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Do I record vocals with no effects going in?

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  • Do I record vocals with no effects going in?

    I've been on hiatus but when I used to record using the BOSS BR-8, I pretty much plug in the vocal mic, use the first available vocal effect I see on the BR-8, which is "compressor 1". I turn all the available knobs of the compressor to level 100 for "volume". It looks like this:

    sustain: 100
    attack: 100
    level: 100

    De-esser, 4-band EQ, enhancer, doubling and delay effects are off by default. The "noise suppressor" is on default setting.

    It was my amateur days. Was that a mistake? Do I record going in "dry" (no effect?). I tried this but for whatever amateur reason I can not then add an effect to it and I'm stuck with this "dry" lifeless vocal recording permanently, I think. Not sure if my BOSS BR-8 is at fault or it's me. LOL. I couldn't seem to get that "studio" quality that I know is very possible with the BR-8 so therefore I think it is me that is at fault here not the gear.


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  • #2

    Recording digital should be dry. You can add effects to the headphones like reverb or echo but you want to avoid recording to the track with those if possible. You add compression and other effects mixing when you have all the tracks done and can use them judiciously within the context of the mix. If you add too much tracking something like compression or reverb cant be undone and you're stuck working around what you got. This narrows your mixing capibilities way down and can even destroy what would otherwise be a really good mix.

    The way you add effects for singing confort porposes would be to split your mic signal, send one line to the recorder with no effects, send the other line to a mixer where you'd put effects in the effects loop. Then you also take the DAW output and send it to the mixer and balance the two. Set the mic in for mostly wet/100% effects, then use what comes from the daw as the dry and blens the two with the levels. This way if you want a big boomy reverb on your voice tracking you only hear it in the headphones, not on the track being recorded.  


    • #3
      I almost always record vocals dry. I want to hear what the nature of the take is and not end up with a less than desirable capture that was massaged into acceptable by plugins. Sometimes I'll add some reverb/delay to the cue mix via The RME TotalMix but that does not go to the DAW.
      The great pillars of all government and of social life are virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible... If we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed . . . so long as our manners and principles remain sound, there is no danger

      Patrick Henry


      • #4
        what if you're using a vocal effects like voiceworks? Wouldn't you have to use the effects while tracking or you connect through it via MIDI, record dry, then by way of MIDI can the vocals be added with the desired effect AFTER the tracking? I haven't really mastered MIDI or using a standalone vocal effect like TC Helicon's Voiceworks. My take on this gear is that I must use the effects while tracking but I'd need to look more into it. I haven't realized its capabilities yet. I read you can sound good with it "solo" or acapella. Not sure if MIDI and vocals can work together as I see MIDI only working with instruments to instruments,even though the voiceworks has MIDI connectivity, I'm sure it's for connecting a keyboard to have the singer in sync key with the keyboard chords.
        Last edited by samal50; 03-12-2014, 04:38 AM.
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        • #5
          I'd definitely do any kind of midi control or pitch shifting during the mixing process, or any other kind of effects or enhancement mixing and not tracking.
          In my studio I can run the vocal mic through effects for the benefit of the singer so they can hear those effects in the headphones only.
          This is for their singing comfort only. The tracks get recorded dry.

          If the singer has really poor dynamics I may use some compression but that's about it. It doesn't fix their problem of course and from and engineers standpoint its probably the opposite thing you want to do. As an engineer you want to get the singer to Perform well and if that requires you to work the singer harder and say screw comfort that what you do to get the best tones recorded. Recording isn't having sex, its hard work which is often painful for the performers to come up with the energy, emotion and talent which tops everything and anything the performer has ever done before.

          I've used many tricks in the book to get great performances. One band I'd set a case a beer in the room and told them none could have one till they gave me their best performance. Well they must have been thirsty because th4ey knocked out their 4 songs in record time and they were all nearly flawless.

          This is all stuff you learn over time from just doing it an analyzing the results. Try it with all those effects and crap going on tracking and then try one clean and add the effects afterwards.
          If you been in a band for decades you may know exactly what you want on your voice and track with those effects and get it right. If not, you'll quickly learn how all that stuff id there to stay.
          Something like compression can be undone a bit using an expander, but why would you want to do it? Something compressed then decompressed is going to sound awful in comparison to
          something that didn't have either to begin with.

