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Remote vocal recording

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Remote vocal recording

Postby leighelse » Mon Nov 26, 2018 12:09 am

There's a singer at the other end of the country (New Zealand) i'd like to feature on a set of songs I'm working on. She has a basic laptop, and has used Ableton as part of her university study, but she has no microphone and doesn't share my deep interest in audio recording.

I'm pondering the most effective way to work with her, and have come up with three options.

  1. Live sessions over the internet.
  2. Help her install suitable tracking software on her laptop.
  3. Provide her with a unit like the Zoom n1.

Whatever option we choose, I can visit and help with set up. Live internet sessions are appealing as we can communicate while we record. But possibly she'll feel less pressure working alone, as long as there aren't too many technical challenges.

My first question is: has anyone else worked this way? If so, what approach was most effective? What's best avoided?

And a second question: can anyone recommend a reasonable USB microphone for this sort of project?
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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby zenguitar » Mon Nov 26, 2018 1:00 am

None are good options.

It's perfectly clear that she isn't comfortable with recording, and all the hassle of trying to engineer her own recordings will be detrimental to her performance.

She's a singer, so let her focus on what she does best and get her into a studio close to where she lives. That could be a commercial studio, or you could find an experienced home recordist near her to help.

Oh... And welcome to the SOS forums :)

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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby leighelse » Mon Nov 26, 2018 1:44 am

zenguitar wrote:It's perfectly clear that she isn't comfortable with recording, and all the hassle of trying to engineer her own recordings will be detrimental to her performance.

Thanks Andy. That isn't the response I wanted, but perhaps it's the one I needed to hear.
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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby The Elf » Mon Nov 26, 2018 1:58 am

^ Wot 'e said.

If the job is worth doing...
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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby Bob Bickerton » Mon Nov 26, 2018 2:13 am

Where is she?

I might know someone who can help.......

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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby ef37a » Mon Nov 26, 2018 7:19 am

Generally I agree with Andy&Co and it is possible that after a bit of professional studio help and experience she might get into DIY recording?

However, there is a very cheap "try out" that might be worth investigating. There is a microphone available online called generally the "BM-800". It is a very basic Electret side address capacitor mic but is NOT usb, it comes with an XLR to 3.5mm 3 pole jack cable and plugs into the mic jack of a laptop.

The lady copes with Ableton and a laptop and I am betting she could cope with the BM? The mic is only around $20US and so even if it does not workout, not a lot lost. The mic can also run into a conventional pre amp with phantom power using an XLR-XLR cable.

Worth a do?

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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby Mixedup » Mon Nov 26, 2018 10:06 am

Whatever the technical challenges in terms of recording gear and user operation, the biggest challenge will be the space in which she's recording and mic technique. So if you must go down this road, you'll want to make sure you visit and set up a permanent place for recording — mic set up, acoustic treatment etc. But if she's not into recording, maybe that's not an option? If that's the case, then you or she will just have to travel. As Bob says, though, maybe there's someone more local to her that can do you a favour?! Which may be a case of too many cooks, or of more hands to the pump... you won't know until you try it!
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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby Mike Stranks » Mon Nov 26, 2018 10:16 am

The room, the room, the room....

Even if she could be encouraged to adopt a 'do it yourself' approach - which I don't recommend - then there's still the big issue of where she would record. It's got to be as good as possible acoustically. IME those who don't record regularly are oblivious to room imperfections. Thus, I've sometimes been asked to 'tweak the levels a bit' on a home-grown recording where, on listening, the levels are irrelevant in a recording plagued by dodgy room acoustics and various noises-off.

But on an encouraging note... do have a chat to Bob Bickerton. He really knows his stuff and is a thoroughly nice man.

... and good luck on finding an acceptable solution. :)
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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby CS70 » Mon Nov 26, 2018 10:54 am

Agreed that the room is critical, but so long you have a silent enough room, a bit bigger than a bathroom size, it's not so hard to get a makeshift room treatment (a couple duvets on mic stands and maybe a reflexion filter) and get a reasonable vocal recording.

The real challenge to me is what Zen wrote of : if she is not interested in recording, it's unlikely she'll care enough to learn how to do a good job at it, and even if she forces herself, it will probably affect her performance.
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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby Mike Stranks » Mon Nov 26, 2018 12:15 pm

CS70 wrote:Agreed that the room is critical, but so long you have a silent enough room, a bit bigger than a bathroom size, it's not so hard to get a makeshift room treatment (a couple duvets on mic stands and maybe a reflexion filter) and get a reasonable vocal recording.

The real challenge to me is what Zen wrote of : if she is not interested in recording, it's unlikely she'll care enough to learn how to do a good job at it, and even if she forces herself, it will probably affect her performance.

I rest my case... if the person's not that interested in establishing a self-recording set-up then the chances of them faffing about with duvets etc etc to improve the acoustics are slim indeed... :)

Who y'gonna call? Bob Bickerton!
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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby The Coastal Path » Tue Nov 27, 2018 3:52 pm

Honestly, whilst I don't disagree with any of the replies here, I think perhaps it really comes down to your aims. It's true that it's unlikely (impossible?) you will be able to achieve results suitable for a 'commercial' release (whatever you construe by that these days). But that maybe irrelevant. There are plenty of great recordings I love that are technically way less than optimal and sometimes are quite atrocious... but the music can still be great. Take a listen to some early albums by Beck for example. Or many cassette home recordings by Robyn Hitchcock. All great. So the first question is: what do you need to achieve?

