Vocal Tracking with Q&A


Gear Gods presents Studio Pass: Kurt Ballou


Lesson Info

Vocal Tracking with Q&A

We talked yesterday about how kind of the locker room vibe in the studio some time we just hanging out with a bunch of dudes and being idiots and, you know, I think drummers respond to being berated and whatnot, but but singers, you know, what they're what they're doing is so personal that I think that they stress out about certain things ago sense of vulnerability to being a singer, that's, that's, not the same as another instrumentalist, and they do stress out about it a lot, so I feel like you need to be aware of that tendency in them as their recording, and create a different sort of work environment in your studio when you're doing vocals sometimes it's different lighting, sometimes it's making sure that there's not a lot of other people around in the studio, so they can really focus on what they have to do and emoting properly, and because, you know, vocal performances really do very same more widely than any other instrument based on the person's moved how they're feeling that d...

ay, what they ate, what they drank, and in all that when speaking about sort of consumables like that, a lot of a lot of singers have certain rituals they do to prepare themselves to sing, you know, they have some honey of drink, or they, you know, I'm I know a guy that I recorded always needs like sambuca there's this other guy that I recorded his thing was bombay sapphire and roll o's I know a guy insisted you had to have hot french fries and a mango madness snapple before he recorded and uh you know, basically everything is bad for your voice and in some way or another, but what I what I think the worst thing for your voice is is to completely change your routine, you know, like some people quit smoking before they start singing, which, you know, smoking stupid I don't encourage anybody to smoke, but if someone's like a two pack a day smoker, then all of a sudden there were no pack a day smoker when they're recording vocals, they're going to really irritable and you want to make sure that someone's calm and focused when they're recording their vocals, so don't encourage them not to change their routine too much whatever has worked for them in the past is great and also encourage them not teo overuse their voice when they're not singing, you know, just kind of take a load off when they're when they're off the clock and don't don't talk too much if someone loses their voice is a lot of things you can do there's various voice sprays that could help the thing's been most helpful for me is throat coty, the version of throw coty that has slippery elm bark extract, there's also some laws, and just with that extract that don't work quite as well for me just because, uh, you know, if you're frightening what the name of the valve is in your throat, that separates your stomach from your lungs, but you know, your voice boxes on the long side of that. So when it comes to throat coty it's, actually, the vapor of the tea going into your lungs that's going to give you the most benefit, so if you can bruce and throat coty, steep it for a long time, then inhale the vapor that will give you the most benefit for that kind of stuff. But again, when someone's voice is shot and overworked, they're not going to get it back. So try teo always be aware of the singers, the condition of your singer's throat, and you know what their mental state is, but mostly what the state of their throat is. And when it's time tio to call it, switch back to base or switch back to guitar don't don't don't, unless it's like the very last overdub that they have to do on the record don't push wth, um, you know, make sure that they're there. Able to come back the following day and still perform and having ruin their voice for the for the next day or two but there's been a ton of records that I've done that I've had to postpone tracking on because the singer lost their voice and I wasn't able to complete the record in the scheduled time so kind always be aware that as you're tracking stuff and make sure the singer has plenty of time to do what they need to do um actually seems like a decent of time I have the question yesterday and who asked it but question about singers in particular and even other band members coming in and like under the influence of various substances is this an issue that you encounter if so, how do you deal with it? People who say I need to be drunk to sing you know what? What do you do with that? Fortunately, most of the people that I record or not um super heavy drinkers or if they are they're not doing it so much in the studio I know other people have certainly struggled with with that a lot I found that there are people like that who you know most of their band practice is involved you know a six pack or a twelve pack or whatever so they're accustomed tio it's like it's like they say that like if you learn to drive drunk, always drive drunk whatever, I don't believe in that of course but reasonable yeah but if people are accustomed to playing under the influence than you know that might be the best way to record them you know you want to sort of be their friend to be their confidante and you know take a you know, be concerned in their life and their their general health and safety and well being so you don't want to be an enabler of the substance abuse problem but at the same time if someone needs a little bit of lubricant to get going you know that's okay as long as you sort of let them know that as as their friend this is not something they should constantly do and something they should should work on cutting down on there's also the issue of productivity with an intoxicated person some people need a certain amount of lubricant in order to get to the point they can play but then they know they hit a spot where there's a good spot but then they keep drinking and then they get to a point with their especially singers start to lose rhythm as they get more intoxicated but additionally, as they get more intoxicated, their ability to judge their performance isn't is impaired, so I find that like intoxicated people might spend the last three hours of the day just fighting with it getting frustrated with their performance because they don't have the ability they don't have the rhythm any more but they also don't have the ability to judge the lack of rhythm so it's it's good to try to try to keep the partying out of the studio I have like I tried I tried to impose like a three beer so limit in per day in my studio when I can you know if people get to the point where they're way student you know maybe it's maybe it's time to call it call it quits for the day that's great thank you yeah so and I would also encourage you to stay sober or reasonably sober as we're doing this stuff because as you're recording a vocalist they need a lot of attention on dh you need to really be one hundred percent focused on what they're doing just because a lot of times especially an aggressive music vocals aren't recorded with the same continuity that guitar a drum performances you know I find them recording a lot of singers line by line or maybe you know, maybe in doing a verse they do lines one three and five on one take and then lines to foreign six on the second take but you're doing you're running the transport constantly when you're recording vocals as opposed to the drums where you're just kind of a record a whole take and then and then kind of listen back to it so there's really no time for a fucking around on the internet on your phone you know you've got to stay focused on what the singer's doing. I'd also like to mention the idea of editing on the fly if there's some subtle little little timing tweaks that you want to do with editing on the vocals particularly if if you're doing that thing I just mentioned about recording lines one, three and five and then two, four and