you should or should not process your vocals, but I can give some insight into things to consider and think about.

Balance

Figuring out the relationship between the vocals and other instruments in the same frequency area is extremely important. Quintessentially, Hip Hop is all about the relationship between the vocals and the drums – and the number one contestant with the voice is the snare. Finding a way to make both the vocals and the snare prominent without stepping on each other will make the rest of the mix fall nicely into place.

In “1nce Again,” you’ll notice that the snare is a little louder than the vocals, and seems to be concentrated into the brighter area of the frequency spectrum, while the vocals are just an inch down, and living more in the mid range. This was a conscious decision made in the mix. But mixes like Loungin’ have the vocals on par with the snare. And Massive Attack has the vocals up – but it’s not really a snare, it’s a percussive instrument holding down the 2 and 4 that lives primarily in the lower mid region.

“Air”

Hip Hop vocals generally do not have much in the way of reverb. There are three reason for this primarily. 1) Rap vocals tend to move faster and hold more of a rhythmic function than sung vocals – and long reverb tails can blur the rhythm and articulation. (2) The idea of Hip Hop is to be “up front and in your face”, where reverb tends to sink things back in the stereo field. (3) Everyone else is mixing their vocals that way. Not a good reason, but kind of true.

 

However, vocals usually do benefit from sense of 3-D sculpting, or “air.” A sense of space around the vocals that make them more lively and vivid. Very short, wide, quiet reverb can really do the trick here. Another good thing to try is using delay (echo) – and pushing the delay way in the background, with a lot of high end rolled off of it. This creates the sense of a very deep three dimensional space, which by contrast makes the vocal seem even more forward. Lastly, if you are in a good tracking situation, carefully bringing out the natural space of the tracking room can be a good way to get super dry vocals with a sense of air around them. Compression with a very slow attack, and relatively quick release, and a boost to the super-treble range can often bring out the natural air.

Shape & Consistency

A little compression is often nice on vocals, just to sit them into a mix and add a little tone. On a sparse mix, a little dab’ll do ya. The most common mistake people make when processing vocals for Hip Hop is to over-compress. High levels of compression is really only beneficial to a mix when there is a lot of stuff fighting for sonic space. When you read about rapper’s vocals going through four compressors and really getting squeezed it’s probably because there are tons of things already going on in the mix, and the compression is necessary for the vocals to cut through. Or because it’s a stylistic choice to really crunch the vocals.

Filtering

What’s going on around the voice is just as important to the vocals as the vocals themselves. Carefully picking what to get rid of to help the vocals along is very important. For example, most engineers hi-pass filter almost everything except the kick and bass. That clears up room for the low information. But often the importance of low-pass filtering is overlooked. Synths, even bass synths, can have a lot of high end information that is just not necessary to the mix and leave the “air” range around the vocals feeling choked. A couple of well placed low-passes could very well bring your vocals to life.

 

Also, back to the subject of hi-passing, unless you are doing the heavy handed Bob Power thing, you really don’t need to be hard hi-passing your vocals at 120hz. The human voice, male and female, has chest resonance that goes down to 80hz (and even under sometimes). Try a gentle hi-pass at around 70 or 80hz to start with if you’re clearing up the vocals. Or maybe no hi-pass at all…

Presence

Deciding where the vocal lives frequency wise is important. Mid sounding, “telephonic” vocals can be cool at times, low mid “warm” sounding vocals certainly have their place. Commonly, the practice is to hype the natural presence of the vocals by getting rid of the “throat” tones and proximity build up which generally live around the 250-600hz range (but don’t mix by numbers, listen listen listen). This in turn exaggerates the chest sound, and the head sound – particularly the sounds that form at the front of the mouth, tongue, and teeth – these are the tones that we use to pronounce our words and generally live in the upper midrange (2k-5k, no numbers, listen listen listen).

I think that about covers the basics of what to listen for when working your vocals.

To read the full detailed article with sound samples visit:  Mixing Rap Vocals

July 6, 2010

The Emotional Cords: Vocal Health for Singers

Filed under: Singing — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:32 am

As summer arrives, singers begin to worry about vocal health as summer is the season when most artists have most bookings. “Will I be able to manage all the upcoming shows without vocal fatigue?” The health of your voice is a serious matter: Your voice is a musical instrument that requires very special care, technical skills and constant practice.

Unlike guitar strings, vocal cords can’t break! Thus, they cannot be replaced. A good reason to take care of them! Vocal cords are muscles that need to be treated like any other muscle. Have you ever seen an athlete practice a sport without warming up? Without regular training or technique? Without muscle relaxation or a coach? Well, consider yourself a vocal athlete! The stage is your pitch. And like all athletes, you may get tired at times…

About Vocal Fatigue

A lot of physical, physiological, acoustical, and psychological factors can cause vocal fatigue. Among the most common symptoms are: changes in timbre, a deeper voice when talking, difficulties to reach high notes, quacks, cracks, unexpected pitch shifting (yodeling), hoarse, husky or breathy voice, soar throat or the sensation of lumps in your throat, partial or full aphonia…

If you carry on singing while having some of these symptoms, it can quickly lead to an injury or, unless you visit a laryngologist (voice specialist), other pathologies in the long run. Letting your voice rest can be a temporary solution. However, if your problems are caused by a bad singing technique and you don’t visit a laryngologist and a singing teacher, they will keep on coming back again and again.

