Basic Setup and Signal Flow
Basically going toe run through everything from setting up the mikes, setting up the signal chain to actually tracking vocals, and then the third segment are the fourth segment. Actually, I'm going to get into, um, open up an issue session from their latest album and go through their song and what I did on the vocals and how it relates to what we did earlier today. So, um, I guess I should start by introducing alex. This is alex heller, he's going to be singing with us today. He's actually the singer we have a band together called the crash engine and he's, the vocalist on one of the main songwriters. So we recorded a live demo um, while ago at my studio and we're going to track vocals over that it's a song called until my head explodes and I think, uh, what I should do first is just kind of discussed the signal chain and this is like, actually what I should explain is that this is my studio. I brought it here, this's like pretty much everything you would see, aside from my monitors an...
d the huge tv I have as a computer monitor, but this pretty much everything I use yeah, I think literally pulled up in a van with basically everything and loaded it in so it's great to have your actual equipment here? Yeah it's it's nice definitely comforting for me too and it'll help explain like really how I do things on every session and it's been a pretty similar process for me for like the last ten years. So um usually I mean the mike changes from time to time, but a lot of times I'm using a telephone khun neelam to fifty one for vocals it's like ninety percent of the time on gettinto like mike choice and and why would you certain mike with a certain person but for today set up that's the mic on dh that'll be running into a pia you eight o five mike pre microphone preamble fire the microphone preamble fire um basically does exactly that it just gives you the volume from the mike um it, um also kind of shapes the tone a little bit you can you can make choices in that way we'll be going from the mike pre to a compressor. I'm today I'm using an empirical labs distress sir, that levels out the vocals as much or as little as you want. And again I'll go into more detail about that going from the distress sir into the prison eighty converter which converts the analog signal in the digital it's how you get into the computer um we'll be using pro tools today for the sessions and showing you guys how I'd do everything in a visual manner in a way you're probably used to with a d w but what's alex let's uh let's come up here and I want to start basically well the first thing you really want to do in a session and this is a little mixed up because you're already here but an important thing for me for having a vocalist be really comfortable is that have as much as I can set up which we do you know? But before when the vocalist walks in the door I want to be like ready to go as much as possible I don't want to get bored I don't want is moved to change unless unmoved bad and then we'll you know, mess around for a little bit and tryto get the mood at least more according to the song you know it's sad I'm not going to try to cheer him up but unfortunately sorry uh but uh but you know so that's that's kind of important to really be like have everything patched in have it all ready to go normally that's that's what I would do but I'm going to kind of do it with alex here so you can see so we can interact and you can see how it all works and so alex doesn't just have to sit there and feel awkward so one of the first most important things is vocal our microphone height you wantto talk to the singer ask like you know alex do you do you normally sing forward? Do you kind of feel yourself singing up to have a stance what's you know what's comfortable right now you're standing stiff but like when you're singing yeah what do you normally doing? I guess kind of a relaxed but just cool really sync up or down or you think that's cool well it's let's bring this down a little bit in fact, this needs angle uh it's down just a hair and you just wanna line up the capsule of the microphone which is like usually the center of the head basket with vocals pretty much pretty logical thing to do how far away from this pop screen should I be generally you're gonna want to be about a fist okay, so you know you don't you want to be you could be in it but you don't want to be bumping it on like but if you do don't worry about it but more importantly don't ever think about the pop screen cool don't worry about it but I tried not to like stand white back catching that's a hole we can get into that but that's not a standard for me when I'm setting up a pop screen what I want is like about a fist on this side too and that varies from mike to mike because of proximity proximity when you I mean everyone knows a proximity is but proximity when you're talking about a vocal microphone or any vocal microphone you're generally referring to how much low end you're getting it kind of has to do with high end and s ng to like s sounds and close ids from the vocals but mainly it's about the loan and the vocals and how much it fills in so the closer you are to the mic when you're in a car towed pattern the more low and you're going to get so for me I liketo have cem beef and the vocals and I like to have like a really close up sound so I don't I don't want to be any closer because then you start really getting affected by like sounds and sounds and stuff so