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Recording and mixing classical vocals: Thick, smooth soprano

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Recording and mixing classical vocals: Thick, smooth soprano

Postby a_j » Fri Feb 23, 2018 3:43 pm

There are countless online tutorials about producing and mixing pop and rap vocals, but I have never been able to find any tutorials for classical vocals.

(By "classical", I don't mean only operatic vocals, but all non-distorted, non-vocal-fry, non-screaming, non-squeaky vocals in which the beauty and/or virtuosity of the voice is paramount.)

Am I correct to assume that live recordings of virtuoso performances in recording halls don't apply lots of FX afterwards?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMO0KFL3E58

But what to do with vocalists that are perhaps not so virtuosic, or in modern genres such as classical crossover or gothic metal where vocalists are typically recorded in a small studio and FX must be applied? How are these recorded and mixed?

My impression is that some -- or perhaps even most -- of the pop techniques are not applicable to classical vocals, since these techniques result in audible and artificial changes in tone. For example, distortion/saturation FX are employed to give pop vocals a "gritty edge", and low octave doubling for extra "weight".

I am particularly curious about how to achieve thick (fat, rich?) classical soprano vocals. When I compare live performances with professionally mixed and mastered album versions, the vocals are noticeably smoother and richer in the album versions, but somehow still entirely natural (to my ears).

Pop vocals often use some variant of "vocal thickening" tricks (in which the vocals are layered with slightly detuned and delayed copies), but I have not had any success applying this to classical vocals. I get audible flanging and chorusing rather than a natural-sounding thick and rich sound.

An example of the sound that I would like to achieve:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66zUY8UZn4M

Is it all due to the singer, a good ribbon mic and some reverb, or were other subtle FXs applied?
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Re: Recording and mixing classical vocals: Thick, smooth soprano

Postby Bob Bickerton » Sat Feb 24, 2018 1:05 am

The first example would be largely natural recording capturing the reverberation of the room with probably some added reverb on the vocals and orchestra.

The second example would (almost certainly) have been recorded 'live' with the orchestra using a main orchestral array (probably Decca Tree) and possible spot mics on the soloist and maybe other instruments in the orchestra.

The spot mic, if there was one, would have been used to 'balance' the soloist with the orchestra, should that be required, but the whole point of the exercise would have been to have the soloist sound natural and sit within within the context of a live performance.

It's possible there was no processing on the soloist microphone, if it was used, whatsoever.

There may have been added reverb to the natural reverb of the recording space.

The significant attributes to achieve that sound, in reverse order, would be correct selection and positioning of the microphone, and probably looking for a more distant miking than you may do within modern 'studio' vocals, recording in a generous acoustic and finally and most importantly having a voice like Maria Callas :thumbup:

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Re: Recording and mixing classical vocals: Thick, smooth soprano

Postby Tim Gillett » Sat Feb 24, 2018 4:45 am

a_j wrote:I am particularly curious about how to achieve thick (fat, rich?) classical soprano vocals. When I compare live performances with professionally mixed and mastered album versions, the vocals are noticeably smoother and richer in the album versions, but somehow still entirely natural (to my ears).

Yes there's nothing like going to a live classical recital (no mics) especially with solo voices to remind ourselves how classical singers can sound like in the raw. If we've only been listening to professionally produced "smooth" vocal recordings, the live experience can be a bit of a shock!

a_j wrote:
An example of the sound that I would like to achieve:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66zUY8UZn4M

Is it all due to the singer, a good ribbon mic and some reverb, or were other subtle FXs applied?

Probably yes to all although the mic was probably a capacitor.

The Ave Maria track is not exactly classical aria gymnastics. For a start she sings very smoothly and gracefully. But insofar as the voice has dynamics, even those mild climaxes on higher vocal notes are possibly tamed by some carefully applied compression, and of course there's some nice reverb there too - on both the tracks you mentioned.

It might be worth learning more about careful, subtle use of compression and reverb. Compression especially is often poorly understood. When used well, it can be almost undetectable.

Here's one SOS article on it: https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... -made-easy
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