          Targeting what you have to work with without any crutches at all is a huge thing as well. The more you use your own natural voice to get what you need like actually sustaining a note
          instead of relying on a compressor or working a mic using distance and proximity to make the voice louder or softer, the better its going to sound once those effects are added.

          Besides once the track is recorded you have all the time in the world to tweak those effects for optimal results. Then when you add other instruments and tweak those you may find you
          have to tweak those vocals all over again to make them sound their best. You may not even hear what it needs until everything else is there and the mix is near completion, or after you think
          its good.

          I had this happen to me on my last mix. I worked pretty hard on getting the mix to sound good. I mixed down a copy and played it in the car for a few days and now I know where I screwed up and where it needs improvement. The vocals are too loud, the guitars need more edge, I don't like the shorter reverb on the leads guitar, and the bass is too low in frequency. I got a laundry list of about 20 things I need to do to the song and much of it involves reducing too much effects being used. How could I possibly reduce the effects If I tracked the effects recording? I couldn't.
          All I could do is try and EQ them out so they weren't so noticeable which usually winds up sounding like crap.

          Keep this in mind and you'll never go wrong. Mixing cannot improve a track. It can enhance what is already there, but if its missing its not there to enhance and attempting to do so only boosts noise. Always start with the best quality and shortest path to the track. Quality comes from the mic, the singers tone, performance and the rooms effects on the mic.

          If the mic is good it will capture the good, the bad and the ugly. You can then mask the bad and ugly leaving the good mixing. You cannot turn bad or ugly into good. If you think you can you haven't been doing it long enough ton understand audio and the tools you have to work with. There are only two tools that come close to making something good from something bad. That's a vocal tuner/harmonizer and a harmonic synthesizer. These tools can be used to actually change and draw new sine waves and harmonics digitally and either retune a voice out of pitch or add harmonic frequencies to the original root notes. Both do have major consequences though.

          The trick is to preserve the quality and use the least amount of tricks to get the desired results. Of course in the learning phase go ahead and abuse the hell out of the tracks and see how much damage you can do finding the limits of the tools you have to work with. If you were a carpenter you'd have to learn how to destroy a home as well as build one. Destroying one that's already built can teach you allot if you're smart enough to look what's inside walls. Then when you're comfortable using that hammer building or destroying you can get down to focusing on doing higher quality work. Your perception and horse sense should guide your ears from there making wise decisions mixing, If not it may not be your trade.
          Last edited by WRGKMC; 11-18-2014, 09:59 AM.


          • #6
            The good news with all the DAW stuff is that if you use primarily plugins, whether they be chained in as inserts or send/return, the signal on the track goes down dry. It kind of allows you to record with a cool sound and then change it later. I have to be my own producer/engineer and sometimes to get a better performance out of myself, I'll need a really inspiring or at least "pro sounding" basic fx chain (comp/eq/delay/verb). The only thing that is set and unchangeable in that scenario is how hot I have the preamp, and of course the source.

            As a producer, I find that singers like reverb, but their pitch is better when it's not in their monitor or at least not overly present in their monitor. Battling latency is bad enough when it comes to pitch, adding more sonic blur doesn't help. Especially with singer who are inconsistent, like myself.

            I record my guitars with mostly plugs now too except for acoustic. The good news is now you don't have to commit to a sound at tracking, you can dick around with it a mixing time and focus on the performance.
            The bad news is that there are so many dick around in the mix options now, that I never finish ANYTHING. I'm forever dicking around now. Sometimes, in the tape days, tracking decisions tied your hands later in the process, but sped things along as there were no options.

            A blessing and a curse, like so many game changers.
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            • #7
              Originally posted by uab9253 View Post
              I record my guitars with mostly plugs now too except for acoustic. The good news is now you don't have to commit to a sound at tracking, you can dick around with it a mixing time and focus on the performance. The bad news is that there are so many dick around in the mix options now, that I never finish ANYTHING. I'm forever dicking around now. Sometimes, in the tape days, tracking decisions tied your hands later in the process, but sped things along as there were no options. A blessing and a curse, like so many game changers.
              Taking that step back and being an observer instead of a player is something that must be developed. Its easier if you picture the players on those recordings as not being yourself. Back in the day I did allot of sound for other bands when I wasn't playing out myself, and I still do some recording sessions for other bands. Making "Them" sound good with the tracks I have to work with without being emotionally involved is allot easier to do. I can put parts in their proper perspectives and make them sound the way I envision them in front of an audience.