about a fist is perfect if you're feeling like there's too much lohan and the vocals or you have like a really full mike mike that's really full on the low end back it off a little bit you don't have to use the cue I think it always sounds better teke you with thehe proximity in your distance instead of trying to fix it later with an actual equalizer which you know you could do little moves and stuff that way but the more you can do in the beginning the better and that goes for any instrument with any microphone but with vocals it's it's pretty important because vocals get weird when he tried to eat you and you can get could bring out things you don't want, so get it right in the beginning. The other thing the other choice you have with the mic is actually the polar patterns on some mikes are cargo it only summer figure eight on lee this mike has figure eight car droid and omni I prefer car died because it rejects the room that way, you're not getting too much of the sound of the room and the vocals. If you want a really live roomie vocals try like a figure eight or um a nominee pattern, you can get some pretty cool sounds. Another useful reason you might want to use a figure eight pattern is if you have two singers you want to sing at the same time, they can stand on both sides of the mic and you can get kind of beach boys thing going on that way. You've got a whole group you can do omni and get him around the mike once again. The closer they are, the more well and you're gonna have and you know the more upfront sound, but you could get really cool like group vocal sounds by putting him like one mike in omni or two mikes on me if you have a really big group and instead of having like all these people facing one mike, get around it and have them like being at each other and interacting and you can get really cool group vocal sounds that way, but today we're going to be working in car died because that has the best bass response in the best rejection also figure eight and on the naturally have less low and it's a little too little of low end for a lead vocal for me. So we're working in cardio but a fist from the pop filter amusing a pop filter so he doesn't ruin my really nice mike with all of spitting and, you know, yelling and whatnot and and it's, really, I mean, you should use a pop filter some kind of filter with any microphone because even like the quietest, you just can't avoid moisture coming from the mouth. It doesn't, you know there's, no way to avoid that. The pop culture also helps with close it's like I was talking early, like p sounds and d sounds and stuff. Um, so let's, move on from that and I'll talk about how I'm plugged in to the mike pre I just haven't xlr cable well, this is a two microphone, so it has its own power supply and proprietary cable, which is on, but you go from the power supply with an xlr cable to the back of the mike pre and the mike pre basically gives you the volume to control either the input into the compressor if you're using a compressor, any other effects it's how you control the volume in tow, pro tools or whatever diego you're using um a lot of interfaces like lower level interfaces have have the mike pre built in so some of this might seem a little strange because you're used to just plugging right in your interface and going right into the computer. Um this is more of, like the professional way to set up a microphone signal change, so keep in mind that with your setup, you may be going to wreck into the mike pre into the computer, you can finish the signal chain I'm showing you today with plug ins or something else, and I'll touch on that later on, but today, it's going to be more of, like a pro studio set up where we're going into a mike pre compressor and then into the what what you'd call it interface it's not really an interface is just a nadie converter, but they're kind of one in the same um so let me actually just look at something here um cool, so basically alex, come back up let's um let's actually get volume here uh couldn't throw those headphones on normally alex would actually be in another room so well you guys are listening today you're going to hear people people on the internet you're going to hear the mix and alex singing live with the music you guys are basically just going to hear him in the room because if I blair the monitors while he's singing music's going to go right back into the microphone and then it's going to you know that's terrible you don't want that so um just so you know now you're going all of a sudden there will be no music and they'll just be alex alone alone in the world cool so I have this on xlr let's just sing a little bit for me actually give me one second to make a track that made this track history there what would you like me to sing um just talking of the micro quick ok let me patch in I'm patching the mike pre straight to the converter for now just to get a level on the mike pre first because if I ran into the compressor I could risk distorting the mike because I'm not getting it I'm not understanding the realistic signal because I'm compressing the signal that will make more sense in a second I think so let's let's just just talk I just want to check it sure we're good here being hello check cool I'm just gonna get creative make sure it's working creative life here we are yeah all right now think make a phone check I'm not gonna have your vocals in your headphones yet because I'm going to be adjusting the level a lot I don't