Vocal Month: Extreme Vocals – Picking the Right Vocal Microphone Part III

Last but not least we engineered a session with Eric Alper, the lead vocalist for the Punk band “Knucklewagon” to see how these microphones performed under an extreme style of singing.

Screaming is common in Heavy Metal and Hardcore styles – both of which have a massive underground following throughout the world. If you’re into this style of music then you’ll understand that there is much value in understanding how the microphone you choose will later sit between the instrumentation of this type of music.

Listen intently on the way his vocals sit between the drums and heavy guitars. Keep in mind there is little to no processing on these vocals so that you can understand where the mic will naturally sit in the mix. For the most part, vocals in the extreme style tend to sit above the snare and close to the “crisp” sound of the guitars. It’s hard to reduce the harshness of this style of vocals with EQ – so pick a microphone that brings the aggression you need as well as a smooth dip in the 1K range.

Decisions, decisions…

As we stated in Part 2 of this series, it’s hard to shape your understanding of which microphone is the best due to the different styles that we’ve presented in this series. At this point you have to sit back and think about a few things.

  • What’s your price range?

  • Do you have a microphone that already does what you need to do?

  • Do you want 1 vocal microphone for everything?

  • Do you want options?

Think hard about these questions before making your purchase and try your own shootouts. Some places have trial periods that guarantee a date range of time that you can own the microphone, decide if you like it, and then return or exchange it. These are all great options when picking a microphone. Don’t let someone TELL you what you want. Figure it out for yourself and gather your own opinions.

Missed Part 1 & 2? Check them out here:

VOCAL MONTH: PICKING THE RIGHT VOCAL MICROPHONE PART I

VOCAL MONTH: BEATBOXING – PICKING THE RIGHT VOCAL MICROPHONE PART II

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Vocal Month: Picking the right Vocal Microphone Part I

Having a go-to microphone is always a great policy to have, but understanding the way specific microphones sound and perform is an even greater depth of knowledge every engineer or aspiring engineer should understand. To a trained ear – different microphones sound drastically different in character, response, and tone. The best way to start understanding these differences is easier thank you think. Start comparing microphones – and get nerdy about it!

Here’s our own Cakewalk microphone shootout displaying 5 different microphones on Ingrid Gerdes.

(more…)

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Beatboxing – Watch What Happens to the Frequency Analyzer in SONAR X3

Within the Vocal world  there are all different styles of singing and beatboxing is one of the more complex and percussive styles that the human voice can produce. Typically there is a single frequency range that vocalists stay within but beatboxers span the entire frequency range to achieve the sounds that come from their mouth. Check out this video with a local Boston street performer as he shows us how it’s done:

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5 Easy Ways to Improve Vocal Recordings in Your Home Studio

Building your home studio can be a tricky task – especially when you feel that the quality of the space that you record in barely contends with what the pro’s would use. Fear not, there are solutions for making your home studio (or to some: bedroom) a comfortable place to produce high-quality recordings. Here are 5 easy ways to improve your home studio’s vocal recordings.

1. Studio Headphones

This goes without saying. Make sure you can supply your client(s) with a decent pair of headphones so that they can properly monitor the mix and record over backing tracks. Get at least 2 pairs in case the band’s producer or guitarist wants to follow along to the recording. You don’t need a pair of $400 headphones to get the client what they need to record.

2. Talk-back Functionality

Talk-back is a term used to describe a dedicated microphone that is activated when an engineer wants to speak to a performer in another room between takes. The talk-back microphone is typically routed directly into the headphone mix so that you can easily activate it and deactivate it without any real patching involved. Having this type of functionality in your home studio can improve the flow of the recording session and make the communication between you and the performer a seamless task.

3. Pop Filter/Vocal Shield

 

In the audio world there are different terms for just about everything. An important term to know is “plosive”. This is the sound a singer makes when they pronounce the letter “P”. This sound causes microphones to pop due to a high stream of controlled air that leaves the singer’s mouth. These pops are typically full of a low-end and can cause irregularities in the fidelity of the vocal track. Pop Filters and Vocal Shields can be used to break up that air and protect the quality of the signal so that your vocal is clean and even throughout.

