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In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

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In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby Music Wolf » Wed Feb 12, 2020 9:58 am

So, I'm not a singer by any stretch of the imagination but I do manage a few backing vocals.

I've actually got around to doing some practice (practicing in order to get better - what a novel idea) and I've noticed a few anomalies whilst singing and recording held notes, scales and intervals and then replaying and also analysing using Cubase VariAudio. I’ve discovered that;

Open-backed headphones – ok (not necessarily pleasant but in tune)
Closed backed headphones – slightly out
KZ AS10 in ears (foam tips) – out (horribly so)
ACS custom moulds (single driver) – better but not quite as good as open backed

I’ve tried killing the reverb on the in ear / headphone mix (improvement) and I’ve been playing around reduce volume. I was planning to try different tips on the KZ’s and also recording without headphones – but I’ve got a sore throat this morning.

I’m thinking that there’s a difference in how I perceive pitch if it’s airborne or bone transmission. The closed back headphones / KZ seem to result in me hearing the backing one way but the vocal through another mechanism. Open backed and custom moulds I hear both backing and voice via the same mechanism (albeit different between in ears and headphones). It would explain why I was able to sing a reasonable guide vocal on an original track (open backed headphones) but struggled to produce a decent take with closed backed headphones.

When my throat recovers I need to double check that I’m flat in all cases (I didn’t save the recordings).

Any thoughts / experiences?
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby CS70 » Wed Feb 12, 2020 1:21 pm

How do you monitor when recording ? Do you try to listen to your voice without having a feed in the headphones?

Or do you have a feed and sing out of tune?
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby Wonks » Wed Feb 12, 2020 1:37 pm

Are you monitoring at the same loudness as before with the IEMs? Higher SPLs can cause perceived pitch adjustments. But there may well be other influences at play e.g the speed of sound through bone will be different compared to air, which could be confusing your ear as you'll get a mixture of both.
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby The Elf » Wed Feb 12, 2020 2:02 pm

When I'm working with vocalists in the studio I will often get them to perform with only one headphone cup in place - they often pitch better that way - it's the old 'one finger in the ear' folk singer thing, and it does work. You could try feeding your foldback to one side and see how that works for you?
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby Music Wolf » Wed Feb 12, 2020 2:25 pm

Well, despite the throat, I've run a few more tests. Same set of exercises run three ways in quick succession.

Reference note through speaker, voice monitored ‘au naturale’ – ok (a bit ropey at the lower end but that’s due to lack of range / sore throat).
KZ’s (foam tips) – flat
ACS custom moulds – almost as good as first test

I did try a KZ in one ear but results were poor. Since the KZ’s were bought for the gym and only tested as a backup the immediate solution is to just use the ACS’s when gigging. I’ll try a few more tests to see if I can find a way to track vocals in the studio using closed back headphones but some valuable lessons learned so far (including use of reverb and level). Nice to know that it not a case of being tone deaf.
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby CS70 » Wed Feb 12, 2020 3:04 pm

Something that can help, should you have patience and will, is practice.

Singing a song is after all a muscle-related thing, meaning with enough practice you get your clue from how it feels in your throat as much as what you hear. With time, certain pitch will be "burned in" in your throat as much as certain guitar scales are in your fingers (they aren't of course: they are control neurons in the brain :-)).

I have that with some of the songs that I've sung hundreds of times live.. I can not hear myself at all and still it will be mostly in pitch, just because my throat knows exactly how each small passage feels!

Obviously doesn't work for the occasional backing part.. :D
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby shufflebeat » Wed Feb 12, 2020 3:18 pm

CS70 wrote:Something that can help, should you have patience and will, is practice.

Nothing to disagree with so far on the thread. One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that when you're on properly set-up IEMs the experience of your own voice is very intimate. The slightest variance is obvious compared to a more forgiving feedback mode. In an attempt to control the pitch with greater precision one can tighten up the throat muscles which, ironically, makes it more difficult to achieve and maintain proper pitch.

Spend a long time with your IEMs in and learn to live with them. Relax into the experience and learn to trust your own judgement and ability.

Next time you're in the bath (idiot alert: without IEMs) lie back into the water and hum a few tunes. This is what you're trying to achieve with IEMs. The mechanics are entirely different but the experience of relaxed control is very similar.

When you've become accustomed to this, turn your mic up and sing quieter and use your resonances, don't shout from the throat. It's much more sustainable and massively more satisfying.

P.S.

Except in very specific circumstances it's very much not advised to gig with IEMs "one in/one out". I'm happy to elaborate but not now. One in and a proper earplug in the other can be acceptable but best research first.
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby Music Wolf » Wed Feb 12, 2020 4:02 pm

Thanks

Part of this discovery was due to me knuckling down to some proper vocal practice (something that we part-time backing singers tend to overlook). I'm sure that I can make considerable improvements (given that I'm starting from a low level :D ).