want it like a good level and then blast you ls that so I'm just going to give you take one year off so you can hear yourself and I'll just give you a little bit of music tell me when the music's a good level okay for you to be comfortable I'm gonna play the chorus because that's probably when you're gonna be singing the loudest cool ah that'll happen so I'm actually sending the next to the headphone amp I have a separate mix for the headphones which is really important and again I'm gonna touch on that in just a second I just want to get where we're do you things with alex have it all set up here no way I'm gonna play it from the top and you can and sing along with that a little bit don't worry about singing the whole thing just you know take precedence comfortable not yet yeah yeah don't worry about a thing in the whole thing and wearing yourself out this is just so I could get a my free level and I'm watching I'm going to watch them vocal level on the computer but I'm also gonna watch it on the a d d converter just sometimes calibration can get off a little bit and I like to make sure neither are clipping or going into the red ah from the beginning of the chorus cool. Thank you. Uh yes so I kind of like tio I mean, I know these mike freeze and I know at what point they sound really good you don't have tohave the signal superhot it depends on the sound you like some mike priest kind of open up a little bit as you turn him up some won't even get there with certain mike's depends on input signal you're giving it this one and honestly, most of my mic priest I'd like to have kind of writing towards the top of like pretty close toe clipping in most d w's and most converters it's like in the yellow range but you definitely want to make sure that it's not clipping you don't have to go that loud that's just what I'm doing that that's what I like to do some now we got that level it was actually pretty quick and I'm gonna patch into the compressor which is the distress or this first one here which I have bypassed so it could have been patched in we could have listened but right now it's bypass we're going toe check it one more time and then I'm going to turn it on and dial in the amount of compression that I want I'm just I've got this all in the patch bay here so I don't have to go behind the rack which is nice because a lot of studios are dark and efficient around back there and it's really annoying I'm going from the mike pre into the compressor out of the compressor into the first channel on my a d d converter which is this right here cool and check that for me really quick just checked them he killed jake still have signal which is good and so actually let me let me dial in the compression real quick and then I will talk about why I'm using it during tracking and not just in mixing cool softly this again and we just do what we just did I got the compression dial then what can we do that one more time because I want to make sure I have the output level of the compressor where I wanted cool thanks man yeah alright so real quick I should discuss why I'm using compression while tracking and not after the fact there's there's a lot of reasons one of the main reasons the main reason to use compression in general whether it be hardware or compress it or plug in while tracking is that by controlling the dynamics of the of the vocals on the way in I'm basically allowing him the freedom to do what he wants with the voice with his voice because when you're like when you're listening to a rock song or any song it's kind of leveled out it's not moving it's it's pretty much one volume and your vocals are so dynamic you know they're incredibly dynamic from a from a quiet talking voice when you're singing one word toe all of a sudden you're hitting a high note the note and your super loud and that's a hard thing to do over like a steady signal that you have allowed in your headphones because, oh, you can't hear yourself oh, you're too loud and you don't want to think about that as a singer and you don't want the singer to think about that at all. You want this level vocals so like you khun b emotional and quiet, you could just belt it out and be huge with it and it's never like it's never at a point where you can't hear it or it's like blowing up your headphones, you just you're putting him in a comfortable space by putting compression on the vocals and that's like like everything with vocals being in a really comfortable space and, um, making the singer kind of forget they're in a studio and just be able to do what they do best in the best way possible is is the whole point of everything today, really, but that's compression is a huge part of that I'm using an analog compressor digitally controlled analog compressor but it's I use an outboard compressor because I feel like control trolls the vocals a lot better um, it sounds more natural I'm more used to it and, um, I'm really not afraid to print it on the way in because it's, the way I want the vocals to sound, I don't always use this compressor, but I use it a lot, I think it's okay, it's definitely okay with vocals or anything you're doing to commit to compression on the way in if you're comfortable with it and I think getting comfortable with it isn't important as an engineer if you're not comfortable with it, don't do it because you know if you're not mixing the album and someone else that you think does vocals better is mixing the album, let them do it but use use use compression