              This discipline is much easier to apply to your own work if you do it in shorter periods of time. When you open up a mix expect the first 10 minuites of mixing to be the best choices. Focus on the weakest element, fix it quick and dirty, then put it aside for a day or two. Treat it like work and minimize the Grooving along to your own work. Do this several times over a week and mixing it up working on other stuff, then compare it to the copy you started with in an A/B comparison. If it got better, you're heading the right way. If its just different or worse, then you have to refocus. If a weeks gone by and no real improvement, put it in storage and start something new.

              Pull it out in six months or a year and see if you feel any more inspired. If not, the chances are the raw materials just weren't of a good enough quality to begin with and you'd dorking around with tools that wont get you there. If the tracks are good you can mix that music within 15 minutes with no effects and have something good to listen to. Effects should be the paint on the house, not the foundation to the building. Get a strong foundation tracked and the house will build itself and exceed your expectations.
              Last edited by WRGKMC; 11-18-2014, 10:15 AM.


              • #8
                As far as recording goes if the artist is very inexperienced, it's not uncommon to actually record with a little compression. Say the artist doesn't have good mic technique and they're moving around too much. This can help bring the dynamic range into a more controllable limit. I'm talking just a little and only under exceptional circumstances but don't be afraid to print fx on the way in, particularly dynamics controls like compression.
                Mike V


                • #9
                  ^^ Depends on the mic as well as the singer. The Proximity effect can be very different between mics. Many large diaphragm condensers have a very long and gradual Proximity change when singing in front of them. You may not need compression because the changes in volume and tone don't change much even when you move 6~8 inches.

                  Something like a Ribbon mic can be very unforgiving if the singer moves. I just bought one of those MXL ribbon mics recently. I can get some wonderful tracks from it, but the changes in tone/sensitivity moving even an inch or two either way can lead to a drop out or breakup. Even raising the voice dynamics to belt out a strong yell can be too much.

                  This is where the skill of a singer makes a huge difference recording. An experience singer will know how to "work a mic" to maintain his recording meter level. An amateur is more likely to going to be focused on maintaining proper pitch and may not know what proximity or dynamics is unless you teach them. Using a Compressor may be a quick solution for a situation where you have time constraints and peak performance durability from the singer.

                  Having the ability to judge a singers skill level is key here. If I can put a DB level in front of him and tell him not to peak the meter or have it drop out when singing I may capture a great track on the second or third take. I've taught the singer to target his dynamics and use his singing skills to record well. I can compress the hell out of the track mixing or cut and paste parts together from several tracks to level things. If I compress the track too much tracking the only way to get dynamics back is using an expander which is a very tricky tool to use well.

                  You can use a combination too. Compress the signal that tracks but route things so the singer hear only his actual voice. The singer has to fight more to maintain his levels but the emotional content of the performance can often be allot better. A singer can wind up failing to project his notes and therefore his emotions if that soft buffer is there.

                  For others maintaining dynamic control may be too much for their skill levels and you have no alternative then to compress it. These singers likely suck singing live as well and aren't ready to produce a serious recording. Of course if you record for a living you do what's needed to get paid. I don't rely on it and have no problem telling a singer what they need to sound good and would more likely coach them on what they need to do to do it right. My ability to sing well was always a challenge. I grew up with highly trained professional singers. I mastered the technical skill to compensate for what my voice lacked. Its served me well working to get the best from others.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by samal50 View Post
                    <P>Do I record going in "dry" (no effect?). I tried this but for whatever amateur reason I can not then add an effect to it and I'm stuck with this "dry" lifeless vocal recording permanently,

                    have you read the manual?

                    i track vocals through hardware compressors, then add plugins at mix time
                    Last edited by mistersully; 03-31-2016, 01:55 AM.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by mistersully View Post
                      i track vocals through hardware compressors, then add plugins at mix time
                      Me too.

                      I was a purist on the "don't add effects on the way in and do it in the mix". But let's be frank. The act of recording is what sets up the mix and there's some grey area too. Don't be afraid to treat your vocals or anything else a bit on the way in.

                      A compressor on the way in will protect you from clipping on a particularly rowdy sound source too. I'll use a bass roll-off on the mic, a roll-off EQ, and light compression on the way in. This keeps me pretty near dry but saves me steps once I actually start mixing, since I know I'll be rolling off the low-end frequencies anyways.

