Recording Vocals Part 4
Additive EQ and Interfaces
Okay, this is the home stretch! As we have learned, recording vocals involves attention to the fundamental principles of acoustics. We started by selecting the best recording space and treating it acoustically to optimize the sound of the voice.
Next, we looked at the process of selecting the best microphone and how to set it up so that the artist can perform comfortably. Adjustments to the setup may be necessary to accommodate the use of music stands and pop screens for plosives.
With the vocal setup complete, the next step was learning to control the dynamics of a performance both acoustically and electronically to keep consistency in the performance. We also looked at the recording chain and how best to apply compression and subtractive EQ.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the use of additive EQ and how best to deal with recording interfaces when recording vocals. So without further ado, let's dive in to the tricky world of EQ for vocals.
I strongly believe that compression is a better way to add presence to a voice rather than EQ. If you have set up your compression well, this will be apparent in the vocal sound and the need for EQ should be minimal, if at all.
If the sound is still not what was expected and I have exhausted all of my options with the setup, I will look at adding EQ. The best approach is always try and remove what you don't like first before using additive EQ.
Unless I am completely convinced that the EQ I've added is exactly the sound I want I will leave it out of the record chain. If you are not 100% sure about the EQ, it is always best to leave it for later where it can approached with fresh ears.
If adding EQ is necessary, here are a few tips you might find helpful:
The most common reason for additive EQ when recording vocals is to add presence. Presence frequencies generally live in the 2-6K range. Unless this area is particularly deficient, I usually try to avoid adding frequencies here because you will most likely start to accentuate sibilance.
Sibilance is a pronounced peak in frequencies that are usually heard when sing words with the letter S, T and a soft C. De-essers are used to rid these problems if they cannot be dealt with using EQ. De-essers are very fast limiter stages that are keyed by these frequency areas. As a result, the limiter stage only kicks in when these frequencies are overtly present.
A safer way to add the feeling of presence without adding in the extra problem of sibilance is to add air to the voice. This is easily accomplished with a shelving EQ at around 10K. The shelving EQ will affect all frequencies above the selected frequency.
Adding frequencies in this range will brighten and raise the vocal up in the speakers. Adding frequencies in the 2-6K range will draw the vocal out of the speaker toward you but may also draw out problems. The best approach is really a matter of taste, the style of music and the meaning of the song.
Remember that there are many ways to add presence to a vocal with reverb or effects. If you are not convinced that your EQ is perfect, leave it for later.
The best way to add warmth to a voice is to move the vocalist closer to the mic. The proximity effect will add some natural warmth and body to the voice without adding muddiness. If this doesn't work it is worth considering a dynamic mic that is used for radio broadcasts.
Broadcast mics will add warmth to the harshest of voices and tone down sibilance problems as well. If a broadcast mic is not available, then you may want to consider adding the low end in before the compressor instead of after it.
Adding the low end before the compressor allows the compressor to help make the added low end integrate better with the rest of the sound. It will also allow you to get better results with less EQ. In general, this is a problem best addressed in the mix session where more tools will be available to you with less pressure.
Using Interfaces With Mic Preamps
For many of the home recording enthusiasts, the only mic pre available is the one in the interface. The quality of the mic pre will vary with amount of money spent of the interface.
If the interface is connected to an AC outlet you are more likely to have some headroom for recording dynamic vocals. If the interface is bus powered by USB or Firewire then you will have more difficulties recording vocals without distortion.
The reason for this is very simple. The dynamic range of a mic pre is determined by the quality and strength of the power source. Many high end mic preamps will have a separate transformer used to clean up and convert the power source feed to the electronics to optimize their performance.
Dealing With Buss Powered Interfaces
If a USB or Firewire powered interface is the only option for recording vocals, good results can still be achieved with a little ingenuity. Here are a few tips:
The best place to start is to keep the mic preamp as low as possible when recording so that the preamp does not clip.
Although, this approach in not optimal for signal to noise ratio, at least the vocal will be distortion free. The remaining gain issues can then be better dealt with in the box.
If your interface has an insert point available, you can use an external compressor to help control the dynamics of the vocal performance and add the necessary gain before going into the ADC of the interface. This will help to create some consistency with the levels.
An alternative approach would be to ride the mic preamp, in real time, with the vocal performance to prevent overload. This can be a bit tricky, however, if you are familiar with the song and vocalist. If you are familiar, then this can be a nice alternative way of controlling the gain before conversion to digital.
The best results for recording vocals are always achieved by getting the fundamentals straight. Start with the best sounding room and treat it well so that the voice sounds focused, full-bodied and dynamic as possible.
Taking time to select the best mic will go a long way to bringing the sound to the next level. Make sure the artist is comfortable so that you get the best performance out of them. Adjust the mic setup if necessary to accommodate their needs.
Select you processing stages carefully and only use compression and EQ if you are getting the sound you are looking for. Never force processing on a sound if it does not sound or feel right. Remember that as long as you can get a good clean distortion free recording, everything else can be dealt with at a later time with less pressure.
Experiment with these ideas until you find the setup that works best for you. Every situation is unique and no one setup will work for every situation. The purpose of this article is to focus you on the fundamental aspects of recording vocals that have worked professionally for decades. I hope you found this series of articles on recording vocals helpful !!!
Vocal Recording Part 1
Vocal Recording Part 2
Vocal Recording Part 3
Vocal Recording Part 4
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