Reasons for Voice Fatigue (a non-exhaustive list)

Breath, vibration and resonance?


Singing is a complex system that results from the combination of three stages: breath, vibration and resonance. An experienced singer combines all three stages harmoniously. When the breathing/vibration/resonance mix is not optimal, the larynx will compensate with intrinsic and/or extrinsic rigidness, hindering a good performance. In case you don’t remember, the larynx is an organ that connects the pharynx with the trachea and hosts the vocal cords. Its role is to transform air into sound. Thus, any additional rigidness is to be avoided.

Wrong or unsuitable singing technique

Some lucky people can sing intuitively without any singing lessons, but only a few have a good natural singing technique. For most singers, training their voice with a singing teacher or a voice coach is a must, regardless of their musicianship and music style. Good skills are crucial to keep your voice healthy, to sing without rigidness across the whole vocal register, to keep a well-balanced timbre, to be able to sing for hours without experiencing fatigue.

Lack of sleep

The only time when vocal cords fully rest is during sleep – when they decongest and regenerate. We recommend eight hours of sleep per day. But we are aware that long rests are hard to combine with life on the road. Specially when you have late shows and need to travel to the next gig location. Take a nap in the afternoon but avoid sleeping before live gigs. It could take the vocal cords more time to fully recover than the time you have before going up on stage.

Physical fatigue

When your body feels tired, your muscles have no energy, including your abdominal muscles and vocal cords. In this condition, it’s difficult to sing consistently.

The singer must sing dynamically and powerfully! Some of my students have realized that singing demands as much energy as doing sport. Thus, it is crucial to be physically fit. You know the saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Be watchful during rehearsals and live gigs. Don’t slacken your dynamism. Your body must be in good shape. The slightest carelessness might prove fatal to your voice.

Song key

Sing within your own range, in other words, the notes you can sing easily. Do not confuse this with the vocal register, which includes all notes you can produce with your voice. Don’t strive to sing in a key that doesn’t match your range because it could be very dangerous to your voice. Singing should be as comfortable as possible. If uncomfortable, tell the musicians you are playing with and transpose the song key. Otherwise, choose a replacement song before going on tour to avoid having to change singer’s while on tour!

More me

“I can’t hear myself! Can you push me to the front of the mix? Otherwise, I’ll have to strain my voice and damage it!”

We have all heard or said this to the monitor engineer at least once. But what happens really? It is very important to have a good sound on the stage, which means you need to take time to make a good soundcheck in order for all musicians and singers feel comfortable and find their position within the band. A singer that cannot listen to his own voice will tend to strain it or shout to be able to hear himself. This is called vocal dysfunction.

To avoid this, don’t hesitate to use in-ear monitors, which provide a clearly better monitoring comfort while protecting your ears by filling up your auditory canal and attenuating external noise up to 18 or 25 dB. In-ear monitors might seem expensive but your ears and your voice have no price: trust me!

Visit an ENT specialist to have an audiogram done. That way, you can check if your monitoring discomfort isn’t directly related to some sort of hearing impairment.

Now let’s take a look at vocal illness…

Conclusion

Always listen to your voice and your body… Take the smallest signs of fatigue seriously. Don’t bury your head in the sand while waiting for your voice to come back. That’s a common mistake among singers who are afraid to face reality.

If your singing technique leaves a lot to be desired, you need help! Unless you settle for the perpetual state of losing your voice and waiting for it to come back again… until it doesn’t!

And don’t think these recommendations apply only to beginners. Even experienced singers need to check if their singing is still consistent. Within this context, a periodic visit to a qualified singing teacher is enough to control if your singing technique is fairly good so you can start a tour with one less worry.

Also think about visiting a audiologist or ENT specialist every two years. This medical check is painless and it will help reassure you about the health of your vocal cords. And you’ll get a free pic of them. 🙂

I wish you all successful live gigs!

To read the full detailed article see:  Vocal Health

June 15, 2009

EQ and Compression Techniques for Vocals and Acoustic Guitar

As an engineer/producer, one of my biggest early challenges was getting my mixes to sound as polished and balanced as the mixes of songs on my favorite albums. Living in Nashville, I knew the problem wasn’t the players (some of whom had even played on those same favorite albums). I also knew that I was happy enough with the sounds I was recording because when I’d solo a particular track, I liked what I heard. The problem, in a nutshell, was getting all the parts of my mix to fit nicely together. What I’ve learned over time and will describe below are a few simple compression and EQ techniques for vocals and the acoustic guitar in your mixes. These techniques, when used properly, will go a long way towards allowing the vocals and acoustic guitars in your mixes to effectively share the sonic space.