six on a separate pass if the singer's a little bit off in their timing online one three and five and then you go and do two four and six they're they're timing problems on one three and five are going to affect their timing onto foreign six because I feel is though singers more so than any other member of a banned tend to time themselves off of themselves off their previous line that have have an internal meter that certainly goes with the music but is stronger in their minds than the actual beat of the song. So if you can do some little subtle tweaks to the lines as your tracking and before you do any any punches or overdubs than the punches, the overdubs will go a whole lot smoother when I'm tracking vocals I'm just a keyboard the whole time just like separate region b on the keyboard and then like the plus minus two just usually have that my my uh what what they call it what they call it nudge yeah I'll have like my nudge set to ten milliseconds I'm constantly separating out either lines or little portions of lines and but the just very small subtle movements not trying to change their performance but just especially with like faster type type music to just kind of dial it in and make sure it lands right on the beat I think uh that's really uh the extent of the vocal tracking stuff I get couple minutes if there's any vocal tracking vocal sound related questions we're going in here what do you think about a zara's layering? You're doubling with heavier type based music vocals? Yeah, well ah lot of serious love it because a lot of singers don't love the sound of their voice and it's a way to kind of smear it and add a certain character to like a people people I think are a bit afraid of being exposed afraid of that intimacy that is, you know, personally being share with an audience and the the sound of their body being shared with an audience and to layer that stuff can add some sort of smear to that this's sort of sort of like layering guitars as as a bigness teo to a guitar performance but also removes intimacy, eh? So I'm a little bit wary of doubling when I do double there is that there's that nice plug and called vocal line that will line up multiple performances and sort of dialling the timing discrepancies between them that can be useful I don't really use that a whole lot, but yeah, I try to treat the vocal doubling sort of sort of as an effect on daz um doing vocal doubling as I'm tracking I'm thinking a lot about how that will fit into panning space so like, you know, if there's like a a vocal transit is a vocal track over a at the same time as a guitar lead or some like real featured guitar part I might double of oakland pan it out so that the the guitar has space in the middle to sing just like you know, when it's just real heavy rhythm guitars and no sort of interesting guitar color, you know, the vocals will be pretty pretty centered and maybe not maybe not doubled yeah, I don't I don't do a whole lot of that stuff is treated a treated more like special effects in ear candy than I do as reinforcement to the vocal sound quite a few people in the chat rooms asking about how to approach our how you perch gang vocals ah yes it's a lot of ways to your gang goebbels and like like anything the better your gang is, the better your gang vocals will be actually any type of backing vocal is really different than the lead vocal in a lead vocal you're pitching your timing are actually a lot less important than a backing vocal is as as the lead singer your voices up front and um the most important part of that is is a voice that a moz properly and that connects with an audience but in a backing vocal role whether it's a a single backing vocal melodic backing vocal or whether it's a shouty gang vocal your role there is to reinforce the lead vocal and so you need to if there's a lead vocal happening simultaneously you really need to follow the timing of that lead vocal well if there's not one happening simultaneously you need to be really locked in with the rhythm of the song and also in the case of a gang vocal locked in with the other members of the gang so I've had the best success with gang locals recording a smaller group of people layered two to six times rather than a giant group of people layered once or twice um he's a lot of you know if you if you have a good group of gang vocalist you'll tell him like okay pick like two or three different voices you know on this past due on our and on that day pass doing ah so it feels like a larger group of people um and then from an engineering standpoint you really have to two approaches. There's actually, an interesting trickle mentioned. Second. One approach is, you know, standard microphone with people setback, and maybe a semi circle around me might use anomie, microphone, and you give everybody headphones so you can communicate with them, and then they perform into that microphone. You do, however many layers you feel like you need to get the appropriate size gang local. If you have a big gang and you don't have enough headphones or you don't want them to have to deal with headphones, you might give maybe like the director, which is probably the lead singer, a set of headphones just so they could be really locked in with the groove. And then if you have monitors or speakers or something like that in your studio, you can use those at a low volume and what I'll do when I do that as well. Set up, set up two speakers, you know, maybe like, fifteen feet apart. One of the speakers that I have has, like a you know, banana plug type connection into it, flip the polarity of that speaker and then put one microphone equal distance. Between those two speakers on dh, then send a mano mix of the song through those two speakers. So the microphone, the middle action those two speakers will actually, if your room's somewhat balanced, those two speakers will actually phase cancel a little bit in the microphone in the middle, and you won't get a ton of bleed from the from the audio track going into that the other way if you don't have a situation like that. But you still you say you have like a mano p a speaker room that you want to blast that out. What you can do is record your gang without any compression through that microphone with the speaker blasting and then tell them to just stand there. Don't make any noise record another pass of the same thing and invert the polarity of the song playing without any gang locals and then play that at the same time as the past with gang locals, and the song will actually largely cancel out of the signal. When you blend the two tracks, you can balance those two tracks down and then compress those tracks and you'll have ah, compressed gang so bunch of little tricks on howto handle gangs and then in terms of coaching is just all about rhythm, controlling entrances and exits tried to get your musical director out there, the singer too, you know, if it's like something that requires some sustained, have them give you queues, tow where to stop and start so that everyone's tight together and also try to keep people focused. It's real easy for a gang, you know, there's always something takes their pants off and start and this just tons of giggling that happens during gang vocals. So you're gonna have to heavily edit out all that stuff and just try to keep them on task because it is it is a challenge, and the other thing about gang locals is it always seems to get done at the eleventh hour like you've been wanting to go home for three hours and or your they're cutting into next time and you're stressed out about it, you just want to get it over with, but try toe just try to stay on task and get through it and I'll talk. I'll talk a little bit actually probably won't get a chance. Talk about it, but there's some stuff and mixing and due to kind of take the size of the gang using some subtle pit shift effects, too, if you want to make it sound like extra people.

