Sunday, January 28, 2007

Recording Vocals

Jaszcz: Grant, how long is it going to take you to import that vocal? Do I need to do it?

Grant: You? Import something? You don't even import your own reverbs. Anyway, do you want the vocal to be somewhere in the ballpark or do you want the artist to be singing the verse where the chorus should be?

Jaszcz: I think you need to go take one of those Pro Tools training courses they advertise on our site. You know you might have the aptitude to be Pro Tools "certified".

Grant: Very Funny. It isn't my fault the vocal isn't referenced to anything. Wait to you hear it, timing is the least of its problems.

Jaszcz: What do you mean?

Grant: You'll see.

Jaszcz: Great! Another bad vocal track that sounds like it was recorded using two cans and a string. We need to give our readers tips on recording vocals and preparing them to import into a mix session(since many times vocals are being recording while someone else is mixing the song).

Grant: Yeah what's the point of a great rhythm track if the vocal doesn't hold up? You would think something like recording a vocal would be a simple matter. But you would be surprised.

Jaszcz: And we really aren't talking about the quality of the singer, although that is an extremely important part of the chain. In fact it is the most important, but for this article we are going to focus on what you can do to capture a great vocal.

Grant: So besides a great singer, what do you need to record great vocals?

Jaszcz: Well besides a great singer you need a decent recording space. This is one of the most overlooked aspects. For vocals, the recording space is almost as important as it is for drums and guitars.

Grant: Yeah you don't want a "slappy" room when you record vocals. You want a nice tight sound that doesn't give you too many reflections. Unless you want your vocals to sound like they were cut in a bathroom.

Jaszcz: But by "tight" we don't necessarily mean a really small room. Small rooms can be some of the worst rooms for vocals unless treated properly.

Grant: I like bright colors for the walls and a nice hardwood floor, and for the couch. . .

Jaszcz: Alright! Back on topic.

Grant: In many cases you can make a bad room into a passable one by using baffles to control the reflections. This helps your vocalist sound more "intimate" by eliminating much of the room sound.

Jaszcz: Don't go too far though. A little room sound gives some air to the recording.

Grant: Now that we have a great singer and room, we need a great vocal chain to record through.

Jaszcz: Everything in recording is subjective, including recording vocals. So you have to experiment with microphones, mic pre-amps, and compressors to find out what best fits your singer. Not everyone is going to sound great on a $12,000 Neumann U-47 microphone through a $20,000 Fairchild compressor/limiter.

Grant: Exactly. Some people sound better on a $125 dollar microphone than a more expensive one. You just have to use your ears and find out what fits with a particular singer.

Jaszcz: Whatever your vocal chain ends up being, be sure that you don't destroy the sound by doing stupid things.

Grant: It's the stupid things that will kill a good vocal. You wouldn't believe that we actually get vocals that sound like they were recorded on the wrong side of the microphone.

Jaszcz: We aren't kidding folks. This has happened more than once. Be sure you have the microphone turned the correct way.

Grant: The distance the singer is from the vocal mic is important also. Too close and you end up with a muffled sound, too far back and you lose the presence.

Jaszcz: A great vocalist knows how to work a microphone. They will back up or get closer depending on how loud they are. They are in a since, compressing themselves. Watch someone like Michael McDonald sing. It's like going to school for vocal mic technique.

Grant: Speaking of compression, WATCH YOUR LEVELS!!!!

Jaszcz: What Grant is yelling about is just because the meter in Pro Tools doesn't go into the red, the vocal can still be to "loud" or "hot". Analog consoles and outboard gear don't have the headroom to handle the really high levels that digital recording allows. What you get is distortion, and unless you are going for that sound, it's bad.

Grant: Also don't go into the red. Many times we get vocals that look like square waves(that's bad). Recording is not a matter of putting up a microphone and pressing the record button. You have to constantly watch your levels(in Pro Tools, on your mic pre-amp, and your compressor).

Jaszcz: With vocals, the level in Pro Tools should be between 50% and 75% of the meter range. Occasional peaks that almost reach the top are o.k. as long as there is no distortion.

Grant: Since we mentioned compression, don't over compress your vocals unless that is the intended effect. You want your compressor to catch the loud peaks and attenuate them(usually around 3 to 5 dB). If you squash the vocal while recording, you are going to be stuck with that sound on the record.

Jaszcz: Be sure to solo the vocal and be sure there aren't any problems. You can't hear many problems when you have the music covering them up. So solo it to be sure you don't hear too much headphone bleed, electrical hums, room sound, or distortion. I know, I know. No one listens to a song with a solo button. But you never know when a producer might decide to thin out a mix and then these problems will reveal themselves.

Grant: Also check for bad punches. You can't always tell if a punch is good unless you solo the vocal. The solo button is your friend, use it.

Jaszcz: After you are done recording your vocal, check all your punches to be sure they have crossfades and consolidate it from either the front of the session or from the same starting time as your reference track.

Grant: After you have comped your vocal, save a copy of the session with all the vocal takes. Then in another copy, get rid of all the vocal takes and playlists except the Final Vocal Comp. This eliminates the chance of the wrong vocal being used in the mix.

Jaszcz: If you are going to export the vocal so you can give it to someone else to tune or put into a mix, be sure you give them a rough mix and be sure the vocal and rough mix are consolidated from the same starting point. That way if the time stamp on the audio file gets lost or changed, the vocal can still be lined up using the rough mix.