I've changed the tips on the KZs to silicone and it appears to have improved things (of course I can only be sure if I switch back and can recreate the initial problem). I certainly don't want to try gigging with one IEM in, part of the reason I like IEMs so much is that they also protect my hearing. Neither will I be trying the bath technique I'm afraid. I’m definitely a shower person and I don’t think that I’ve had more than 2 baths in the last 20 years.
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby MOF » Wed Feb 12, 2020 4:13 pm

I have issues with staying in tune particularly when I’ve got reverb in the cans, delays are better but still a problem for me.
Peter Gabriel has/had the same issue while making SO; in that Classic Albums documentary he mentioned it and said that he used a small speaker behind the mic’ for foldback (the engineer probably used the phase switch to help cancel the sound bleed). He did use headphones to do an early morning (while his voice had that timbre) low register harmony though.
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby CS70 » Wed Feb 12, 2020 4:17 pm

A trick (studio only tough, and a good room) is to sing into a ribbon mic with the the guide track coming from a speaker on the side. So long the room is not crazy reflective, it can be a technique to try .
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby The Elf » Wed Feb 12, 2020 4:19 pm

MOF wrote:Peter Gabriel has/had the same issue while making SO; in that Classic Albums documentary he mentioned it and said that he used a small speaker behind the mic’ for foldback (the engineer probably used the phase switch to help cancel the sound bleed).
The trick is to use a mono monitor mix into a pair of speakers, set at opposite polarities and equidistant from the vocal mic. I also do a pass with no vocalist present and flip the polarity of this into the vocal take (you need to keep these channels linked). You can achieve a decent amount of separation doing this.

But I think were discussing live performance here, not studio...
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby CS70 » Wed Feb 12, 2020 4:33 pm

The Elf wrote:The trick is to use a mono monitor mix into a pair of speakers, set at opposite polarities and equidistant from the vocal mic. I also do a pass with no vocalist present and flip the polarity of this into the vocal take (you need to keep these channels linked). You can achieve a decent amount of separation doing this.

Incidentally, I did try that many years ago (and I still have the XLR polarity inverter to prove it! :D) and didn't work well at all... that's how I learnt how the room is very important for these kind of "open air" recordings: you need to have a very dry room so that few or any reflections from the speaker sound bounce back into the mic. From there I developed my current "inline reverb" method from the interface direct out (to me, reverb helps a lot with pitching).

You're on the money that Music Wolf's thread is about live sound of course.. :-)
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby MOF » Wed Feb 12, 2020 5:02 pm

reverb helps a lot with pitching
I find reverb a hindrance and I don’t know why, I tend to monitor dry with software monitoring switched off and use just one earphone.
I mentioned Peter Gabriel because he used a foldback speaker in the studio and maybe that’s what the OP needs to do in a live situation.
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby Music Wolf » Wed Feb 12, 2020 5:29 pm

Hi

I always thought that reverb would help pitching but, from what I've read togther with tests these last couple of days, it would appear that I'm much better able to pitch without it.

Going back to a floor wedge simply isn't an option. I'll stop doing the backing vox rather than do that (volume / hearing protection).

I've been practicing on and off with both the custom moulds and the KZ's with silicone tips experimenting with different monitoring levels. By practicing, of course, both are getting better but the custom moulds still beat the KZs although I can see that I could get the latter upto backup standard.

As they say, 'how do you get to The Royal Albert Hall?' 'Practice my boy, practice'
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Re: In Ear Monitors causing me to sing out of tune

Postby CS70 » Wed Feb 12, 2020 7:06 pm

Yeah my experience is that people are very different with regards with reverb. I love it, but can live without it. Other singers I've recorded must have it, others cannot. No shoe fits all!

Something else that it's truly critical to me (both when I sing myself and recording others) it's the sweet balance spot in the cans where I can hear both the guide base and my own singing. Especially when recording other people, getting the headphone balance right (for them) is one of the most time consuming tasks.. most people are quick in saying "it's ok" if you just ask but then they proceed to sing terribly because either they can't hear themselves or they can't hear the guide. :-) I made an art to gently build people expectations that we'll spend at least 10-15m starting and stopping the track just to verify that balance. :D

I'm also experimenting with compressing the headphone out to see if that helps - once the balance is right, it stays right more... but I haven't used the idea in anger yet so can't say if it works or it's wasted time.

Shufflebeat had a good point that the very nature of IEM may produce a different sound, but I guess something similar applies there as well?
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