on the way and with a plug in that way, the singer's comfortable when they're singing, it'll make a huge difference to if you've never done it or like you're a singer and you've never done that, you'll you'll be mind blowing, you'll be really stoked, so I'm using this because I'm comfortable with it, I don't want the mixer even whether I'm the mixer, someone else, the mixer, I don't want them to have another vocal sound I want my vocal sound so I'm using this on the way in and that's a okay um what I'm doing with this compressor I haven't had a four to one ratio and that's the ratio basically controls how much compression is happening once you go over the threshold and this compression, this compressor doesn't have a threshold setting you set the threshold, which is basically the point at which the compression kicks in by adjusting the input, but input is basically the same as threshold you're just going up with the volume into the threshold instead of bringing threshold down to the volume if that makes sense, so I have a threshold set to do about ten dv ten fourteen tb of gain reduction that might sound like a lot, but I'm gonna compress even more later so to me that's not a lot um and that's obviously up to use the engineer also something you're probably seeing right now is that I'm not listening to the vocals when I'm justin stuff that's because I've been using this thing for like ten years and I know exactly what's happening and because we don't have like a booth and control room setting, I'm just going to keep the volume down out here when I'm doing that kind of thing but normally, you know, listen to the compression make sure it's sounding the way you want another thing you can do, teo kind of shape the compression is adjust the attack and release on the distress. Sir, I find myself using the attack and the release around five. Pretty sure that's what they tell you to do in the manual. I learned that when I bought it and they're pretty right, you know, I'll sometimes I'll go, uh, go upto like six with the attack, if if I feel like the vocals were like the first punch on any word sounds to mellow roll the attack off to about six and that'll give me more of a punchy vocal because it'll be a little bit slower of attack and it will clamp down a little later. I like to set the release around five because that just keeps the kind of keeps the release to me sets the flow of the sound, you've got a fast release and you you'll get like pumping, you'll get the sounds kind of coming back at you, you get a slow release and the vocals don't level enough. You're kind of like they like go away and they come back five with the distress, sir mixing sounds super. Even if I feel like I need a little more aggression, I'll bring it down the four because it'll bring up the ends of words more more quickly so you'll get like you know if you said the word place you'll get that c coming up and that can sound really cool especially with screaming because screaming sounds really cool when you have really the beginning of the words really punchy and the end of the word makes it sound aggressive on dh that's that's that would be a faster release but here we're just doing ah six on the input slash threshold five on the attack five on the release and then I just adjust the output to kind of give me a volume that's sits over the music when the failures at zero in pro tools again that's totally up to you some compressors the output you khun drive the output and that changes the sound all hardware's different but for me that with the distress sir, I just kind of like to get it to where the vocal is sitting near the top again kind of in the yellow so we got that now we're going into the d converter um and right in the pro tools and then let's see here we will transition into actually tracking unless there's anything else I was gonna talk about actually talk about one more thing the other thing that's really important when you're setting up the mike something I forgot to touch on that I'd like to talk about real quick that I think people kind of forget about and every once in a while I forget about it you get to the control room and you hear this instantly and you're like why the heck do the vocals sound like they're like phasing or sometimes their bright that I can't hear him oh yeah the music stand to sit in a weird spot so you've got a guy looking at his lyrics gone he's got the mic right here and he keeps going like this because he just wrote this song and you don't want that you don't want like you don't want that sound it's it's it sounds ridiculous and here you know what is going on so we take this um had elapse up nearly you know the one that put this down here you can hold on to that so really important and it seems kind of silly but it actually is very important in this tryto have set up you kind of want to find out if the guy's going to use a laptop or lyrics but either way you can usually put a laptop on a music stand it's like a new war now this works and you just want to bring it up we're gonna have a invisible after up here all right coming from apple's true heir the order on the invisible airfield this doesn't even go up enough but you get the point the laptop was about here get it right behind the mic so that all yes to do is look with his eyes and not his face. So looking with the eyes, not the face. And you can seem comfortable in the microphone. And I'm not hearing all kinds of goofy phasing. And your vocals are disappearing.