4. Pre-amp

Nice pre-amps can come at a high cost, but if you’re only recording vocals at your home-studio then it’s worth the investment. Pro-sumer all-in-one devices are built to give the buyer as much bang for their buck as possible. This typically means cramming as many inputs and outputs into a signal 1U rack and charging barely anything for it. This is great until you realize that the Pre-amps are noisy and barely have any character. Do yourself a favor and try out a nice pre-amp to understand the difference in quality. If you can demo one out, then do it! Or better yet, nicely as a friend to borrow their nice gear. It will go a long way in the quality of your recordings.

5. Portable Vocal Booth

The room in which you record in will be as much a part of the recording as the singers voice. This can work in your favor and can also work against you. If you’re recording in a room surrounded by untreated drywall then you may not receive the quality sound you expected. Untreated rooms reflect sound back and fourth and even back into the microphone. These sound artifacts can be detrimental to the sound and cause the vocal recording degrade in quality. A great way to help alleviate this from happening is to get yourself a portable vocal booth that will help isolate the singers voice from reflecting off neighboring walls and back into the microphone. These are inexpensive and can go a long way.

 

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Mixing Video Series: How to use Compression with the CA2A in SONAR X3

Mixing with Compression is an essential part to shaping and creating a great sounding track. In this video series I take you through a track-by-track video that shows you how to use compression on various types of instruments in SONAR X3 with the CA-2A T-Type Leveling Amplifier. You can use compression to control levels, enhance dynamics, and much more. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel and check out this series today.

 

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Mixing with the Console Emulator

Mixing with the Console Emulator

Snake oil, or useful processor? Read on, and find out

by Craig Anderton

Console Emulator plug-ins are controversial. First, a lot of people are convinced they don’t really make a difference. Second, there’s the philosophical question of whether emulating a console is a good thing—after all, you’re emulating imperfections. And third, there’s the question of which console you want to emulate.

However, before you can judge whether a console emulator is going to be useful, you need to know how to use it correctly…so let’s investigate.

About Console Emulation

There are legitimate reasons why analog consoles can sound different compared to mixing “in the box,” and also, legitimate reasons why some might consider these differences desirable. Technically speaking, there are two main differences compared to digital summing.

First, analog circuitry has inherent non-linearities (or in less polite terms, distortion). As a signal goes through multiple analog stages, these non-linearities add up although the end result can still be extremely low-level. Because there are differences between the left and right channels, this tends to “widen” the image and create the appearance of a wider soundstage. If the distortion is relatively high, as can be the case with older consoles, distortion generates harmonics in the audio spectrum’s upper range. With increased highs, and given that highs are more directional, this can widen the sound even further.

Second, consoles often use audio transformers and it’s not an overstatement to say that transformers are some of the most complex signal processors ever introduced into a signal chain. What’s more, the transformer’s characteristics are dependent on the circuitry that surrounds it—such as the source impedance, capacitive loading, resistive loading, and the like. For example, the external circuitry may damp some of the “ringing” that occurs when passing square waves through audio transformers. Transformers also generate distortion (primarily odd-order) that’s highest at lower frequencies. While the effect of all of these variables is subtle, many people like the sonic characteristics transformers can impart to a signal. Overall, good transformer implementations provide a somewhat “fatter” low end, and can add “warmth.”

Inserting Cakewalk’s Console Emulator

As with any processor, there are no rules if you want to get creative—so take the following as personal preferences, not as “rules” that must be followed.

Prior to mixing, I’d recommend inserting a Console Emulator Channel plug-in (CEC for short) last in the ProChannel for every track, and a Console Emulator Bus plug-in (CEB for short) in the master bus. The easiest way to do this is with the Quick Grouping command: in the Console view, open a ProChannel in a non-selected track. Then while holding the Ctrl key, right-click within the ProChannel, select Insert Module, and choose Console Emulator Channel; this places the CEC last in every audio track. You’ll need to insert the CEB in the master bus manually, as Quick Group works only across similar track types.

To ensure that the CEC is last in the chain, place the ProChannel post-FX bin (right-click in a blank space or effect header in the ProChannel, then select Post FX Bin—see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Placing the ProChannel post-FX bin, and inserting the Console Emulator plug-in as the last effect in the ProChannel, guarantees that all effects in the track will go through the Console Emulator.

