Project Studio Expo 2017 (AES 143rd Convention) Supporting Resources For Download!
This page contains various additional resources to support my Project Studio Expo seminar ‘Mixing Lead Vocals: Power-User Tips For Competing With The Pros’ at the 143st AES convention in New York in September 2017. This site also hosts a huge range of free mixing and recording resources relating to my books, including the 'Mixing Secrets' Free Multitrack Download Library and the 'Recording Secrets' Library Of Mic Positions. To stay up to date with the latest uploads to this site, sign up for my monthly ‘Small-studio Secrets Mail’ mail-out – and if you have any follow-up questions about the seminar or these resources, don’t hesitate to drop me a line!
Seminar PSE11: ‘Mixing Lead Vocals: Power-User Tips for Competing with the Pros’ (Thursday 19th October 2017)
Controlling Variable Proximity Effect: A singer who moves while performing in front of a directional mic will cause low-end inconsistencies in the recorded timbre, as in this example Ex01.01: WAV/MP3play_arrow. You can fix these by manually automating the gain control of a low-frequency shelving filter Ex01.02: WAV/MP3play_arrow, but a similar improvement can also be achieved less laboriously with the help of a dynamic equaliser such as Toneboosters TB Flx Ex01.03: WAV/MP3play_arrow.
Dealing With Harsh Noise Consonants: On-axis vocal recording tends by its nature to over-emphasise the high frequencies of noise consonants such as ’s’, ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ’t’, and ‘k’, and most vocal compressors will usually exacerbate the situation, as in this example Ex01.11: WAV/MP3play_arrow. A traditional split-band de-esser can provide a useful improvement here Ex01.12: WAV/MP3play_arrow, especially if its Sensitivity/Threshold control is manually automated Ex01.13: WAV/MP3play_arrow, but won’t target the specific harshness frequencies specifically. For more nuanced control, you can try region/clip-specific EQ processing Ex01.14: WAV/MP3play_arrow or a dedicated spectral de-esser such as Toneboosters TB Sibalance Ex01.15: WAV/MP3play_arrow.
Taming Piercing Upper-spectrum Resonances: Many singers will create momentary piercing resonances in the upper half of the frequency spectrum when singing loud, high-register notes, as in this (pretty extreme!) example Ex01.21: WAV/MP3play_arrow. One method of dealing with this is to find the offending frequencies using a high-resolution spectrum analyser (I use Schwa’s Schope and then use automated narrow-band filters to rebalance them Ex01.22: WAV/MP3play_arrow. However, this can be extremely tedious work, as the frequencies will often vary from note to note, so you may want to invest in a dedicated resonance processor such as Sknote’s SoundBrigade, which can achieve broadly comparable improvements automatically Ex01.23: WAV/MP3play_arrow.
More Information On De-essing: Check out this Sound On Sound article for a more in-depth discussion of different types of de-essing: ‘Techniques For Vocal De-essing’. It was written before spectral de-essing was widely available, but discusses many other approaches, and illustrates them all in audio via a downloadable DAW project.
Plug-in Links: During this part of the seminar, I mentioned the following plug-ins: Cockos ; Toneboosters TB Flx, TB DeEsser, and TB Sibalance; Schwa Schope, Melda MAnalyzer, and Voxengo SPAN; Sknote SoundBrigade and Oeksound Soothe. Check out this SOS article for a more in-depth discussion of different types of de-essing – it was written before spectral de-essing was widely available, but discusses many other approaches, and illustrates them all in audio via a downloadable DAW project.
Mix The Multitracks For Yourself: Some of the audio examples in this part of the seminar are taken from the Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio, specifically Spektakulatius’s ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ and Primakova’s ‘The Glass’.
Bringing The Singer Upfront
The Power Of High-frequency Contrast: Here’s a simple recording of an acoustic piano and a singer, where they’re both fighting for a position at the front of the depth perspective Ex02.11: WAV/MP3play_arrow, and all without processing the vocal channel at all.
My Variation On A Classic Stereo Widener: Widening the lead vocal signal can also help bring it upfront, and in this example I’ve used my own variation on the classic Harmonizer-style pitch-shifted delay patch, incorporating additional high-pass filtering and de-essing (effect only Ex02.32: WAV/MP3play_arrow; in the mix Ex02.35: WAV/MP3play_arrow).
Further Reading About Mix Reverb: Here are a few Sound On Sound articles that provide useful general-purpose information about using reverb for mixing: ‘Use Reverb Like A Pro’ Part 1 & Part 2; and ‘Choosing The Right Reverb’.
Recommended Stereo-widening Plug-ins: My favourite stereo-widening plug-ins currently are: Schwa CMX, which implements the classic Harmonizer-style patch in a very convenient form; Nugen Audio Stereoizer; and Voxengo MSED.
Detailed Automation Techniques
Making Subjective Vocal Levels More Consistent: In this lead vocal phrase Ex03.01: WAV/MP3play_arrow, notice how the last syllable of the word “recipe” jumps out of the balance. Careful automation of this line’s subjective level not only remedies this imbalance, but generally makes the whole line balance more consistently against the backing mix Ex03.02: WAV/MP3play_arrow.
Strengthening Underpowered Consonants: Notice how the initial consonants of the words “to boogie” in this vocal phrase Ex03.03: WAV/MP3play_arrow are rather underpowered. Using automation to emphasise them improves lyric transmission Ex03.04: WAV/MP3play_arrow.
Rebalancing Understressed Syllables: The words “we”, “our”, and “to” have been rather mumbled compared with the more heavily stressed words “got”, “own”, “way”, and “boogie” in this vocal phrase Ex03.05: WAV/MP3play_arrow.
Enhancing Performance Energy & Urgency: A side-effect of the above small-scale automation moves is a general increase in the sense of energy and urgency in the performance: (static vocal fader Ex03.07: WAV/MP3play_arrow; automated vocal fader Ex03.08: WAV/MP3play_arrow).
Improving the Subjective Quality Of The Sonics & Performance: This vocal is already nicely performed and recorded Ex03.11: WAV/MP3play_arrow. However, if I use automation to emphasise its most subjectively appealing and emotionally engaging moments Ex03.12: WAV/MP3play_arrow, that actually has the perceptual effect of making the sonics and performance themselves feel subtly better.
- Mix The Multitracks For Yourself: Some of the audio examples in this part of the seminar are taken from the Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio, specifically Spektakulatius’s ‘Our Love Is Here To Stay’ and The Balazs Daniel Boogie Woogie Trio’s ‘Own Way To Boogie’. The latter project is also the subject of an ongoing ‘fly-on-the-wall’ realtime mixing video series I’m doing for the Cambridge-MT Patrons.