                      It's not breaking the rules either. It's doing it the old school way where people had balls and would commit to tape. It's good practice in giving you confidence and making your workflow faster.
                      Last edited by whodatboi; 11-13-2017, 03:33 PM.


                      • #12
                        If you have the experience to properly target the right tones go for it. If you're having to add allot of plugins to undo what you're adding when tracking then you're obviously missing the mark and may want to wait till mixing to do some of that stuff.

                        Examples. I typically use effects on guitar because I know the tones I want to target, especially things like compression and drive. I usually add compression before drive so I wouldn't want to use hardware to get drive then use a plugin mixing. The results would be very different and compression after drive adds noise.

                        On the other hand I may wait to add things like chorus, echo and reverb as plugins because those are time based effects that may need to be timed to the musical tempo or made to blend with other verbs as the mix is nearing completion. If I add those with hardware units and commit them to tracks when recording that cannot be undone and I have to incorporate the results, good or bad into the mix.

                        Other instruments like bass, I usually use things like amp/cab modelers and some compression and noise gate to make the instrument play well. How much depends on weather I'm playing with fingers or pick but I usually have the drums and guitar already when multitracking so targeting optimal bass tones is usually a no brainer for me. The most I may have to do mixing is a little EQ and/or a little extra compression. Sometimes on louder rock tunes I may make it sound a bitt more aggressive using a little extra tube saturation to get a more vintage tone.

                        I'm not having to aggressively sculpt things when mixing, not like I used to do years ago. The amp modeling gear eliminates allot of need for that now.

                        For vocals I still do those dry. reason being is I usually add them/and refine them into the mix near the end. I don't usually know how they will exactly fit till then so I add the effects in the box. Things here have gotten better for me over the years since I been using ribbon mics which seem to be ideal for my voice. In the past I'd often have to use more then one EQ and sculpt the sound before compression and after in order to get the kind of results I wanted.

                        Necessity drives improvements and I've been able to cut my processing needs in half just by finding the most suitable gear. Its not like I haven't tried allot of different gear either. I recorded to tape for 30 years before switching to digital which was pretty much like starting over on the tone quest. I had to reapply allot of techniques used recording to tape which simply didn't apply recording to digital. One of them being the need to EQ and compress things like vocals in order to produce the right amounts of gain and tape saturation. That no longer exists in digital and it took me years testing different methods to find a good substitute and be able to achieve those kinds of results.

                        Fact is you can hit a digital recorder with all the compression you want and all it does is suck the life and emotion out of the mix while making the tracks sound small. I instead dumped using condenser mics which I wound up spending more time taking the edge off of and went to a much warmer sounding ribbon mic. Mow I can boost what I need instead of cut what I don't need and the results have never been better.

                        Real acoustic drums are the biggest challenge to record. I've used every method in the book hundreds of times including things like gates and compressors on every mic. The big problem there is if you don't work with a consistent drummer who has excellent dynamics playing over use of hardware simply makes the job of capturing good tracks even more difficult. If I wasn't playing while recording I could easily tweak that stuff in and get excellent results. When I'm tracking with the drummer however

                        I instead adopted the method of simpler is better and simply focus on bare mics with optimal gain levels. If the mics barely peak in the red when the drums are being played their hardest then there is plenty of dynamic headroom to capture the softer stuff. I don't need to worry about squeezing the mics with hardware like I used to when recording to tape. Gain recording to tape was not linear and you had to maintain a steady level to get the optimal frequency response.

                        Recording digital the frequency response is the same at high or low recording levels so I can do all the compression, EQing and gating when mixing. When I used to use compressors the added gain from them added noise and maintaining signal strength was much more acute. I have no problem whatsoever boosting the signal levels up when mixing and not raising the noise floor up where its a problem.

                        It does take time and it takes skill but I can easily match anything I did using all kinds of hardware when tracking now. I have far fewer botched recordings too. Nothing worse then getting too much compression dialed up and winding up with useless tubby tones or gates that clop the crap out of the drums because the drummer eased off and played softer.


                        • #13
                          I usually record the vox dry, but never electric guitars. Even on time based effects, I have the delays on the guitar already set to the tempo, then I mic the cab. I record bass with a tiny bit of EQ and compression to get close to the sound I want and do the rest in the DAW.