Vocals are unlike any instrument ever when it comes to mixing. I’ve heard problem frequencies in almost every area you can think of! Sometimes singers sound really muddy, or super harsh, or the sibilance on an “s” word can cut right through glass! Others sound chesty and don’t have any brightness in their voice. The thing that makes this complicated for standard eq and compression is that a singer has the ability to sing differently all through the song. Maybe the verses have too much low mids or in other words…is too muddy, but once they are belting the high notes in the chorus…the singer needs that low mid mud to balance everything out. With dynamic eq, we are able to dial in a compressor that is compressing just the frequency problem areas! Pretty awesome right? The most common places in the frequency spectrum is in the low mids between 150 and 500hz as well as the high mids between 2khz and 5khz. I’m not saying you won’t use it in any other areas but the majority of the time the problems are in these areas! Comment below if you have ever struggled with this and if dynamic eq would help you out! There’s a free plug in called TDR Nova if you need a dynamic eq plug in!
When I started off in my first couple years of recording I use to record vocals like recording guitars. I would have the singer sing along and punch a word or two here and there and just tell them to sing along. It took me a while to figure it out but that’s not the best way in my opinion. It’s extremely hard for most singers to sing along and punch in a couple words mid-phrase and have it come out sounding natural and not sounding like it was “punched in”. Singers would often get frustrated because of the numerous times we would have to punch a couple words and it was the ultimate “vibe killer”. Eventually I learned about comping vocals and man was that a life saver! I learned that you could basically have the singer vibe out, sing the whole song front to back several times, and pick the best takes afterwards. Now I normally still focus on just a verse or chorus at a time with this method but some singers prefer all the way through the song and in that case I put their needs before mine. After all they are the artist and their comfort is crucial for a good session. Long story short…singers I have worked with since changing methods years ago always seem to leave with a smile. They were able to come in, sing their heart out, stay in their lane, and let me do the rest with comping. It’s definitely a great work flow too, try it out!
Ever since moving to Nashville, engineers look at me crazy because I prefer Autotune in graphic mode for my default program to pitch correct vocals as opposed to melodyne. Truth is, they both have their pros and cons though. The reason I’m drawn to Autotune in graphic mode is because the workflow is extremely fast! I would say 3 or even 4 times faster and it’s less tedious than melodyne. You can simply highlight a word, adjust the retune speed for that word if need be, and it’s right on pitch. It’s incredible. The con with Autotune is if the vocal is a little too far from the note, it doesn’t work the greatest…it sort of changes the timbre of the vocal. But hey, that’s why we are supposed to get good vocal takes in the comping process right? That’s my philosophy anyhow. Another con with Autotune is it doesn’t really work with gritty vocals. Anyone heard of Dave Grohl? Don’t use this program for him! So let’s get on to melodyne…the number one pro for this program is the heavy lifting it can do. You know that one singer that was singing the song way off? Like a whole different key off? Melodyne has them covered. I’ve used melodyne to change a note to 3 notes higher or lower than the singer recorded it and it works. Plus if it changes the timbre of the voice because of how drastic, you can use the formant tool to adjust the timbre. Pretty crazy. You can also use melodyne to create harmonies from the original vocal take. Also very helpful for those not gifted with singing harmonies. Melodyne works miracles with gritty singers so with that being said, Dave Grohl approves. The cons however are pretty serious in my opinion. Melodyne is very surgical, you have to use several different tools to get the right result. Cutting the blobs, using pitch modulation and pitch drift to manually to straighten out shaky vocals, or adjusting vibrato etc. You must have a very good ear for melodyne because it’s very easy to completely miss things. The workflow is way slower, even if you are lightning fast and have been doing it for 10+ years like I have. In conclusion, you need both. I own and use both. Sometimes I get away with just using Autotune in graphic mode, other times I use melodyne then touch up with Autotune graphic. You will come across gritty Dave Grohls and perfect pitch Chris Browns. In a perfect world I would choose to use Autotune graphic alone, but it’s not a perfect world! Let me know your thoughts and questions!
So many times I run into a problem while recording a vocalist. The problem is usually harsh characteristics. Whether it be a “K” or a “T” or an “S”…certain letters can sound pretty brutal if the singer isn’t careful. Here’s my theory…singers are more often singing in clubs through an Sm58 than in the studio singing into a Neumann U87. Which means they over compensate with their voice. A dynamic mic sounds better when you over compensate because it creates a compression within the mic. This is why screamers in metal bands sound so good through an Sm7b mic. A dynamic mic will help a singer sound better when they push out sibilance too hard but what works even better, is when the singer lightens up. It sounds obvious but singers have to use techniques just like the engineer does. It’s a team effort. So as a producer you should politely ask the singer if they could lighten up on how hard they are pronouncing words. It will make a crazy difference! Now in the mixing stage when the vocal is compressed, the vocal will sound smooth to the ears! Try it out! Let me know what you think!