Entries in tips (126)
In this free Pro Tools video tutorial Russ shows how powerful Xpand2 synth can be for creating grooves for use in tracks.
If you don’t have the cash to buy additional plug-ins then this video shows you how to get the best from this free Pro Tools plug-in.
He also shows how to use additional free Pro Tools plug-ins on grooves and loops.
This was orginally a member only video, but now free to watch.
Monitoring Without Headphones
Some vocalists hate using headphones when tracking vocals, instead preferring to monitor through speakers.
The problem is that this gives excessive bleed of the rest of the instruments though the vocal track.
This video tutorial shows you a trick that helps to remove a lot of that bleed and cleans up the audio for further processing.
From the authors of 12 Steps For Preparing To Record Vocals and Breathing And The Voice - In Performance and Production Part 1 and Part 2; In this third instalment to their series, Producer Dan Cooper and Vocal Instructor Georgie Gillis will give their two-pronged approach to voice projection in the mix.
The Singer’s Perspective By Georgiana Gillis
Why Do I Need To Worry About Projecting My Voice In A Studio Environment?
One of my pet peeves as a vocal coach is to hear a singer not projecting into the microphone during a recording session. They mistakenly keep their voices ‘local’ as if the pop shield were their target audience. This false delivery then gets mixed and mastered into the final product with lack lustre results. The one thing your producer cannot fix with any post production tricks, is how you carried your voice into the recording microphone in the first place.
How Can Projecting Help With My Vocal Takes?
Projecting your voice not only gets it INTO the microphone, but helps with these three key elements which must come from you the singer and cannot be faked:
- VOLUME - If you were talking into a mic and your producer pushed the fader up you would still sound like you were only talking, only louder - not shouting. The same goes for big belting choruses - what’s the point if you are only singing them to yourself?
- ENERGY - Singing requires a certain amount of energy. Any listener can hear the difference when your voice sounds flat and lifeless. Aim for your vocals to always sound effortless and never strained.
- EMOTION - Passionate vocals convince the listener that you are singing from the heart. Believe your own hype and ham it up! If you are not recording original material, go for songs that you can relate to.
Ok. What Exactly Is Projecting Your Voice?
Technically it could be described as the action of extending your voice towards a desired target - in this case a microphone. Like breathing, projection is another one of those hear-say terms that can be interpreted in a number of different ways depending on who is teaching you. Learning how to project correctly and safely is often a case of making these small adjustments to your technique:
- Visualise singing live - In a performance situation you would sing TO your audience whereas in a studio we only have a microphone in an acoustically treated room. Visualise your perfect audience and then go for it!
- Use ‘Forward Placement’ - This describes where you ‘place’ your voice in order to achieve the best projectile results. Sing as if you were singing solely to the back of your top front teeth - this directs your air flow outwards where you need it most.
- Deep Breathing - (Breath = Power) Make sure you are using some form of diaphragmatic/deep breathing to enable your voice to ‘soar’. Combining correct breathing with Forward Placement has the desired ‘bow and arrow’ effect of projectile singing.
Can’t I Achieve The Same Results If I Just Make Myself Louder?
No. Getting louder does not mean you are necessarily extending your voice forwards. Simply forcing your voice without any precautionary action (shouting) is effectively ‘smacking’ your vocal folds together aggressively while at the same time forcing too much air through your larynx. Signs that you have been doing this already include; the feeling that you have ‘strained’ your voice, sore throats, hoarseness or regular bouts of acute or even chronic laryngitis. Over the long term, abusing your voice like this causes polyps and permanent laryngeal damage (listen to Rod Stewart for an example of vocal damage).
How Do We Place Our Voices Forwards?
In short, once we have taken a nice deep belly breath, that air then goes on a journey out of the airways, through your larynx, into your throat and hits the soft palate where the air can then either go up your nasal cavity or out of your mouth (or both).
- Put your tongue up on the roof of your mouth. This is called the hard palate.
- Run your tongue along the hard palate towards the back of your throat.
