Sound Check Do You Want To Do Another Take?
posted by April 19 at 10:45 AMon
Today we’re talking with engineer / producer, Kevin Suggs, about recording vocals.
Kevin has worked with Cat Power, The Minus Five, Smoosh, and Math & Physics Club. He’s the in-studio live performance engineer at KEXP and a staff engineer at Avast!
Kevin talks about mics, compression, and getting the take. Kevin is a guru, he knows how to work musicians. He knows when to say something, and when to be quiet. During a session, you might not even notice him, and that is a skill like any other.
So tell us, Mr. Suggs, what is to know about recording vocals?
Suggs: A very important part of any recording is the vocals. Music listeners tend to key on the voice, or the singing. Often, it’s what people pay attention to first.
Mic selection: When working with a vocalist that I have never recorded before, I like to do a little mic shootout first. Iíll set up a few different mics that are available, ranging from really good condensers to everyday dynamics. Iíll have the singer sing through a verse and a chorus on each mic, then come into the control room and weíll have a listen. They may be similar, but there will be one that is going to have that certain quality to it that works best with the singer’s voice. Youíd be surprised that sometimes it turns out to be the lower end everyday mics, such as the SM58 . Of course, the high end condensers and tube mics do win out much of the time as well.
Mic Placement: I like the vocalist to get right up on the mic. Microphones have what is called proximity effect. This means as the vocalist moves closer to the mic, their voice will sound warmer. Iíll put a pop filter (to minimize plosives and keep the spit off) about 2Ē from the mic and tell the vocalist to get right up to the screen.
Compression: If itís rock music and the vocals are going to be competing with big guitars Iíll squash em pretty well. 6 to 8 db (or more) of compression isnít unheard of in these cases. If the music isnít that thick you can do with a bit less compression. I always compress vocals at least a little bit to knock off the peaks. If Iím tracking to analog, Iíll hit the tape really hard. I mean bury the needle if its rock music. The tape will add more compression and give the voice a really rich tone.
Getting the performance: Itís important to get a good mix in the cans for the singer. Some singers like their vocals much louder than the music, and others like it sunk down in the mix. Whatever it takes to help them stay on pitch. I like to go for the performance. Iíll have the singer sing through the song three or four times from start to finish. Iíll record each pass and then comp them together.
Comping: Comping is the process of taking the best parts from all four takes and compiling them into one outstanding take. If after compimg there are still a few lines that arenít right, they can be punched in. I feel this method helps the singer stretch out and perform the song instead of just singing the parts.
Donít be so over critical as to produce the feeling out of a vocal track either. Iíll take a slightly flawed performance sung with mass attitude over a perfectly executed one that just lays there any day.