I have been working remotely with a less-than-technically-accomplished singer (in terms of their recoding technique). I think if you are willing to help your singer set up some recording gear, then you should be able to achieve recordings that are certainly way superior (technically) to the examples I have given. As everyone has been keen to point out, from a purely technical point of view, the quality of results will depend on equipment and the space you record in. My experience has been that in fact, being there in person to collaborate / direct the singer has been the biggest issue - either because I hear a technical problem with a line or verse or whatever, or more likely because I would like to change part of a melody / delivery. I have not tried Skype directing - this may well help.

I would suggest getting the best microphone and interface you can afford for your singer, using lots of duvets and getting on with it. then see what the results are like, and work out how you want to progress from there. What you achieve maybe 'good enough'. You may choose to re-record parts professionally once everything is arranged and locked down. Or not. Whatever - It'll likely be a darn sight better than not doing anything at all. If Beck had decided his cassette recorder was crap we wouldn't have the brilliant "One foot in the Grave' album. Sometimes it's easy to find problems before you even begin... and that's always a recipe for creative inertia.
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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby Wonks » Tue Nov 27, 2018 6:26 pm

It's worth giving it a go. Keep the goings on at the remote end as simple as possible. It's obviously best if you both use the same software, if only for the collaboration side of things - you can always transfer the vocal files to your normal DAW of choice.

So unless she already has the same software as you, you'll need to pick a DAW to use. Cakewalk by Bandlab (previously Sonar) is free, but Windows only. Reaper is a low cost alternative for both Mac and PC. Or you may be able to use the basic DAW software that often comes with recording interfaces.

All you need her to do is record the vocal, so I'd suggest sending her a simple project folder that when she opens it up has a stereo backing track and a lane ready for her to add her voice on. If you want her to do harmonies, or double/triple track the vocals then add lanes for those.

She's going to need some decent sounding closed-back headphones, so she can hear the backing track, and she'll have to learn to ensure that the USB mic is selected correctly as the audio input for the track.

You'll need to visit and find the best spot for recording her vocals - and it might involve getting her to hang some duvets up.

So I'd create a check list of her to do before each session, so that she doesn't forget anything.

What I don't know about are any USB mics that are decent sounding and have provide decent low-latency monitoring built-in. However, I'd imagine that the Rode NT-USB might be a good one to think about. It does have a direct monitoring facility which avoids latency issues (but doesn't allow the user to hear vocals with any reverb added, which can make it easier for the user to sing). http://www.rode.com/microphones/nt-usb

However, that mic has only 16-bit conversion, which means that the signal level will need to be strong (with the danger of overloads on loud sections) to get noise-free recordings. 16-bit may be fairly standard for USB mics to maintain compatibility with tablets etc.

Maybe someone else knows a good USB mic with direct monitoring and 24-bit depth recording ability?
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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby ef37a » Tue Nov 27, 2018 6:41 pm

I believe AKG make a 24 bit USB mic? Will check but that still does not get over most of the drawbacks.

I still suggest plonking the equivalent of a Ruby4Two on a BM-800. They are simple to use and a will give good enough results to know if the gal can cope with a DAW and sorting the room.

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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby Wonks » Tue Nov 27, 2018 7:15 pm

ef37a wrote:I still suggest plonking the equivalent of a Ruby4Two on a BM-800. They are simple to use and a will give good enough results to know if the gal can cope with a DAW and sorting the room.

But can the computer's sound-card provide 48v phantom power through the 3.5mm mic socket? Or enough voltage to at least get it to work? And you are then reliant on monitoring back through the built-in sound-card with attendant high latency. The singer may not be fussed about the recording process and the quality but I'm sure the OP is.

AKG did make the 24-bit Perception 120, but that's been discontinued. But that didn't have any audio outputs or direct monitoring facilities, it was just a mic.

There is at AT2020 USB+, which is equivalent to the Rode USB mic in having a headphone output and direct monitoring, but it's also 16 bit.

My only experience of an AT2020 wasn't great, it sounded nasty compared to other lowish budget mics when Dave B and I did a comparison test, but it may have been a bad one. Or maybe his AE22s exposed more of its flaws as the recording didn't seem so bad when later played on my Genelecs.

There is the ART M-one/USB which is 24-bit 48kHz with monitoring etc. and not expensive but they don't seem easy to find at all and US only.

There's the Samson G-Track Pro, which will do up to 24/96 and is a bit more expensive (around £150) than the AT2020USB+ (around £110). It does offer more features (an extra line input as well as the mic), but it's the 24 bits and selectable sampling frequency that is its strongest point. I have no idea how it sounds though.

Edit: There is an SOS review of it. https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/samson-g-track-pro
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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby Sam Spoons » Tue Nov 27, 2018 8:04 pm

Dave says it is happy to run of 'mic power' using the 3.5mm lead plugged into a laptop. Quality must suffer at least a little but seems like a cheap way to prove the concept, then add a USB interface when the singer is more engaged in the project.
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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby Wonks » Tue Nov 27, 2018 8:26 pm

'Other end of the country' is a long way away in NZ and getting there is going to cost more than a USB mic. Having to make two trips to help set up etc. would seem rather wasteful and hasten global warming.

A 10 minute car journey maybe, but not with four x 1000 mile air trips.
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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby Sam Spoons » Tue Nov 27, 2018 8:30 pm

I'm sure if the singer is keen (even if non-tech savvy at the start) a Skype setup tutorial will be sufficient to take the place of the second round trip, she has already said she is happy to do the first visit, but, you are right, maybe a half decent mic and USB interface would be the way to go, it can always be returned by mail if the collaboration doesn't bear fruit and sent to a new singer or sold on the antipodean equivalent of ebay.
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Re: Remote vocal recording

Postby blinddrew » Tue Nov 27, 2018 10:09 pm

There's the the Apogee MiC+ ?
http://www.apogeedigital.com/products/mic
And the new Beyerdynamic Fox looks quite interesting: https://europe.beyerdynamic.com/fox.html
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