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Studio Pass: Sylvia Massy

Lesson 13 of 27

Vocal Setup

Sylvia Massy

Studio Pass: Sylvia Massy

Sylvia Massy

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Lesson Info

13. Vocal Setup

Lesson Info

Vocal Setup

Aha, the singer has arrived. (singer laughs) We're gonna set you up so that you can do a scratch vocal while everyone's playing, and then we'll be done with getting basic sounds, and then we'll go for a couple of the effect things that I wanted to set up beforehand. Then we'll get everyone together, and see what headphones are like, and get everyone playing together and tweak. Cool. All right. Sounds good. So come on in with me. Okay. Sounding good over there. Woo! That was fun. Feeling good, sounding good? That was great (laughs). I didn't even kick on the rap yet. I know, I was wondering about that. That was fun. Run extension from the other room. Okay. And we're using my mic. Well, maybe. Yeah. Maybe. But I'm trying to figure out why it's got this clip. Is that your invention? Yes. And why? It's because I don't I had to work with what I had (laughs). And, because I need it to be easily-- Un clipped? Yeah. Okay. And I could have a cli...

p on, but I just haven't done that yet. Because I've made this work. Okay, I just am afraid to have it fall off. Yeah. But it'll be all right, huh? It'll be okay. So let's move this to where you're comfortable in the room with the drums being there and everything. As long as they're okay with me being. Now if Whitney's behind you, is that a problem? Maybe have you stand over here. Maybe have you stand over here. Great! This, I think is gonna be good! Yeah Or maybe, I'm sorry to make you move. Oh no, that's okay. Let's move you over here. Let's have you facing this way, then you got communication here, you got here, you got here. And you got headphones. Oh yeah, definitely want those. Okay, here you are. On the crease of the rug. Put those on. You probably won't be able to hear yourself right away. That's okay. But hopefully you'll be able to hear me talking to you. All righty. Okay. We'll start there. Okay. Vocals. So, Sylvia? Yes! We had a question about the optical output. Is the projector amp wired through the optical output? No, it's actually a speaker output. Oh it is? Yeah. It's an old tube. It's a 40's military projector amplifier, that goes on the side of a projector. Got it. So it's wired to, there's either an internal speaker, or there's a wired remote speaker, and we have the remote speaker just hooked up to a 4x12 cab. Cool Guitar cab. [Sylvia] - It's a weird thing. (laughing) That's cool! Yeah! [Sylvia] - Let's see. How does the Neve. Pre over here? That's right. So we've got the Neve. 1176 72. Other way around. LA2A into the 1176. All right so we're using this 1073Q for the scratch vocal. It's not that big a deal but why not use the best for the vocals? Vocalists are very important people. So everything cues flat, we're just going to turn up this a little bit and start like that. I am taking the output of this and I'm going first into the LA2A and then out of that into an 1176. Double compression. I generally use double compression when recording vocals even if it's a scratch vocal, why not? But when we get into final vocals we'll use the same chain, I like the LA2A to catch the big movement and for the 1176 to clamp down on the details. You'll see both needles moving when we record. So LA2A into 1176 and then out of directly into our Pro Tools rig. So let's hear her. Go ahead and start wailing into that thing. Just start talking first. Oh what's that noise? I don't know. Sounds like a test tone. Oh you know. What is that? It's the drum roll. Oh it's the drum roll. Oh can we, okay we're good. I just muted it. All right good. (Molly singing) so I want to turn up the mic pre enough to start this thing moving. Wow see, good. She's not even getting loud yet. (Molly singing) All right good. Okay, very good. How's our level? It could get up some more. All right because it's a scratch vocal and it's going to be in the same room with the drums, I'm going to keep it conservative because as soon as those drums start banging around it's going to come way up. And she's going to get louder too. (Molly singing) Thank you. Damn she's good. She's good. When's my whistling solo happening? (singer laughs) You know what, I think we're good for now. I don't think we need to go any farther with it, you're fabulous. She always just sounds amazing. Okay well, as I'm getting hot in here. That's a take away but what about the echo. Let me hit record over here real quick. And that should be gone now also. Actually keep talking to us just for a little bit. How's the tape echo? Is that gone now? Good, good, good. So an explanation of what that was, is we have two effects running at the same time. Just for fun while we're tracking we're going to have this chorus echo unit that's sitting on top of here running all the time and recording to track. Not that we would even use it afterwards but you never know. So there's that and then we have a tape machine over here, an ATR, what was it a 102? 