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How Early in the Recording Process Do You Overdub Vocals?

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  • How Early in the Recording Process Do You Overdub Vocals?

    Phil brought this up in a different thread, but I think it deserves its own thread...

    Some producers want to have everything done and ready to go before starting the vocal overdubs, while others want to get vocals on early in the process, so subsequent overdubs can respond appropriately. Vocalists have different preferences as well.

    The way I work highlights the advantage of being the composer and performer...I'll often put a scratch vocal on very early in the process, maybe when there's only drums and bass, or drums and rhythm guitar. Maybe only rhythm guitar. Then the song takes shape around the vocal - as it should to my way of thinking, because I think the vocal is the most important part of a song.

    Eventually the song takes real shape, acquires overdubs, a rough mix, etc. At that point I'll re-cut the vocals because the song has a solid identity, but also, it's inspiring to sing against a more complete backdrop.

    Finally when mixing I'll often add a few tweaks around things that annoy me or don't sound quite right. These are minor, but make a difference.

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  • #2
    I'll be following everyone's thoughts on this topic with great interest...
    **********

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Anderton View Post

      The way I work highlights the advantage of being the composer and performer...I'll often put a scratch vocal on very early in the process, maybe when there's only drums and bass, or drums and rhythm guitar. Maybe only rhythm guitar. Then the song takes shape around the vocal - as it should to my way of thinking, because I think the vocal is the most important part of a song.
      Side note / question: Do you feel that when recording the vocals earlier in the process (and building the recording around them) that there's any benefit to taking a similar approach with the mix - starting with the vocal first and then building around that, or do you stick with the more common mix approach of building the mix from the bottom up, starting with the drums, bass and rhythm tracks?
      **********

      "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

      - George Carlin

      "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

      - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

      "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

      - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

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      • #4
        If I start laying down instrumental tracks and put off laying down a strong vocal too long, the instrumentals usually start taking the song to a different place, on a mission of their own.

        On some occasions, pretty rare ones, it turns out ok to let the instrumental side take charge. But as a rule, it complicates the process and at the worst, the song gets bogged down as I try to re-integrate vocals into an altered background. Sometimes when this happens I have to wipe the board clean and admit I've written two songs here, not one.

        What I've been doing for a few months is rather new for me - I work up a four or five-piece basic instrumental "band" (it's all me actually) and lay down pretty basic, simple, scratch versions of those instruments, defining the groove carefully in the process. Then I put down a pretty strong vocal (not just a place-holder) and proceed to work up and flesh out the details of give and take between the vocal and the other instruments.

        Vocals can mess up a great rhythmic vibe that the instruments are grooving on. So sometimes I'll alter the vocal to stay in sync with and not obscure the groove. I take lots of cues on how to do this from old soul music, where the call-and-response is second nature. Rhythm is so key to everything. Such as......



        nat whilk ii
        Last edited by nat whilk II; 08-26-2016, 06:25 PM.

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        • #5
          An interesting aspect to consider is how the entire process has changed in the last twenty years with the ability for nearly limitless tracks at your disposal. Back in the old 4 track cassette days you practically had to get all the instrumentation down first so the vocals didn't get drowned out.
          The luxury of so many tracks has changed the entire process. You can lay down as few or many tracks as you need, and do the vocals at any time in the process. The last thing I sang on I layed down the vocal with just sparse instrumentation, and layers of stuff went in after that.
          Digital recording changed everything...Except for what leads us to create to begin with...The Muse.
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          • #6
            Originally posted by Phil O'Keefe View Post

            Side note / question: Do you feel that when recording the vocals earlier in the process (and building the recording around them) that there's any benefit to taking a similar approach with the mix - starting with the vocal first and then building around that, or do you stick with the more common mix approach of building the mix from the bottom up, starting with the drums, bass and rhythm tracks?
            I do rough mixes along the way so when the overdubs are done, I'm close to what I want.

            But then I indeed work first on the voice. That usually involves "mixing via DSP" where I destructively edit the vocal for a uniform level; that way I don't have to add a lot of compression (although I often do add quite a bit of limiting.

            Then I get the rhythm section solid. Once the vocals, drums, and bass are in place, the rest is just decoration

            The final step is applying "DJ thinking" to selectively remove anything that's not necessary at a given point in the song. When I finally post the finished/mastered version of my songs, you'll hear that quite a few bits and pieces are missing...including an entire verse in one case.
            CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Anderton View Post
              Phil brought this up in a different thread, but I think it deserves its own thread...

              Some producers want to have everything done and ready to go before starting the vocal overdubs, while others want to get vocals on early in the process, so subsequent overdubs can respond appropriately. Vocalists have different preferences as well.

