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Country Vocals Lessons: Secrets to Successful Recording - Part 1

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Country Vocals

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We're back in the studio and
we're gonna be talking about how to get
the best vocal performance in the studio.
It's a very different
animal from singing live.
We've talked a lot about different
microphones that you would use for
live applications, and the kinds of things
that you think about as a live performer.
And a lot of that does
apply in the studio, but
what you find in the studio is that
everything is exaggerated because,
when you sing in the studio, it's like
your voice is under the microscope.
It's like having a big magnifying
glass out on your instrument.
So, you're hearing a level of detail
that you may never hear live.
And not only is it a very
fine level of detail, but
it's being captured,
possibly for all eternity.
You capture a vocal
performance in the studio, and
that might be the definitive recording
of your voice on that song, and
that might be a recording that you live
with, literally, the rest of your life.
So, it's a much more fine level of detail.
So there are things that you
wanna pay attention to and
get comfortable with in the studio,
that are unique,
that you don't really think about
anywhere else on the planet.
I am going to demonstrate
some studio vocal issues and
techniques using my favorite
vocal microphone on the planet.
I really love this microphone.
This is a Neumann M49.
I have used this too in the studio here,
at the hollar, for my vocals.
I have used them on Toby Keith,
on Mac Davis, on Shawn Mullns,
on female artist,
male artist of every different style.
It's an incredibly versatile and
very powerful microphone.
It was designed by Neumann and
issued in 1949,
that's how it got its name, it's an M49.
This kind of microphone was used by Bob
Dylan on the Highway 61 Revisited album,
and by Art Garfunkel,
on Bridge over Troubled Water.
It's a classic microphone and
has a lot of detail, and
is very transparent,
it's got very true sound that doesn't
color the sound of the voice or
the instrument that it's picking up.
It's a very transparent microphone.
It's a condenser.
It's actually got two condensers so,
as with all condenser microphones,
it has to have an external power supply.
Neumann designed a very special
power supply for the M49.
It was the very first external power
supply to also include pattern changing
ability, a place where you could remotely
change the pattern of the microphone.
Remember we talked about how
a microphone pickup pattern determines
where around the microphone
the microphone will pick up sound.
So here, on this setting,
where this circle is,
that's the symbol for omnidirectional.
That means the microphone, in that
setting, will pick sound up from 360
degrees above, below,
behind and front, on the sides.
Anywhere around the microphone
it will pick up sound equally.
So if you've got a group of singers,
you've got five or
six singers that are all singing a group
choir part around the microphone at one
time, you put it in omnidirectional.
Or, if you've got a bluegrass band or a
group of instruments that are all playing
live around one microphone at
the same time, it would be an omni.
Let's say you want to
record a duet with two
singers singing live around
the same microphone.
You might put one on one side and
one on the other side of the microphone so
they can face each other and
perform and sing to each other.
And you would put in on
this bidirectional, or
figure eight pattern, because this
allows the microphone to pick up
what is coming in from the front
as well as from the back, and
it reduces sound or eliminates sound
that's coming in from the sides.
We are gonna be using it in
the cardioid pattern, which means
that the microphone is only picking up
unidirectionally, or from one direction.
That's from the front of the microphone.
So that's where I am and
it's where I want it to be listening.
So, we're gonna set it
on the cardioid pattern.
One of your best friends in the studio
when you are recording vocals is gonna be
your windscreen.
You wanna get you know your windscreen
very well and make good friends with it.
I love this windscreen
because it's really great at
eliminating those [SOUND] those pesky,
popping Ps.
Every time you make a puh
sound when you're singing,
you explode a lot of air, it's a burst
of air that can really be an ugly
sound as it hits the diaphragm
of a microphone.
So a windscreen helps
disperse that burst of air.
And so you can get right up on the
microphone and [SOUND], sing a pleasant
sound like puh, like that, and
the windscreen will disperse the air and
prevent that popping sound from
happening and being recorded.
Some microphones will have a piece
of foam that goes over the entire
microphone like something that
sits over the whole capsule.
Some people make their own
windscreens out of pantyhose.
They take pantyhose and stretch it
over a piece of wire or a coat hanger.
Makes a great windscreen.
So it doesn't have to as high dollar and
fancy as this one, but
this one does do a really great job.
But you wanna make sure that you are
conscious of the fact that if you are not
using a windscreen you're gonna have to
really direct those plosive sounds off
axis and tilt your head to the right or
to the left when you're singing a P sound,
so that the explosion of air
doesn't hit the diaphragm dead on.
Like all cardioid microphones or
cardioid patterns this will
produce a proximity effect.
As I get closer to the microphone,
the low end, the low frequencies,
will be accentuated.
I can use that if I want
that nice warm sound, but
I wanna be conscious of it as a singer,
and if I get too close,
it will definitely color the tone of my
vocal when that low end gets accentuated.
The other best friend that you're going
to have in the studio is your headphones.
In the studio, the only way that you
can hear the music that you're gonna be
singing to is if you have headphones,
so that the band and the music
is coming through your headphones and
hopefully not getting into the microphone.
So, you have to make sure that
the level of your headphones is not so
loud that it's bleeding
into the microphone.
You only want the microphone
to hear your vocal.
So, this kind of box would be something
that you would use to control
what you're hearing in your headphones.
This is what the engineer
would send your mix to.
This would be the overall volume of
what the volume of the headphones is.
And then each of these, if you're
fortunate enough to be in a studio where
you have individual mixes, the engineer
might send a different instrument
to each of these knobs so that your
vocal might show up on this first knob.
So you've got the overall mix of
the band here and your voice in it.
But let's say you wanna
hear more of your voice and
you want your voice turned up and
you don't want the other instrumentalists,
the other players to have to
hear more of your voice, so
you get discreet control over
your vocal on your headphone box.
You can turn your vocal up as loud as you
want, relative to the rest of the band.
The engineer might send the bass
to another one of these knobs, so
that the bass player
can do the same thing.
He doesn't wanna hear so
much of your voice, so
he turns your voice down on this knob.
He's still got it some in the overall mix,
but he can turn the bass up or
he can turn the kick drum up, let's say,
if the engineer sends the kick
drum up on one of these knobs, so
that each individual instrumentalist can
adjust their own mix in their headphones.
And, of course, as a singer you know how
important it is that what you're hearing
determines the sound
that you're producing.
So you wanna make sure that you take
the time to get the mix in your headphones
to be exactly what you need to
hear in order to produce the sound
that you want to produce.
Some people use both ears closed,
put the headphones over both ears.
Some people like to hear what's coming
in through one side of the headphones,
but they like to hear their
voice in the acoustic space.
They wanna hear their
voice in the room as well.
It helps them tune, or
it helps them get a better
understanding or
feedback on the texture or the color.
So, either way you can
monitor with both ears on or
one ear off, as long as you're making
sure that the engineer is not hearing
your headphone mix in
the vocal microphone,
cuz you don't want to have the instruments
that are playing on your vocal track.
So you wanna make sure that the overall
volume of your headphones is soft enough,
quiet enough,
that it's not bleeding into the vocal mic.
Okay, these are just a few things that
you're gonna think about in the studio
as a vocalist.
And we're gonna put up a spectrum later
on, we're gonna do like a microphone
shoot out, and let you hear what
different studio microphones sound like,
and we'll put that up as additional
material for the lesson.
But that'll get you started.