102 over here. 102 and that's being used as a tape slap and we'll have this running the entire time that we're recording in case something cool happens, because it just adds this big whoosh mushy thing you know, and so you never know. So let's see what it sounds like with her singing. (Molly singing) That's very cool. Good, all right. Awesome, spacey. Good, spacey. Thank you very much Molly. You're welcome. All right so I think we're at a point now where we've got everything set up and we should take a minute to strategize how we'll do this recording. Did you have any questions Drew, about anything? We did have another question about the solid state amp. So you said you use them, the same person asked you a clarifying question about when would you use them, on rhythm guitar tracks, on lead guitar tracks? Do you have a preference on what type of solid state amp to use or brand? Do you have a go to solid state amp that you use? The one solid state amp that I have the most experience with is Randall. Randall makes a great, the Warhead which is really aggressive. And I like it because it's got a real gain to it, it's like a fast transient gain. When you hit it, it responds really quickly so you can get into this detailed fast picking like the metal stuff, right? It reacts fast. So that's when I would use it, on the harder music that has fast picking parts but needs to have a lot of attack. So yeah my experience with the Randall amps has been really good for that. The Dimebag Warhead was the one that I really used quite a bit. But I would always use a solid state amp along with a tube amp through a splitter. Then I would record both and then I would have a choice of one or the other. Because I really like the dynamics of tube amps, maybe a little more than the dryness of the solid state. So that's the decision I would make in guitars than. On the solid state if I'm experimenting solid state's a lot safer to use so I'll use solid state when I'm doing more experimentation. For instance, I recently did a session where we used potatoes as filters. And this is another weird thing, where we took a tube amp and took the speaker outputs, connected wires to this, on the way to the speaker we took the speaker wire, cut it, separated it and then put two potatoes in there. We stuck potatoes so that the signal would go through the potato on the way to the speaker and we had measured everything to make sure that we had the proper ohm'age but for some reason it kept on blowing up the tube amp. Eventually we gave up and we were like, "Well it kept blowing fuses, okay, "maybe we can't use the tube but let's try the solid state." So we did, we replaced the amp with a solid state amp, plugged in the potatoes and it worked great. So the audio goes through the potatoes on the way to the speaker and the sound comes right out and it's got a, it actually did change the sound, it lowered the volume for one, but it made the sound a little sweeter, I don't know if they were sweet potatoes or what. But we had two potatoes so there was a positive potato and a negative potato on one side or the other of the speaker wire. Anyway those types of things you can only really do with a solid state amp. So you gotta gave solid state amps around just for the fun of it if nothing else. And how do you pan your guitars once your guitars are. Generally if I have a single guitar player in the band I'll record it in the way that we're recording Whitney's guitar, where we have a splitter box so her guitar goes into two heads and two cabs. And those are recorded on separate tracks. By some of the microphones from one cab onto one track and some of the microphones from the second cab onto one track and then I split those wide left and right and that gives me a wide picture for that one guitar performance. Then if I want to make the chorus' bigger I'll blend all the mics from all the cabs onto one track and then start building track by track. Let's say I want the chorus to be bigger, I've already recorded the main rhythm from beginning to end in the song but I want the chorus to be bigger so I'll record two more rhythm tracks in the chorus'. Combining all these mics onto one track and then I'll double that. So if I had a white board I'd show you exactly how. We'll see if we can find you one. Actually I see one back there, maybe we'll dig it out for the next segment. That'd be cool to see. But basically I have the main guitar in the center and then when the chorus' come I want it to be wider so I'll have two more guitars appear, far left and far right, to just make the, to widen and to give some excitement and dynamics to the picture. Create a space, yeah. And then as soon as the chorus is done then it comes back to the single guitar. And I might actually double, I might quadruple, I might layer it with high parts or color parts or other guitars to wide it and make it more colorful and bigger. We have a couple questions about the attack and release settings on the 76. Could you go over those again and just talk about why you did set it up the way that you did. Yes. I haven't really looked at that carefully right now, but generally I like a fast attack and a slow release on the 1176's. As soon as everyone is in the room together I'll really get into details on that. But in general I'll dial it all the way down so there's a fast attack and a slow release on the 1176. That works really good with plug-ins too. I think the Bomb Factory plug-ins react close to what you get in the rack. On one of these 1176's, I think it's on a drum track, one of the drum effect mics, I've got all four ratio buttons pushed in just to give it that crazy kind of thing. But I think everything else is pretty much just at the lowest point just as a starting point for us. Is there a reason that you went through the LA2A first and then the 1176, versus the other way around? I think that using the big fat tubey kind of compressor first just knocks down the big stuff. And it's slow so it doesn't get all the, it doesn't react quick enough. So what the LA2A doesn't get, then I have the 1176 after it that will catch all that, and it's faster but it doesn't clamp it, I don't want it to be completely clamped, I want there to be a soft movement in controlling the vocal volume. And by using two compressors, the soft one and then the harder one chained together, the vocalist can have a quiet passage and get really loud and it's not going to distort yet the quiet stuff will be brought up so you can hear it. I have no idea how she's going to, what kind of performance she's going to give me so I want to have that safety net so we can just get started, get recording and if there's something great right out of the gate that we're not going to miss it because I want to record everything.