              The way I work highlights the advantage of being the composer and performer...I'll often put a scratch vocal on very early in the process, maybe when there's only drums and bass, or drums and rhythm guitar. Maybe only rhythm guitar. Then the song takes shape around the vocal - as it should to my way of thinking, because I think the vocal is the most important part of a song.

              Eventually the song takes real shape, acquires overdubs, a rough mix, etc. At that point I'll re-cut the vocals because the song has a solid identity, but also, it's inspiring to sing against a more complete backdrop.

              Finally when mixing I'll often add a few tweaks around things that annoy me or don't sound quite right. These are minor, but make a difference.
              I do it exactly this way. I love having a decent scratch vocal early on to shape the song.

              I tend to mix as I go, sometimes somewhat haphazardly, but always moving forward.
              Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

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              • #8
                Vocal overdubs? Well, maybe one, if you have only one singer and you want a harmony part. Unless you're recording an instrumental, how do the players know how to play the notes without a vocal to tell them how the song really goes? But then, I don't record a song without the banjo or the fiddle and then add it later as an overdub.

                There are certainly different ways of recording and different things that get recorded. A lot of music today is really instrumental, with a vocal being one more instrument that gets its place planned in advance. It's not the focus of the recording, and can usually be worked into the record-one-instrument-at-a-time process successfully. That's not what I do,

                A question that might have more meaningful answers, at least to me, is why leave the vocal as the last thing that gets recorded? If there's a plan, that's usually it. They don't plan to record the organ last, if it isn't part of the basic tracks, they record the organ when someone says 'Hey, an organ would sound good here,"
                --
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                • #9
                  The vocal is a road map. This is why it exists in some capacity while shaping, creating, etc. the song. Especially in studios such as mine where one is using the recording studio as another instrument.
                  Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by UstadKhanAli View Post

                    I do it exactly this way. I love having a decent scratch vocal early on to shape the song.
                    I'd love to have a decent scratch vocal too. Unfortunately, mine usually suck But they're good enough to provide the "road map" to which you alluded.
                    CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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                    • #11
                      Ha! Well, we take what we can get!

                      But seriously, a "decent" scratch vocal might mean that it gives you the melody, timing, phrasing, and mood, while not being perfect by any stretch (and quite frankly, the "perfection" thing in vocals or most anything else in music is grossly overrated anyway).
                      Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by UstadKhanAli View Post
                        ...and quite frankly, the "perfection" thing in vocals or most anything else in music is grossly overrated anyway).
                        Amen! That is one of the things about a truly "live" concert - there are mistakes - some small, some not so small. Last weekend up in Gettysburg we saw the Seldom Scene, and Dudley Conell (who has been with the Seldom Scene over 20 years now) started one of the songs with the capo in the wrong slot. They stopped, had a good laugh, and then played their heart out. So yes, perfection is grossly overrated!

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                        • #13
                          I think it's not just about imperfection for imperfection's sake; I could do that all day long But if music is about tension and release...perfection does not create tension.
                          CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Anderton View Post
                            I think it's not just about imperfection for imperfection's sake; I could do that all day long But if music is about tension and release...perfection does not create tension.
                            Yes. That and true perfection is unnatural because it is impossible for humans to achieve.

                            Imperfect as in "bad" or even "I could do that better"? That's another story.

                            But anyway, a good scratch vocal can really serve as a great guide. It'll have some of the emotional statement, the general feel, the lyrics, the placement, the time, the whole bit to serve as a "road map" for everyone else. And that's really what is valuable.
                            Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by UstadKhanAli View Post

                              Yes. That and true perfection is unnatural because it is impossible for humans to achieve.
                              But I often like unnatural - the aural equivalent of CGI. In a lot of the music I'm doing, I try for "idealized" sounds, like ultra-smooth guitar distortion, or sampled bass played from keyboard instead of playing bass. And that extends to vocals, but it's more about the tone than the performance. Ultimately I think what the ear craves is a combination of variation and predictability.

                              I'll give an example on a vocal I was doing last night, and applying Melodyne. The vocal had a lot of pitch variations, slides etc. It was interesting to move the "center" pitch around so it was perfect, but leave all the slides and nuances in place. It produced an interesting combination of "perfection" while retaining the human elements that make the voice interesting. With respect to the OP, these changes don't imply any need to change any other instrumental parts.

                              Also with respect to overdubs, I may have mentioned this before but it bears repeating...I had done a few vocal overdubs in the chorus for a cover of "We Gotta Get Out of this Place." On playback, it didn't sound quite right, so I thought maybe the pitch needed fixing. But when I looked at the notes in Melodyne, they were right on pitch. I checked the pitch of the backing instruments and everything was fine there as well. Ultimately, I ended up using Melodyne to de-correct the pitch of two of the three vocals. This may seem weird, but there's precedent: Consider a synth's unison mode, where you have multiple voices playing at once. You almost always apply some degree of detuning to "fatten" the sound.
                              CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

                              Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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