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Home Vocal Session
The Session

       The Home Vocal Session      

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The Home Vocal Session
by Tim Grigg

The beats have been recorded, the room has been acoustically treated and the Large Diaphragm Condenser microphone is ready to go, through that preamp into the DAW…..


Now, I prepare for the arrival of the “vocalist.”


I have made a headphones mix for the vocalist to sing along to, which I listen to along with the live vocal performance. This means the same make of cans through the same headphone amp. Usually the “cans mix” is just a basic mix with plenty of bass for the singer to pitch against, plenty of kick and snare to hear as a timing reference. Always keeping the option to give the vocal fold back some reverb and a little echo.


This a special mix, done on headphones just to sound good for the performer listening on headphones.


“I am here.”


The vocalist arrives…..


who may have no studio experience what so ever….


….not to worry, they may give an outstanding performance.


So be very nice to him/her!


I use everything I have to make them comfortable.


The singer needs to feel confident and full of energy.


Maybe they are used to singing or rapping live?


I could just get the cans mix to their liking and then record with a live mic. They are likely to be confident and relaxed using something familiar and could have a really good close up technique with a dynamic mic.


Might sound great!


Using an LDC, however, involves a different technique.


There is, with each sound source, a “sweet spot” in which a mic placed will record the sound of the greatest quality (quality being the richest and fullest sound, the best sound – it is to some extent a subjective thing).


Encourage the singer to hear that sweet spot for themselves. Make them aware of that particular quality of tone that exists in that piece of air. This is the place that makes them sound their best. Use the singer’s awareness and desire to sound their best to put themselves in the optimum position. Once a singer knows where their sweet spot is they can learn to really work it.


Experienced studio singers will know where their sweet spot is.


Where is the sweet spot, exactly?


Move the mic left and right in front of the vocalist, move it up and down, closer and further away, listening all the time. Practice with your own voice, my sweet spot is the size of a tennis ball about 9” away at 10 degrees to the left.


Now I have found the singer/rapper’s sweet spot I have to decide whether they can hear it and work it.  Sometimes, with the “red light fever” they might not absorb the idea right away. I can position the pop shield so as to almost touch their nose.


This can help keep them in the same position…….crafty eh?


Sibilance problem?


-         this is when the “sss” sounds are too loud and start to become irritating. Some peoples’ voices sound like this, especially with an LDC.


Something to bear in mind is that you do need some “sss” to make that vocal audible in a mix.


If it really is a problem (and it seldom is) then you can angle the LDC mic within the sweet spot, so the sound is hitting the membrane at an angle. You could try using elastic bands to fit a pencil vertically across the front of the membrane to reduce the unwanted “sss” too.


…or maybe this kind of voice just sounds better with a dynamic mic?


 “I need to see my words!!”


I always reckon the best performances happen when the lyrics are memorised…. (never ever to be spoken at this point!)


……..but, if someone needs them there, then they need them there.


I have a washing line arrangement across the room to suspend the sheets of A4. The lyric sheets need to be at just the right height so when the singer is looking at it they are facing straight ahead and have good singing posture. If they are looking down to sneak a look at their words they tend to sing the wrong way relative to the sweet spot and adopt poor posture. The position of the lyric sheet can help keep the singer in the optimum position relative to the sweet spot and encourage a good posture. 


“I am ready to perform now!!!”


I record the first take and have plenty of DAW tracks in reserve.


I always get a bit worried at this point in case the singer suddenly doubles their volume when they are doing it “for real” but I always leave enough headroom on the input, just in case.


I tweak the backing track and vocal fold back level and effects to get the singer at their most comfortable. Listening to the exact same cans mix, in there with the singer getting the backing just right to get the greatest quality.


 “I am tired now.”


Let the superstar have a rest and play back the rough mix recordings.


Have a chat, play with the vocal expression, experiment, invent a character for the song, have a good time, enjoy….


Record some more vocals?


Give it a few days then listen to the recording.


After a few days I know I can be objective about it.


The Byre Recording Studio