- Keep going until you reach the soft, pillowy soft palate.
- On the other side of the soft palate is the opening to the nasal cavity.
When singing we want our voices to go OUT of our mouths and not UP our noses as no singer wants to sound nasal. But because the nasal cavity is openly connected to our mouths like a chimney to a house, we need to MANUALLY direct the air flow to go where we want using Forward Placement - and so aiming the air outwards rather than upwards.
How Do We Achieve Forward Placement?
When coaching my students I tell them to sing to the back of their top front teeth (incisors). It is a simple yet effective image to visualise. To take this one step further, pay attention to how you use your lips when singing; In your normal ‘indoor’ voice, say the word ‘speak’. Say it again and notice what happens to the corners of your mouth. ‘Speak’. They pull up and back to make the required sound, thus losing some of your voice at the corners as well as sounding nasal and bright. Now try singing the word ‘speak’ with your lips pushed forwards. Hear the difference? To project effectively, everything should go forwards; voice AND lips.*
Difficulty with Accent - Irish or American?
One of the best accents for Forward Placement is Italian as their speech patterns naturally go forwards and up. Another good accent for singers is Welsh. It is perhaps no accident then that great singers such as Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Katherine Jenkins and Tom Jones come from these countries, to name a few! Unfortunately there are some accents which are prone to sounding nasal - American and Irish accents are two examples of such and depending on the regional dialect can encounter more placement problems than others. However, using Forward Placement can remedy this considerably.
What If Your Chosen Method Of Singing Does Not Normally Require You To Project?
Obviously there are many different styles of singing and if yours is a style that relies heavily upon microphone amplification, for example; breathy vocals, stylised singing or using ‘hushed’ tones to create that modern ‘not bothered’ effect - then discuss this with your producer. He or she will adjust the sensitivity/proximity of the mic and volume in your ears accordingly. Even so, placing your voice forwards will enable the mic to pick up as much of your voice as possible with the minimum amount of loss.
True projection means to use a combination of deep breathing in conjunction with placing your voice in the foremost resonating chambers of your mouth. Taking this projectile action supports your voice in travelling a greater distance as well as gaining greater power and volume. It is also the key to unlocking a passionate, energetic performance. Second to breathing correctly, learning how to properly place your voice is integral to overcoming nasal tones, belting safely and riding your breaking point to name but a few.
*In this article I refer to ‘Forward Placement’. It is also known by other names such as voice or vocal placement. Their are many schools of thought on the correct way to do this as well as variance within genres. There is no exact science however and it mostly comes down to individual feel.
In part 1 Georgie Gillis shared her 12 steps for preparing to record vocals. In part 2 I will cover the technical points that should be considered when recording a vocal performance.
It is important to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of whatever microphone you have available to you for vocal recording. Frequency response, sound pressure level (SPL), polar patterns and so on. The overall sound of a microphone can help you in the decision of “Does this microphone sound good… with this vocalist… in this room, for the song?”
If you have a selection of microphones then it is always good to try each of them on the vocalist to discover which of them will be the best tool for the job. It all depends on what you need to do, what sound you are after, what the vocalist sounds like in the room and how they sound in the song you are working on.
The sound and acoustic characteristics of the space you record in need to be considered as the room sound can play a large part in the overall sound. Does the room sound over reverberant or dead and lifeless. If you are recording at home then you luckily have a selection of rooms to choose from. Recording vocals in a bedroom is a great space to record in as generally there will be a mattress on one side, curtains over the windows, a wardrobe (that can be opened up to provide a little extra absorption) and shelves up on the walls to help scatter sound. You need to find a good balance of reflections and absorption that will work with the vocalist.
Distance From The Microphone
Ensure the vocalist is at a good distance from the microphone capsule. Dynamic microphones such as the Shure SM7B and SM58 will require you to have the vocalist right up on it. Sensitive condenser microphones will need the vocalist’s mouth to be at least one foot away from the microphone’s capsule. When using sensitive microphones you need to be aware that they will pick up more absence of the room which as I said earlier will play a large part in the overall sound of your vocals. You need to be careful the vocalist is not at a far enough distance from the microphone to where the room sound dominates the essence of the voice. Being too close to sensitive microphones can cause a build up of low end bass energy and usually will increase the presence of sibilance and other unnatural voice artefacts. You need to make sure the voice has enough air between the mic and singer to breathe.
