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Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Tim Gillett » Wed Jan 02, 2019 2:29 am

Bob Bickerton wrote:
Tim Gillett wrote:For one, do you understand proximity effect?

The OP made reference to proximity effect in his first post.

At the risk of opening the flood gates......... yes, the C414 will be able to record a baritone voice (or pretty much any source) but an alternative microphone may sound better on his particular voice, which is something the OP is exploring.

I prefer an SM7B on my (baritone) voice over a C414 and almost as much as a U87.

Bob
As we know, using proximity effect its easy to make mic A sound more bassy or less bassy than mic B. And that doesn't take into account post production choices.
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Bob Bickerton » Wed Jan 02, 2019 4:11 am

Tim Gillett wrote:As we know, using proximity effect its easy to make mic A sound more bassy or less bassy than mic B. And that doesn't take into account post production choices.

Quite, which is not to say you can emulate the frequency response of two differing microphones simply by using proximity effect!

Because different microphones have different frequency responses they will represent sources in different ways, thus if we have range of mics to choose from it makes perfect sense to select a microphone which suits the source best - prior to post production choices.

I’m worried this’ll take off again, so I’ll duck out at this point and report it to the mods :headbang: :headbang: :headbang:

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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby awjoe » Wed Jan 02, 2019 5:49 am

Getting a good vocal take is a matter of attending to what people have pointed out, and I like Mike's reminder about the singer believing and living the song. And here's an approach that works for me, so it might work for you as well. I have the luxury of leaving the mic set up and being able to leave it there and come back to it periodically, so that's exactly what I do. Do two or three takes, go away and ride my bike. Come back and make lunch, and then another couple of takes. Work on the house. Go shopping. Brush the cat. Another couple of takes. I know when I've got a keeper. I do it that way because I find the first or second take in any round are usually the only ones that have that veracity and vitality that Mike talked about. I find it a waste of time to do more than three takes - it starts to lose life. It helps to be well-rehearsed, too. :D Hope it helps.
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Jan 02, 2019 11:52 am

Bob Bickerton wrote:I’m worried this’ll take off again, so I’ll duck out at this point and report it to the mods

Noted, Bob. :wave:
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Martin Walker » Wed Jan 02, 2019 12:08 pm

Exalted Wombat wrote:You may be falling into the trap of over-polishing individual instrument sounds. When everyone's a soloist, the mix can suffer.

So true - I used to be guilty of that when I was creating multi-track music by playing it all myself, as it was so easy to keep doing more takes until everything sounded perfect. But then you can get a sterile feel if you're not careful.

Nowadays I collaborate with another musician who's very much a 'live' player (warts and all) and I think we complement each other well to ensure there's plenty of life in the mix ;)


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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Exalted Wombat » Wed Jan 02, 2019 1:53 pm

Martin Walker wrote:
Exalted Wombat wrote:You may be falling into the trap of over-polishing individual instrument sounds. When everyone's a soloist, the mix can suffer.

So true - I used to be guilty of that when I was creating multi-track music by playing it all myself, as it was so easy to keep doing more takes until everything sounded perfect. But then you can get a sterile feel if you're not careful.

True. Though I was thinking more about polishing each instrument's track with eq and effects, making each sound compete for the sonic foreground.
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby blinddrew » Wed Jan 02, 2019 2:16 pm

And there's the added caveat that this will be slightly dependent on style / genre - some genres (americana, folk, punk for example) rejoice in an 'honest' production, but others will require an absolute attention to detail throughout the production in order to stand up against the commercial competition.
All the above, of course, is bearing in mind Exalted Wombat's comment that it is the totality of the mix that needs to work, not the instruments in isolation - though they will need to sound their best if/when they take their turn in the spotlight.
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Martin Walker » Thu Jan 03, 2019 11:59 am

Exalted Wombat wrote:
Martin Walker wrote:...it was so easy to keep doing more takes until everything sounded perfect. But then you can gt a sterile feel if you're not careful.

True. Though I was thinking more about polishing each instrument's track with eq and effects, making each sound compete for the sonic foreground.

Ironically, I tend to think of EQ and effects as hopefully providing each instrument with its OWN space, rather than competing for the sonic foreground (he says hopefully ;) ) I saw this recently described as finding the 'pocket' for each sound, by gently rolling off what's not needed, and reducing (tiny notching) any 'sticky-out' frequencies that are too dominant.

If you do this gently while attempting to retain the overall character of each sound, you get to hear everything WITHOUT them competing.

At least that's the theory :D


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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Martin Walker » Thu Jan 03, 2019 12:02 pm

blinddrew wrote:All the above, of course, is bearing in mind Exalted Wombat's comment that it is the totality of the mix that needs to work, not the instruments in isolation - though they will need to sound their best if/when they take their turn in the spotlight.