Well that's it for this week. We hoped that you found this week's article informative and entertaining.

Grant: Hey if you guys have any questions or comments be sure to let us know. We have a myspace page where you can leave us messages or you can leave comments by clicking the comment button below.

And for further reading, check out Jaszcz's interview in EQ Magazine.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Welcome to GetYoshed!

Jaszcz (aka Yosh): Well Grant it’s a new year and we have a new web site.

Grant: Yes happy New Year to everyone and welcome to I guess we should explain to our visitors what the site is about. So what is it about Jaszcz?

Jaszcz: We created this site to help our clients(current and future), producers, musicians, students, and anyone else out there record better tracks so that they can have the best possible mixes.

Grant: So you’re going to give out your phone number and offer free 24 hour tech support! That’s great!

Jaszcz: Well actually I was planning on giving out your phone number.

Grant: I already get enough “emergency” calls at 1 a.m. with people having computer problems. I don’t need any more!

Jaszcz: Seriously, our goal is to help people record better tracks and we hope to accomplish this by giving you hints and tips on this site.

Grant: And our first tip really doesn’t have anything to do with recording but rather preparing your session(s) for mixing(assuming someone else is mixing your project).

Jaszcz: You know Grant there really isn’t anything worse than getting a Pro Tools™ session where the tracks are all called Audio 1, Audio 2, etc., or having 6 tracks all called “Lead Vocal” and no indication of which one is the correct one to use.

Grant: Sure there is! What about getting a session and finding out that 24 audio files are missing and they are on some drive called “Skip 250gig Backup” and no one knows who Skip is?

Jaszcz: Yeah that is pretty bad, and unfortunately common. Hopefully we will help our visitors avoid these problems. So let’s give some tips on preparing your sessions for a mix.

The first tip that I have is to be sure to label all of your tracks properly. Tracks that are just called Audio 1 and such are not very helpful when someone else is trying to sort out your session. Be descriptive and be sure to use the comment boxes that Pro Tools provides.

Grant: Deactivate and hide all tracks that are not going to be used in the mix. If you are absolutely positive that they will never be used, go ahead and delete them from the session(be sure you have a session with them saved just in case).

Jaszcz: Check all your punches and edits. Check them while you are recording your overdubs and be sure they have fades and crossfades, then consolidate the tracks after you are done with the overdubs.

Grant: Exactly! This helps out in so many ways. One, if the punch is bad(which sometimes you can’t hear unless you solo the track), it is easier to fix while the musician/singer is still there. Also if you consolidate your overdub tracks, it makes it less likely that audio files will end up missing. It is easier to keep track of one Lead Vocal audio file than 60 or so.

Jaszcz: Be sure to name all your sessions properly. For example if you just did guitar overdubs, name the session “guitar overdubs” so you can go back to this session if you have to.

Grant: Which leads into only have the latest, relevant session in your project folder. That will eliminate the chance that the wrong session gets used.

Jaszcz: Which in turn leads into being sure that all the audio files associated with your project are actually on the hard drive that you are sending to the mix engineer. There are several ways of checking this, but the foolproof, easiest way is to go out and buy a brand new hard drive just for the mix and follow the procedure below.

1) Format it accordingly (Mac OS Extended for us mac guys).

2) In the Mix ready session, be sure to remove any unused audio regions. To do this,

a) Go to the region bin and select unused regions (Shift-Command-U).

b) Clear the unused regions (Shift-Command-B) and when the dialog box pops up on the screen, click Remove

3) Save a copy of the session to the new drive

a) With your session open in Pro Tools, go under the File Menu and select “Save Copy In”

b) Select your new Mix Hard Drive as the destination, Session Format should be “Latest”(unless the mix engineer is using a version of Pro Tools prior to 7.x you shouldn’t change this). Leave your Audio File Type and Sample Rate the same as your session.

c) Be sure in the “Items To Copy” field that the “All Audio Files” box is checked(if you don’t, then you won’t have any audio files copied over).

d) Be sure to name the session with a descriptive name (i.e. “Song Title ready for mix”)

e) Click the save button and watch the little blue progress bar.

4) After the session is saved to the new drive, close down your current session and unmount all audio drives except the new “Mix Drive”. You can do this in Pro Tools by going to the Window Menu>Workspace and highlighting any drives and clicking the little toolbox icon in the upper left corner and selecting “Unmount. “

Note: Everyone should take this moment and make the computer’s internal hard drive(the one usually called “Macintosh HD”) as a transfer only drive. This will ensure that no audio files ever get recorded to this drive. To do so, in the Workspace window, where you see the column with the “A” heading, click on the “R” letter by your internal drive and change it to “Transfer” only.

5) Now open up the session you just saved to the new mix drive. If everything was done properly, the session will open up and you should get a dialog box saying “The Original Disk Allocation Cannot be used . . .”. Just hit the return or enter key and your session will open up and all the audio files will be found.

Grant: Now you can be confident that all your files are in the proper place and you won’t get that 9 a.m. call from the engineer asking where the Lead Vocal is.

Jaszcz: Good now we can all sleep better at night.

Grant: Sleep? What’s that?

Jaszcz: You know! It’s what you do on that couch all day while I’m working!

Grant: Not True!

Jaszcz: Well we are out of time. We hope you all find this site useful and if you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail us.

Grant: Tell your friends about the site and see you next time. Don’t forget to bookmark this site so you can come back!