Pop shields have two uses. The first is to reduce plosives from the voice hitting the microphone and causing unpleasant low energy thumping sounds. The second is so that the vocalist knows that singing directly into the shield gives them the piece of mind that they are singing into the sweet spot. Setting the pop shield between the microphone and vocalist should stop them moving in towards the microphone or away during the performance. A rule of thumb I use is to place my hand between the microphone and pop shield and open it as far as I can so that my little finger is on the microphone and my thumb is on the pop shield. I then get the vocalist to be at least one inch away from the stopper. Depending on the song and singer I will adjust this slightly. This is a great starting point and 90% of the time it works straight away.
Avoid setting your input gain too hot and close to the red. There is no need to do this with modern digital recording equipment. You need to provide yourself with headroom to work, both in the tracking stage and for later when you get to the mix stage. Aim to have the loudest section of the vocal performance to peak just into the yellow. This will avoid any digital clipping when tracking.
Recording With EQ And Compression
If you have an outboard channel strip or pre amp with EQ and compression then you should experiment with them as utilising them correctly can be another method of getting it right at source. Use compression gently as being too heavy handed with the settings can give you less choices in the mix. If you feel you do not have the confidence in setting EQ and compression on the way in then you don’t have to use it. I use it when the moment is right and I feel I need to… if it doesn’t work in the practise takes I bypass it.
Don’t let the vocalist take one side of their headphones off their head like DJ’s do. This can give bleed from the headphone mix into the microphone and sometimes this will cause feedback. It is always best to get the mix and balance correct in the first place so that the vocalists can be confident in hearing themselves with the music. Confidence equals a better performance. Try not to blast the volume of the headphone mix as again this can cause unwanted bleed through to the mic and importantly can fatigue the vocalist’s ears.
Get the vocalist to take breaks. Use that time to listen back to some takes. You need to listen critically when tracking vocals by listening creatively and objectively. Try not to overload a vocalist with too many ideas. Try to not record 20 or more takes and compile the best bits into one take. This wastes a huge amount of time and never works as each take will differ in tone, delivery, feel, emotion and control… all the aspect of the vocal you cannot fix later in the mix. If you find yourself getting in the trap of recording a lot of tracks you should stop recording to let the vocalist practise their parts. Practise makes perfect.
This two part article will cover these methods. I believe… and many others will agree, that in order to get great sounding vocals is to get it right, or at least the best you can, in the initial stages of the recording process before any mixing or fairy dust tricks have been applied.
In Part 1 my fiancée and song writing partner Georgie Gillis will cover the important performance techniques required when tracking vocals based on her 13 years experience as a vocal instructor, performer and recording artist. In Part 2 - I will cover the technical processes for recording great sounding vocals.
The Singer’s Guide - 12 Steps To Prepare For Your Best Vocal Take By Georgiana Gillis.
They say “Success is 90% preparation and only 10% perspiration”. Unlike the other instruments in your mix, your voice requires a very different kind of preparation. Whether you’re a professional singer or hobbyist, the following tips can help you get the very best from your voice.
Before You Arrive At The Studio - Sleep Before The Big Day
Singing requires energy - fact. Tired bodies create flat notes. I always tell my singing students to approach a performance as if they were entering a boxing ring - pumped. When it comes down to it, you will want to channel all of your energy into a great vocal take. If you are ill, have not slept well or have had a late night you will not be able to give it your best.
Water Is A Singer’s Best Friend
Water to your voice is like oil to an engine. Stick to still water as your drink of choice and always keep a bottle available for sipping. This can be done as frequently as you need during vocal takes. Beware of dehydration - your body will allocate water to other body parts before it reaches the mucous membranes aka your larynx. Room temperature is always best as it is absorbed more quickly than cold.