Totally agree - for me that's the stage after the EQ/effect tweaks to give every sound its own 'pocket' - work through the track with further tweaks and automation to let the featured sounds shine each in their turn :thumbup:

This can turn a good but perhaps slightly monotonous track into one that never loses interest!


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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby bn1studio » Fri Jan 04, 2019 12:30 am

The DBX 266XL is, IMHO, an awful compressor that adds nothing useful. As compression is key to getting vocals to "sit" I'd recommend something better - any of the older Symetrix compressors would be perfect, or an RNC or dbx 160X if it suits the voice & the track. An Alesis Nanocompressor could work
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby CS70 » Fri Jan 04, 2019 12:13 pm

Martin Walker wrote:
Exalted Wombat wrote:when I was creating multi-track music by playing it all myself, as it was so easy to keep doing more takes until everything sounded perfect. But then you can get a sterile feel if you're not careful

To check that, it helps to have children around.

when you think it's good, put the mix up, loud. If they come in dancing, it's hit material. If they come in asking you to turn the sound down, it's not. :D
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Jake James » Fri Jan 04, 2019 7:22 pm

You guys are giving me so much good advice!

I understand it is all about the performance. If I can deliver, all my signal chain needs to do is step out of the way and not interfere.

I am not a natural born singer, but have been singing my whole life regardless. A powerful performance is in me, and like with my gear, all I need is for my body (my psychological tensions) to step out of the way and not interfere with my expression. Here is partly my desire to control the environment, for as you have all noted, a good environment inspires confidence and release. I know from experience that my best takes happen when the mic is set up ten feet from my bed, ready to go. I roll out of a dream at 5am and sing when the world is still quiet and before my character armour is on for the day. Ultimately it is my freedom to work this way that will likely make me do it all at home.

I can only imagine how many amateur singers you guys have met who are keen, but after hearing what they've got, you know that all the gear and software in the world cannot help them. I am not young and optimistic like this any more. I have already been that guy, and I have failed to deliver. That was ten years ago, and I have been working this whole time on my ability to expertly connect the reed in my throat to my resonant structures, both physical and emotional.

Singing has for me been a spiritual pursuit, one of balancing the bilateral halves of my body through modified Alexander Technique mixed with the basic practice of Dynamic Tension. Mild occlusion of the left side of my throat from weakness in the left shoulder and scalenes (due to excessive right-hand dominance) turns out to have been the major physical limiting factor to my singing. Bad tone was always my problem, though I had pitch and range on my side. I am working through this by learning to bilaterally engage and hold active my cranial nerves as I engage my upper spinal nerves to sing (sub-hyoidals and brachii). There is a hack for opening our resonant and expressive structures. The imagery is a focus upon the bust acting as a throttle for the rest of the body, which is allowed to hang and passively follow the bust upward and forward (via chin tuck to straighten the back of the neck, and shoulders back and down to raise the sternum). Once I can connect to my clavicles through this descending activation, my tongue root lifts and opens my throat in that same way as in vomiting. It sounds strange, but this is the coordination in which magic can happen through the discovery of hidden formants inside the less-used musculature of the face. Beyond that, performance I find to be mythological. Connection comes down to belief in one's competence and the possibility that one cathartic moment captured in recorded song can change the course of our destiny. I do believe strongly in the songs I have written for this project.

My assumption is that there are only ever a few people on the planet who can truly deliver (and fewer who can get up and move while they sing in an integrated way, as did Michael Jackson). They are a limited resource and valuable to producers. If I keep at it long enough (and I am well on my way), eventually I will get there to some extent. Even if I am approaching 50 when I do (I am approaching 40 now), if I am one of the rare fellows who can deliver, then there will be room for me in some of the big studios and on some of the big stages of the world, even if the popular appeal of youth has passed me by. This project is a milestone so I can see where I am at objectively, based on how others receive my product. If it is good enough, it will be a demo I use to open doors. If it is not, I will learn and try again.

I am saying a lot to try and inspire confidence cause I want you guys to know that I do have my priorities straight, despite being an amateur. I am also no stranger to studios, having worked on many sessions in my local scene over the years as a guitarist and bassist. I do have the ability to put together something listenable ('clinical', as someone put it, being the one attribute I have to work hardest to avoid). My songwriting and arrangement were designed from the start such that all the elements will have their place in the mix. I recently redid all the bass-lines using a friend's p-bass just because I didn't like how my original takes with a jazz-style bass were fitting in. My questions here are so that I have everything right on the technical side, as I have less experience engineering than mixing. I do not want to end up in a similar situation as with the bass, feeling I want to redo good vocal takes because the mic or some other weak link prevents the vocals from jumping out of the speaker with the same energy I am getting from the instrumentation.