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Mixing Tips: Ten Nasty Mixing Mistakes

Not happy with your mixes? One of these reasons might be why

By Craig Anderton

Mixing is tough enough as is, but avoiding the following mistakes just might help the process go a little more smoothly—and give you audibly better results.

1. Mixing in a lousy monitoring environment

If you mix in a room with horrible acoustics or use inaccurate speakers that do tricks like hype the bass, your mix is doomed. You may think it sounds fine, and it might, because you’re compensating for the monitoring deficiencies. But as soon as you get the mix outside of your environment, it will likely sound dreadful.

To solve this problem, strive to use speakers that emphasize accuracy. They may not flatter your music that much, but that’s the point: If your mix sounds great over accurate speakers, it will at least sound decent over other speakers.

Proper acoustic treatment is ideal, but may not be possible. IK Multimedia’s ARC can help with fixing your acoustics (normally I see little value in “room tuning,” but IK’s system is quite effective). Also consider buying a really good set of circumaural headphones, and use them as a reality check compared to your speakers. Just remember that headphones give a particular “flavor” of reality that accentuates ambience and stereo separation; their main use in this case is evaluating the amount of bass because room acoustics aren’t a factor. However if you use something like Beatz, that won’t help—you want headphones designed for monitoring, not consumers.

2. Too much reverb or too little ambience

Some people seem to think that adding lots of reverb will compensate for a problematic part. Actually, all it does is give you a problematic part with too much reverb. Mitigating factor: If you’re doing a 60s revival/tribute recording, then make sure you do use too much reverb if you want to be authentic.

On the other hand, an overly dry sound doesn’t do you any favors either. We usually hear music in an acoustic environment of some kind, so adding in audio like room mics on drums (Fig. 1) can create a much more realistic and satisfying mix.

Fig. 1: Take advantage of the room mic option in Addictive Drums to give a more “real” feel.

Note that with recorded drums that already have some ambience, you can often make the existing ambience more prominent by putting the drums through the Concrete Limiter. By reducing the peaks (more…)

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SONAR X3 Clinic by Craig Anderton – Berklee Online

In case you missed the Berklee Online Webinar with Craig Anderton (March 31st, 2014) – here is the video in it’s entirety! Craig outlines some of his favorite topics including:

  • The MIDI advantage for songwriting
  • Using loops for both songwriting and EDM
  • Speeding up workflow to prevent “inspiration atrophy” (effects chains, track templates, browser techniques, etc.)
  • Creating your own mixer architecture
  • Using “spot” timing correction to tighten timing without destroying feel
  • How to make amp sims sound great (e.g. effects chains)
  • Mastering in SONAR

Learn more about SONAR X3

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SONAR X3: Producing Drum Samples (Video Series)

In the midst of recording a whole record it’s always a good idea to take some samples of the drum set so that you can replace and reinforce the drums later on in mixing. Here is an 11-part video series that shows you how to apply some basic EQ, Compression, and Editing techniques to get your drum samples to sound pro within SONAR X3.

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Subtractive EQ Part 4: Bass

Miss part 1? Read Subtractive EQ – Snare Drum.

Bass
The bass in this track caters to fans of the early Metallica era.  Bassist Cliff Burton popularized this distorted sound on such tracks as (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth.  It’s important to blend this type of bass tone into the bottom of the guitars.  In this mix the guitars and the bass become a single unit ebbing and flowing with one another at certain points through the song.

Understandably one can assume that there was much processing done to this track before it’s transfer into SONAR.  It’s important to capture the sound before you start mixing so that your mixing process is not a patch-job.

This tone is aggressive and piercing to the ear.  A significant way to know that this instrument needs attention is by the aural fatigue that you may experience while soloing this track and listening to it rather loudly for more than 10 seconds.  I aimed to adjust the bass track to fit like a glove under the mix by applying a HPF at 78Hz with a steep bandwidth setting.  The amount of bass here needs control. Using a compressor to control the sound would be redundant because of how much overdrive was applied to this track.  The overdrive has ultimately eliminated any trace of strong transients.

Lastly, there is another dip in the EQ around 2.2kHz.  This adjustment reduces some of the aforementioned piercing sound. Any harsh tones in this register will be too overbearing in the mix.

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