Don’t Eat A Heavy Meal Before Singing
Approach eating and singing in the same way you would swimming. Don’t eat a heavy meal right beforehand. A full stomach encroaches on your breathing space - not to mention diverting your energy to digestion. Ideally, eat little and often in the run up to keep energy levels high or if this isn’t possible, make sure you eat your meal a couple of hours before recording.
Plan To Sing When You Feel Fresh
Usually not first thing in the morning or last thing at night, but in the fresh part of your day according to your own body clock. Your concentration levels peak and fall during the course of any given day. A good time to record vocals would be when you are usually at your most energetic. For most of us for e.g. that is not near the afternoon ‘slump’ or late in the evening.
Here’s a nice video from the Rednet team with Chris Lord Alge.
Although it’s primarily a promo video there’s some gems in their from mix-master Chris Lord-Alge.
Check it out.
New Year, new start! While you have some time on your hands and a line drawn in the sand then it might be a good time to do some housekeeping and get your Pro Tools computer in shape for the coming year. Here are 4 ways to get your Pro Tools computer in shape.
Sort Your Files
It does not take long to have hard drives filled with samples, loops, libraries and sessions, if you don’t label them in a meaningful way then you’ll soon find you are wasting precious creative time looking for these things. In the absence of a meaningful workspace in Pro Tools the need to label is even greater. The right labelling system is the one that works for you, make it as simple or as complicated as you wish, although the simpler the better in my book. Both Windows and Mac OS have good search built in, but why make life hard - a few hours spent labelling the files you use for your music production is time well spent.
Archive Your Projects
If the home of some people was like their computer then they would be waste deep in crap. Once you have your stuff labelled in a meaningful way then consider archiving the stuff you don’t use that often. Having your local hard drives full of sessions dating back years is pointless, with the cost of hard drives dropping all the time then it’s a good idea to get stuff archived and free up your local hard drives for the new work you are doing. Also don’t forget that with the speed of internet connection improving and cloud based storage such as Gobbler built into Pro Tools then you can also archive and back-up in this way too.
Thin Your Plug-ins
Plug-ins have never been cheaper, it doesn’t take long for your plug-in folder to fill up with hundreds of plug-ins. Our team review a lot of plug-ins and soon there’s several hundred plug-ins sitting in the folder, just watch Pro Tools scanning and loading them each time it starts up. You may want to consider moving the plug-ins you seldom use into the Unused plug-ins folder, doing this will speed up your Pro Tools load times and also save you having to search through long lists of plug-ins every time you need to use one. If you want to ignore this advice then watch our Pro Tools tutorial on creating your own plug-in shortcuts video.
Update Your Software
Updates are a two edged sword, sometimes they fix your problems, other times they create even more problems for some users. Updates are an essential part of taking care of your Pro Tools computer system but it is worth doing your research first, we try and report any update issues as soon as we know about them, for example the recent issues surrounding the Pro Tools 11.0.3 update have been documented in several posts. However an out of date plug-in can crash your Pro Tools sessions, you can use cool software such as PluginUpdate from our friends at Kazrog. Ignoring updates to either to Pro Tools system is not possible, it’s just a case of doing your research when you are presented with new updates.
We often run a ‘5 Ways’ article filled with tips for either getting the besy from Pro Tools, general recording advice, or business tips, after all there’s a lot of money to be made AND lost if you don’t take care of business.
Here are 5 articles that we ran and that got a lot of interest in the early part of 2013.
Loops are a two sided coin, one side inspiration and hit making, the other side derivative and over-used. So how can you make sure that when you use loops your coin lands on the right side?
Russ responds to some emails about installing AIR Instruments, where to put the content libraries and then how to locate them from the instruments.
Creatives are good at a lot of things, but for many taking care of some fundamental business needs is last on the list. However if you neglect them then your business, your finances and your home life may suffer. Here are the top 5 things anyone running a studio or a freelance business can do to ensure a better week.