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group backing vocals

Postby JES000000 » Sun Feb 09, 2020 4:20 pm

Greetings. I've got a session coming up with group background vocals and in terms of vocal recording, I'd say it's the area where I could most improve. Some of the songs I'm tracking are ballad-y, some are more indy-rock.

I want to track backing vocals in a group rather than individually, so that it is already "together" in the mix. It's 3 people, and one of the guys is louder than the other guy and the women, so I will spend time positioning people for even sound.

The lead vox were mostly done with a (borrowed) U87Ai (cardioid, HPF) into either a Great River MP500NV or a Chandler Germanium Pre. I use acoustic panels around the vocalists to set up a "booth" of sorts.

I am looking for tracking that will sit well back in the mix and not require huge EQ surgery apart from the expected high and low cuts. I was thinking of using my Avenson STO-2s in X-Y (omnis, yes, but Earthworks recommend this configuration with their omnis). But I could also try a ribbon or other, less up-front mic in omni or figure-8 mode. If I were to try something else, what would you recommend?

I also have a nice reverberant living room area (9.5 foot ceilings, loft sort of vibe) that I could use, but the problem of course is you can't take reverb OUT of a vocal track.

What are people's thoughts and suggestions? I am not opposed to renting a mic or two for this application -- I live somewhere where that's totally possible.

My other mics:

(borrowed) Neumann U87ai, Shure KSM-32, Shure SM7, 57, 58, Avenson STO-2, Sennheiser e906, Crown CM-700 (probably too noisy and peaky up high for this application). Clearly I need to be more set up to record vocals.
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Re: group backing vocals

Postby MOF » Sun Feb 09, 2020 4:42 pm

Are you looking to get a small group of singers or more of a choir sound?
If the former then there’s not much point in using a stereo mic’ setup. If it’s the latter then maybe do several passes using a mono mic’ and panning each track around the stereo stage or reposition them around a stereo mic’ at each take.
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Re: group backing vocals

Postby JES000000 » Sun Feb 09, 2020 4:49 pm

Thanks for the reply. Not choir—more like 2-3 backing singers harmonizing in a rock song. So you recommend a single mic?
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Re: group backing vocals

Postby The Elf » Sun Feb 09, 2020 7:34 pm

I've done this job in every way you can possibly imagine. The one that makes the job easiest is tracking each singer separately - or at least into separate mic's while they perform together.
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Re: group backing vocals

Postby MOF » Sun Feb 09, 2020 7:59 pm

I've done this job in every way you can possibly imagine. The one that makes the job easiest is tracking each singer separately - or at least into separate mic's while they perform together.

I always think that sounds too detailed, I prefer that ensemble effect, even if it’s a small group, when all of them are on the one mic’.
Perhaps for safety record both ways simultaneously while paying attention to their overall balance on the group mic’.
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Re: group backing vocals

Postby Jack Ruston » Sun Feb 09, 2020 9:14 pm

I'd do one mic rather than stereo. I'd use something with an Omni option. It's likely going to be your typical 'vocal mic' sort of option. I'd move them to correct any balance issues, and then move the mic for room ambience balance. You might want to do passes at different distances to create more depth. If you needed more control you COULD do something clever with a pair of fig8s in MS. But as you say, it's fussy.
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Re: group backing vocals

Postby The Elf » Mon Feb 10, 2020 11:33 am

MOF wrote:
I've done this job in every way you can possibly imagine. The one that makes the job easiest is tracking each singer separately - or at least into separate mic's while they perform together.
I always think that sounds too detailed, I prefer that ensemble effect, even if it’s a small group, when all of them are on the one mic’.
Group 'em to a stereo channel with some appropriate panning - add compression. There's your ensemble effect. Too much detail? back them away from the mic, or roll some top end off.
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Re: group backing vocals

Postby CS70 » Mon Feb 10, 2020 2:00 pm

JES000000 wrote:Greetings. I've got a session coming up with group background vocals and in terms of vocal recording, I'd say it's the area where I could most improve. Some of the songs I'm tracking are ballad-y, some are more indy-rock.