Class Description

Over the last 30+ years, Sylvia Massy has built a career as one of the gutsiest and most innovative recording engineers and producers. She has worked with legends like Prince and Johnny Cash, and won awards for her work with bands like Tool, System of a Down and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. In this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you will get a peek inside the recording process of one of rock’s legendary engineers. 

While she is a proficient master of vintage gear, Sylvia stresses that great records come not from having the right gear, but from capturing great performances. Join Sylvia as she records a song in the studio with Seattle alt-rock band Thunderpussy, and learn how to work with an artist to capture that magical take in your own work.

Pulling from her years of experience and sharing stories from her newly published book Recording UnHinged, Sylvia will show you:

  • How to get interesting and vibrant drum sounds, using the room and the drummer to your advantage
  • Capturing great sounding guitars at the source, without editing and reamping
  • Pushing vocalists to deliver their best vocal takes 
  • Mixing both in the box and through a console using outboard gear

Sylvia is also known as a prolific educator, speaking and teaching at some of the best recording schools around the world. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from one of the industry’s most celebrated A-list producers. 


Jimmy Foot

This Studio Pass episode with Sylvia Massey covers a lot of ground. From fundamentals like correct mic placement and phase to experimentation with amps, cell phone delay and a few extra parts, Sylvia makes it fun! I have been lucky enough in my career to work with a number of great engineers and producers. I haven't had the opportunity to work with her, but Sylvia is certainly in that category, and anyone who gets a chance to work with her would be a lucky person. This broadcast is the next best thing. Great job there at Avast Studio and fantastic camera work! And as for Thunderpussy; you guys rock!

Marc Felish

Wow, that was such a blast. Thanks so much Sylvia and everyone else for making this such a fun experience. I picked up so many new ideas that I can't wait to try out! Sylvia is such a creative producer, it was so much fun to be a fly on the wall watching everything. Loved it!!

Marcus Soares

Awesome! A great opportunity to pick into the creative mind of one of the greatest and get that kind of knowledge that you can't acquire otherwise. Highly recommended!