Compression

When I first started reading about compressors I was hopelessly lost. The terminology was technical in an almost mean-spirited way and I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was being written. To keep things simple, I think of compression as a way of evening out the loud and soft parts of any vocal or instrument so that its behavior is a bit more predictable. In other words, compression brings up the really soft spots and tames the really loud spots so that you’re not constantly reaching for the volume fader on your mixing board (or virtual mixing board on your DAW). In its simplest form, a compressor, whether a hardware unit or a plug-in, will squeeze the audio so that its highs and lows are less pronounced. This allows you to do things like bring down the volume level of the compressed track without fear that its softer parts will get lost, or bring up the volume level without fear that the loud parts will jump out. It might help to think of all compression settings (attack, release, ratio and threshold) as ways to squeeze your audio more or less aggressively. Not enough compression will leave tracks that jump out of a mix at inappropriate times or get lost in the sound of the other instruments; however, too much compression can make a track sound lifeless or uninspired. My rule of thumb is to be less aggressive compressing audio on the way into your DAW (because you’re stuck with whatever you do) and more aggressive with my plug-in compression (because you can always dial it back).

EQ

While a wonderful (and essential) tool, EQ is also quite possibly the quickest way to royally mess up the sound of a mix. Overuse of EQ ranks second only to overuse of reverb as the hallmark of an inexperienced mix engineer. EQ should be used to subtly (or not so subtly) color the sound of the particular track you’re working on so that it relates well to and leaves space for the other tracks in a mix. My experience has been that it’s what you pull out and not what you put in that makes EQ work best. For example, even when you’re looking for a boost in the high frequencies of a track, it’s often more effective to pull a few dB from a lower frequency which, in turn, brightens the sound.

Conclusion
Compression and EQ are two very powerful weapons in your mix arsenal, but as with anything, overuse will do more harm than good. I think back to the words of an engineer whose work I really respect who liked to say “I’ll compress until it sucks and then back it off from there.” In other words, knowing when to say “when” is an equally useful skill. A final thought…as far as signal path is concerned, I tend to place compression after EQ because EQ effectively raises or lowers the volume of the track and I’ve found I get a more effective response from the compressor if I hit it with the EQed audio. I would highly recommend using the above EQ and compression settings not as an ironclad rule but rather as a jumping off point. Every mix is different and your ears will tell you what’s working and what isn’t.

To read the full detailed article see: EQ & Compression Techniques

October 14, 2008

TC Helicon VoiceTone Harmony-G review

TC Helicon VoiceTone Harmony-G - AudioFanzineTC Helicon’s Harmony-G: The Test
After having delighted singers with their Voicetone pedals, TC Helicon is trying to seduce guitarist/singers with a pedal capable of simulating vocal harmonies that follow your voice and guitar playing. Extraordinary as this may sound in theory, does the Harmony G keep its promises in practice? That’s what we’ll see in this test …

You won’t feel so alone anymore

Setting up live vocal harmonies has always been relatively complicated. A bad balance between the main speakers and the monitoring speakers will often cause out of tune vocals which will quickly get on the nerves of any audience. But there are worse situations! How do you get harmony vocals when you‘re alone on stage? Even if you have all the talent and determination in the world, your voice is still monophonic. Fortunately, TC-Helicon was thinking of singer/guitarists and singer/ pianists who play solo when they created two pedals allowing them to be, as if by magic, accompanied by two virtual singers who even know the set-list by heart! But how is this possible? It’s simple: the pedal, thanks to the guitar or keyboard that is plugged into the device, follows the chord progression, analyzes it and figures out the vocal harmonies that go along with your voice. That’s, roughly, the idea behind the Harmony G (guitar) and Harmony M (for MIDI, the keyboard is connected via MIDI). Sounds tempting doesn’t it? Being a six-string enthusiast myself, I naturally chose the Harmony G model for this test.

So I eagerly opened the nice looking box with the TC Helicon logo …

C Helicon strikes another strong blow by allowing singer/guitarists to have 2 virtual singers at their command. With its effects and its integrated tuner, the little box is like an audio Swiss-army knife. It will undoubtedly attract many musicians thanks to its ease of use, sound quality, solid construction and very realistic vocal harmonies. The Harmony G also offers small features which have been intelligently thought out (changing the reference tuning or Manual mode) and its few defects are quickly overlooked in light of how enjoyable it is to use. Watch out Crosby, Stills & Nash!

Convincing vocal harmonies
Very good mic preamp
Quality effects
Solid construction
48 V phantom power
Guitar through
Automatic mix of voice and guitar
Tone mode
Integrated tuner
Manual

The balance of guitar, harmony levels and effects not stored in presets
Needs AC adapter
Pressing both switches at the same time is not so easy
Sometimes hangs when changing chords

Read the complete review of TC Helicon Voicetone Harmony-G.

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