I want to track backing vocals in a group rather than individually, so that it is already "together" in the mix. It's 3 people, and one of the guys is louder than the other guy and the women, so I will spend time positioning people for even sound.

The lead vox were mostly done with a (borrowed) U87Ai (cardioid, HPF) into either a Great River MP500NV or a Chandler Germanium Pre. I use acoustic panels around the vocalists to set up a "booth" of sorts.

I am looking for tracking that will sit well back in the mix and not require huge EQ surgery apart from the expected high and low cuts. I was thinking of using my Avenson STO-2s in X-Y (omnis, yes, but Earthworks recommend this configuration with their omnis). But I could also try a ribbon or other, less up-front mic in omni or figure-8 mode. If I were to try something else, what would you recommend?

I also have a nice reverberant living room area (9.5 foot ceilings, loft sort of vibe) that I could use, but the problem of course is you can't take reverb OUT of a vocal track.

What are people's thoughts and suggestions? I am not opposed to renting a mic or two for this application -- I live somewhere where that's totally possible.

My other mics:

(borrowed) Neumann U87ai, Shure KSM-32, Shure SM7, 57, 58, Avenson STO-2, Sennheiser e906, Crown CM-700 (probably too noisy and peaky up high for this application). Clearly I need to be more set up to record vocals.

Imho recording separately and layering is the absolute easiest way to have maximum control and quality on the result (especially in cases of vocalists of different power.. - the fifth fundamental force of the universe applies also to them)

That said, the whole point of backing vocals is that they are backing. I would really not overthink it too much. They get mangled, compressed, delayed, pitch-shifted, modulated - anything really - because they are supposed sit in the back. If they don't sit in the back, they're not backing, and it's a different ball game :D

Much depends, as always, on the arrangement. The specific EQ you'll need really depends on the timbres you'll record - another disadvantage of takin 'em up all together is that if turns out one vocalist has, say, a overly nasal tone, you can't correct that much without affecting the whole. Being backing vocals, of course, it shouldn't really matter that much - just whack that band down. And of course, you'll probably have to EQ some - possibly dynamically - to avoid competing with the main vocal, no matter what mic you use.

In principle I'd avoid mid-rangey mics (like the 87 or the dynamic mics) as then you'd have to EQ the midrange down, because it tends to stick out. Ribbons would do as they're often naturally darker (not all tough, just recorded an amp with my new N22 and it's not dark at all), but pay attention to the proximity effect. On the other side, I've recorded multiple layers of backing vocals with a SM58 and it did work just fine for the piece after some well judged EQ.

If you have a precise idea of the sound you want, I'd try an omni with the trio around at suitable distance, in positions judged by monitoring - at the end of the day, if you want to avoid working on the sound, you must hear it before you record it.
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Re: group backing vocals

Postby Tim Gillett » Mon Feb 10, 2020 3:19 pm

JES000000 wrote:I want to track backing vocals in a group rather than individually, so that it is already "together" in the mix.

It's just already mixed, that's all. But also, everything has to be right as there's little we can do later to correct imbalances.

There's the story that Simon and Garfunkel's voices would only truly "blend" when they sang together into the one mic. What they don't show is the alleged inferior result when they recorded S & G with separate mics and mixed them later. So until they do it's a claim without supporting evidence.
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Re: group backing vocals

Postby JES000000 » Mon Feb 10, 2020 5:35 pm

Thanks everyone. I'm really trying to "get it right" at the recording stage rather than fixing in the mix (so that I can focus on creative stuff there). In prior work, I felt that the backing vocals didn't "sit back" enough.

But yes, something flat and not too midrangey, so either my SDCs or see if I can scare up at A-T 4050 or something in omni.
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Re: group backing vocals

Postby paul tha other » Mon Feb 10, 2020 6:02 pm

ive recorded backing vocals in all shapes and sizes and there is 1 thing you say that would make me do every singer on their own...maybe double or triple track them..


a good vocal group has their levels sorted..the loud guy should know to tame it a bit etc...if i am working with an experianced group of singers i pop 1 mic in front of them a hit record, everything else gets tracked separately
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