Like the p-bass, there are certain standards that rarely disappoint in studio. I came here because the Neumanns are expensive and I am less knowledgeable about the options. I will rent and audition an SM7. My only worry, now mostly dispelled, was that my preamps were not ideal for a low-output mic. I agree that my DBX is cheap gear. I use its limiter circuit as a prophylactic for my band's PA system, and I thought perhaps I could do the same in recording. Leaving headroom and compressing in the box is surely the better solution. In general I prefer to correct dynamics through eq, and do as little compressing as possible before the master bus. Some of you expressed concern that my mix will be too bright, or perhaps too aggressive with the clarity I have been going for. I do feel that I am on top of this (aka what I already have sounds good to my ear). My philosophy is relative minimalism--no wall of sound--with fewer elements, all audible in their detail, eq'd to sit well with one another, and generally unconcerned with the loudness war. The ideal is straight up performances on classic instruments that we know from half a century of great music to hold together like peanut butter and jelly. Everything beyond that comes down to competence in execution.

Now that I have clearly outlined my situation in this tl;dr post :geek: I leave it at this and will get to work. I expect to be done before summer, and will share the penultimate mix on this thread for a final critique when it is ready. Any other advice or relevant stories from experience are welcome and encouraged. I will stay active here for the inspiration that comes from having quality consultants on hand.

Happy 2019!
May this be the year that all our projects come to fruition!
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Jack Ruston » Fri Jan 04, 2019 8:11 pm

Well nobody could ever accuse you of not having given this some serious thought!
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Alba » Fri Jan 04, 2019 9:09 pm

I don't understand what you said about a limiting factor being 'right hand dominance', couldn't you try holding it in your left hand?
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby CS70 » Fri Jan 04, 2019 10:32 pm

Jake James wrote:My assumption is that there are only ever a few people on the planet who can truly deliver (and fewer who can get up and move while they sing in an integrated way, as did Michael Jackson). They are a limited resource and valuable to producers.

Uh? Where did u get that idea? There's amazing talent everywhere! Every single corner. And I'm talking of hard-working, hard-practicing, fu***ing potentially stadium-filling talent.
Just go to your local jam, or pub. The amazing guitarist. The wonderfully-voiced girl. The super-technical bass player. The drummer.. well, dunno about drummers, but you get the idea anyways.

What's a limited resource, I'm afraid, is people's attention. There's only so much to go around. You need great music and great musicians to fill a stadium, but you especially need a whole load of people. It's a stadium, after all. Kinda big thing.


Jake James wrote:If I keep at it long enough (and I am well on my way), eventually I will get there to some extent. Even if I am approaching 50 when I do (I am approaching 40 now), if I am one of the rare fellows who can deliver, then there will be room for me in some of the big studios and on some of the big stages of the world, even if the popular appeal of youth has passed me by. This project is a milestone so I can see where I am at objectively, based on how others receive my product. If it is good enough, it will be a demo I use to open doors. If it is not, I will learn and try again.

Doesn't work that way, or maybe it does. Who knows. But remember - the fun is in trying. Really. If you get to try and be able to eat at the same time, that's a roaring success!

Happy 2019!
May this be the year that all our projects come to fruition!

Best of luck mate, from the heart! Go and kill these vocals!
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Jake James » Sun Jan 13, 2019 2:58 am

Alba wrote:I don't understand what you said about a limiting factor being 'right hand dominance', couldn't you try holding it in your left hand?

I'm talking about a tendency people have of keeping their right shoulder flexed, and the left shoulder in extension. It's the natural way our body twists in response to stress, where we garner torque for explosive and potentially life-saving right-handed reactions. If our stress is chronic, we store the tension as a holding pattern and it effects our movement and our voice, not to mention our emotions. The less stress we carry, the more our body is balanced between the brain hemispheres and the branches of the autonomic nervous system. This means balance in the personality and ability of the left side of the body to properly keep up with the right.

The more twist there is inside, the less effectively our vocal cords can press together evenly, compromising the tone and the seal between as we rise up through mix voice. A crooked shoulder girdle means clavicles in opposing rotations, which put asymmetrical tensions through the neck, particularly the deep neck flexors, like the scalenes, which are critical for breath control. So being too right handed means not having one's head on straight, to use the expression literally, and it impacts every area of our life.

Some people are more or less balanced, because they were exposed to little cortisol in the womb (most left-handers come from this group). The rest of us were born twisted in anticipation of a harsh world, and come with a punch already stored in our spine. The arts tend to celebrate bodies that are balanced, or are at least concerned with the transition. The quality of a voice reflects the symmetry and openness of the body that is singing, and ultimately how serotonergic (socially powerful through relaxtion in the face of stress) that person is. If we are not born with this disencumbrance, then we need to bio-hack in order to effect it, or keep hitting a low ceiling in performance, no matter how hard we try and much we practice.