Class Description

In this two-day course, prolific producer Kurt Ballou will take you behind-the-scenes of GodCity Studios to show you exactly how the magic happens. This all-access studio pass will immerse you in every aspect of Kurt’s distinctive sound — from choosing and setting up gear, to tracking and mixing.

Kurt will show you the basic and advanced techniques he uses in his studio every day, and teach you how to apply them to your own recording — regardless of whether you’re working in a studio or at home with a DIY setup. Using anecdotes from his years behind the board, Kurt will also teach you his best practices for working with bands to extract the best and most inventive sounds.


Keith Foster

First off, even though I'm neither a beginner nor a recording professional, this class is absolutely worth the money you spend on it - especially if you plan on making heavy music. There are enough tips, tricks and guidance in here to get your money's worth many times over. That said, as an indie artist who goes to a studio to record drum tracks, then does the rest ina home studio I found some of the things disheartening. Much of the class follows a "I do this thing using item / amp / microphone / plugin (X), it's pretty cool" vibe, and it sounds cool.... until you check the price. As an example, the 'stereo buss processing' section sounds fun to try, except for the part where the three pieces of gear cost about $8K. As a result I found myself figuring out how to incorporate the essence of what he was saying without the gear budget to do so. Maybe I'm not the intended audience but a little more concept and less gearhead would have been even better. That said you should totally get it, it's a low price for so many hours of great content.