Processing Vocals Part 6 – Effects

You know that saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? I have the same feeling towards vocal effects. If you can’t use a reverb or delay without going overboard, then you’re not allowed to use effects. 🙂

The only reason I seem a bit bitter towards vocal effects and effects in general is because I was a sucker for them. My first several recording projects were just completely swimming in reverb. Maybe drowning is a better word. It was like I wanted the whole wide world to know that I knew how to use reverb.

The truth of the matter is that reverb is becoming less and less prominent in popular recordings today. Just listen to one of your favorite tracks from the 80’s. Now listen to one of your favorite tracks from this decade. Notice anything? In just about every popular genre we’ve witnessed the lead vocal become more and more dry and in-your-face.

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Processing Vocals Part 5 – Compression

Ah, compression. It can be a great tool, and it can be easily overdone. However, I can’t imagine mixing a song without using compression on the lead vocal. It both tightens up the vocal and helps it fit into the mix.

If you’re not all that clear on what compression does and how it works, I’d recommend watching my Intro to Compression video first. It’s a pretty succinct overview of compression in general.

Alright, assuming you have a basic understanding of compression, let’s look at how it applies to vocals.

Determine what you’re goal is with compression.

Take some time to listen to the dry vocal in the mix. What is it lacking? What does it need? You know what compression can do, how can you use that to your benefit? Be patient. You need to have a plan before you start turning compressor knobs. Otherwise, you’ll end up knee-deep in compression that doesn’t make sense or even sound right.
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Processing Vocals Part 4 – 3 Tips for EQ-ing Vocals

Once I’ve recorded, edited, and tuned the vocal, my next step is to reach for an EQ. Some may go for compression, and that’s fine, but my preference is to EQ the vocal first.

If you haven’t already, you should watch my video Intro to EQ. In it, I explain the basics of EQ. As you can surmise from the video, I don’t like to use EQ as an effect. I view it as a shaping tool. If you need to use drastic EQ on a track, chances are it wasn’t recorded very well.

Here are some quick tips to try out when you EQ your next vocal.
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Processing Vocals Part 3 – Tuning: Thoughts on Auto-Tune

Do you know where you were when you first heard Auto-Tune in action? I do. Kitchen table. Cher came on the radio. My first thought was, “Hey, that’s neat!” Years later, I don’t think it’s so neat anymore. The word “overused” comes to mind.

Cher, T-Pain, and the like have certainly exploited the hyper-tuning capabilities of Auto-Tune, but that’s not the purpose of this article. Yes, you can use Auto-Tune as an over-the-top effect, but what about using it as an engineering tool? Is it cheating?

I’d love to know your opinion. Be sure to leave a comment below. I’ve thought through this a lot over the years and talked with many an engineer, and I’ve formed my own opinions on the matter, so here’s what I think.
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Processing Vocals Part 2 – Comping/Editing

Vox Edit

Yesterday I gave you some tips for getting a good vocal recording. So what’s the next step after you’ve recorded the vocal?

Some folks may jump right in to mixing, throwing up a bunch of EQs, compressors, reverbs, etc. Mixing is certainly exciting, but don’t leave out the all-important step of comping and editing.

Comping

If you follow my advice in the previous article, then you should have 3-5 takes of the lead vocal. This may seem like a foreign concept to some, but one of the benefits of digital recording is that you can, much like in a text document, copy and paste different sections together. Having the singer sing through the song a few times allows you to have options once the singer goes home.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s say that the vocal session goes insanely well. The singer is “feelin’ it,” and he delivers an amazing performance on the first take. He nailed it. End of vocal session.

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Processing Vocals Part 1 – Recording the Vocal

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions on processing vocals. Folks are asking for a step-by-step guide for getting a good vocal sound — from actually recording the vocal all the way to the finished mix.

This is a great topic. After all, for most music styles the vocal is the focal point of the entire song. Who cares if the drums, bass, and guitars sound amazing if the vocals are lame, right?

So…I think it’s time for a little series of articles on vocals!

Recording the Vocal

Before jumping into EQ settings and effects plugins, we need to take a step back and make sure we get a good vocal recording to begin with. There’s this annoying tendency among a lot of recording engineers to just capture the audio as quickly and thoughtlessly as possible, then say, “I’ll just fix it later with plugins.”

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