The solution involves a large-scale reorganization of behaviour and thought applied over many years. Yes, it involves effecting left handedness, specifically introducing flexion to the left shoulder, as in grasping, and also extension to the right shoulder, sending our tension from the right to the left, working it through the shoulder blades, where it has to unwind the serratus muscles in zebra-stripes and ultimately untwist the face and jaw all the way down to the feet.

I came out of neuroscience before changing to music, and this is my attempt to use the former to the benefit of the latter. Understanding my internal balance has been crucial in my personal, physical and musical development, so I share it in case anyone else can benefit. After all, symmetry is beauty; and because beauty is health, it follows that symmetry is health.


CS70 wrote:There's amazing talent everywhere! Every single corner.

I do not doubt that there is lots of crazy talent. I know quite a few of them. They can deliver their talent on a platter. But I was thinking of something beyond, a kind of magic. Performers who heal their audiences. Maybe you guys see more of it than I do. In my city, out of 4 million or so people, there are maybe three performers who can do it, at least in my opinion, and they are the biggest names in the city. No shortage of work. Major bands deliver magic because they have been working at it so long and because they have a mythology built around them. I am sure there are relatively unknown performers can do it, but lots of them? Am I wrong in thinking that someone like Michael Jackson is still a rare commodity?

Jack Ruston wrote:Well nobody could ever accuse you of not having given this some serious thought!

Years of failing, learning and trying again lead to lots of ideas about success, but only time can tell whether they are the right ideas. Hopefully they are ones people haven't heard before, and they are found helpful. I usually get good responses to this stuff, so I don't hold back. It's a geek's obligation to share the fruits of his obsessions.
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Sam Spoons » Sun Jan 13, 2019 11:48 am

Fascinating stuff Jake I read this thread with genuine interest :thumbup:

But, I can't help thinking that you are approaching the 'success' angle wrong. I get all you are saying about making your voice the best it can be by all the means at your disposal but, captivating/moving and audience is an entirely different skillset. If it was all down to the quality of your voice people like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, James Taylor and nearly every folk singer except Kate Rusby would never have got beyond the doors of their local pub.

On a side note, what you say about balance affecting your voice is very interesting, as a singing guitarist (and, as it happens, strongly right handed) I am forced into an asymmetric stance by the guitar. When I had a little singing training (from a proper singing teacher/coach) I was encouraged to stand in a manner with weight balanced over both feet, elbows back and my chest open, a bit like an operatic singer, much as you describe. It does help but obviously is only possible for developing the voice if you also play an instrument.

Interesting to watch Joe Cocker BTW, a great if unconventional voice.
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby CS70 » Tue Jan 15, 2019 4:31 pm

Jake James wrote:I do not doubt that there is lots of crazy talent. I know quite a few of them. They can deliver their talent on a platter. But I was thinking of something beyond, a kind of magic. Performers who heal their audiences. Maybe you guys see more of it than I do. In my city, out of 4 million or so people, there are maybe three performers who can do it, at least in my opinion, and they are the biggest names in the city. No shortage of work. Major bands deliver magic because they have been working at it so long and because they have a mythology built around them. I am sure there are relatively unknown performers can do it, but lots of them? Am I wrong in thinking that someone like Michael Jackson is still a rare commodity?

I see your point I think - and sure, I agreee - say, when I went and attended Paul Simon's farewell concert, it was purely magical to the audience, me included.

But it wasn't due to Paul's talent: it was due to that and to me! :D Enormous as Paul's talent is (and it is) the magic is due to what his work means to me since I first heard his tunes around 12 years old. My 19yo, for example, shrugs these songs away without much thought, while for example every song by Eminem gets him thrilled.

I completely agree that major artists deliver the goods because they've been at it a very long time, but it is success (which means that lots of people have listened to them for a very long time and develop a relationship with them) that brings the magic to the audience, not much the other way around.

That is the ingredient that is missing in most of the very talented people that I see.. if you don't achieve that "major" success in terms of reach, you simply can't achieve that "audience magic", regardless of your talent.
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Tue Jan 15, 2019 5:10 pm

your voice people like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, James Taylor and nearly every folk singer except Kate Rusby would never have got beyond the doors of their local pub.

I know one man's meat and all that, but I think James Taylor is a beautiful singer. :shock: You can't lump him in with Cohen and Dylan and other stylists like that, surely?
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Re: Vocal session in home studio: how to improve my signal chain

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Tue Jan 15, 2019 5:13 pm

An old client of mine used to dress up when he sang vocals to give him the right feel for the song.

James, pray tell more! Are we talking farm animals, vikings, milkmaids of yore? This brings a potential whole new facet to my sessions.
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