Phase 5: Recording the Vocals

21 Nov

Coming The Room Beneath New Albion

Just to be clear: The Box Set is coming. It is not yet on sale, but will be in about 2 weeks. The Bonus Album is being released digitally first on Monday, then about 2 weeks after that the Box Set will go on sale. Thank you all for your patience. Trust me, you will KNOW when it goes on sale. I will be very, very vocal.

Okay, Phase 5, the vocals.

By the time i’m ready to start recording the vocalists, the album is enormously close to being done. There’s usually only some mixing issues left. The vocalists are always singing over a pretty finished product. There are some fairly obvious reason for this. Normally, for the New Albion projects, i fly to London to record them personally. There’s a flurry of scheduling that happens over the course of weeks beforehand, much of it often very complicated (getting 3 performers’ schedules to line up over a one week period is a logistical nightmare). Since i’m flying in, there is no room for error. Flying back if mistakes are made or if i change parts is not really an option. So the vocal parts have to be SOLID. No mistakes, no changing my mind later.

The vocalists i work with on the New Albion albums are top notch. Lauren Osborn, Kayleigh McKnight, Oliver Marsh, Jason Broderick… these people are consummate professionals. I don’t have to worry about them delivering substandard performances. It don’t happen. Direction is usually needed to line up their talents with the specifics of what the song or character require, you know, letting them know that i would like a particular line sung held back, or loud, etc. But what i don’t have to worry about is that we’re going to spend 4 hours just trying to nail one song. Usually they can sing it all in 2 sessions.

I must make sure as much unknown guesswork is removed from the equation. How can i be sure the vocal parts are really going work  before i hear the vocalists? I’ll tell you this, guessing what vocals parts are going to sound like and actually hearing them are VERY different creatures. Sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re not. That is why all the vocal parts have already been sung out before the vocalist ever enter the picture. EVERY part, every harmony, everything, is sung out by me in a demo version long before i ever head off to record them. Each album has a demo version where i’m singing every part, often pitch adjusting my voice to hit Lauren’s high notes. ( i have a very particular female persona who only exists in the world of +3 pitch adjustment). This way i have tested all the vocal parts and am sure that they work.

Don’t get me wrong, they sometimes sound terrible. Me singing Lauren’s lines is often a dreadful audio experience i wouldn’t subject a captured Voodoopunk double agent to much less a real listener. But it does the job just fine in telling my ears whether the melody itself will work when sung properly.

So… all the vocals parts are written and sung out. I then print out sheet music of them, and send sheet music, the song with demo vocals, the song with no vocals and a lyric sheet off to the singers. I fly in. We set up somewhere (often a microphone in Lauren’s living room), record the singers and i fly back home to mix. If you’re in St. Albans you MUST have the carrot cake from the bakery near the tower. Oh GAWWWWWD that thing is good. Damn do i love me some carrot cake.

We’ll talk about mixing next time for out very last Phase. I do want to touch on one more aspect, which is vocal fx.

All vocals have both compression and reverb. There is almost no exception. I use VC-64 Vintage Channel for compression. It’s got a nice compression plus a de-esser, Eq and gate. For the layman: compression tightens the sound/vocals. In recording you don’t want the vocals going too soft and too loud, all over the place. Listen to someone talking or singing live in a room. Then listen to an album. You hear how on an alum the vocals sound so…. tight. So right in your face and on top of the music. That’s compression. Very important. There is no album you will ever hear without it.

A de-esser, which i don’t often need, but when i do, I DO, takes the s sounds off a vocal. Sometimes females can have a very loud “s”. When recording anybody, i always use a spit screen in front of the mic and this makes p’s and s’s softer and not obnoxious. (take that spit screen away and p sounds will be HORRENDOUS). But sometimes, certain voices have over the top s’s when miked. A de-esser makes those go away. To a large extant.

EQ is EQ, i’m going to assume you all know that one. Gate makes the sound shut off when the volume gets below a certain level. So for instance when the performer is fidgeting in between verses the sound will shut down and come back in when they sing into the mic. I don’t use gate so much because often i need to record a vocalists being very soft and gates can often cut off the ends of words. When Lauren holds out a note, getting softer and softer and barely singing the s at the end… gates love to cut her off. So i don’t use them. But VC-64 Vintage Compressor has it if i want it.

I use Sonitus Reverb. It’s good and the fact is i know it backwards and forwards. Reverb is echo. Not delay, just… echo. Picture a person singing in a bedroom. Now picture them singing in a bathroom. Now a cave. Now a cathedral. Now a kitchen. That’s reverb.

There are times i want the voice to sound like it;s on an old record: Izotope Vinyl.

There are times i want it to sound like it’s coming through a pair of crappy speakers, or a meagphone, or an old tape recorder: Audio Ease’s Speakerphone.

Lastly, the only other effect i’m liable to add is delay-lay-lay-lay-lay. I might add this to a vocals for a particular song. I like to sometimes add it to Lauren on the big, grand finishing chorus. There’s no delay on the rest of the song, but when the big, giant end chorus gets belted i put some delay on her. It just… it gives the sound a little epic quality.

Many producers get REALLY geeked out over various effects. I am not as geeked out as many others, and to be honest, they are better off for it and i am worse off for it. I don’t spend as much time as i should going through piles of compressors and EQs and reverbs, fiddling and learning the subtle differences between them all. In fact, i fiddle until i find one that wors for me and the i use the crap out of it. The time spent geeking i could spend writing and playing. There albums… they have to be written, stories written, parts conceived, played, melodies conceived, play, lyrics written, sung, recorded, mixed…. it’s a big shit-ton of work with a lot of levels happening at once and… i only have so much time. I can’t spent hours and days geeking out over effects. I just need something that works and to use it.

I am grateful to my other producer friends who give me advice on where to go to find a good effect when the time comes so i don’t have to do that work they do. I WOULD be a better producer if i did more of this however. What i would REALLY like, is for the operas to get big enough that money eventually materializes to go into a real, serious recording studio and record a big studio version of the steampunk opera. Remember, all these album is just me, a computer, a keyboard and a mic. That’s it. Just once, a big, serious studio, with big serious boards and equipment. And an engineer that knows his shit. I would sit and watch him work. I could learn more in a week then i learn in 2 years.

One day.

One day VERY soon i will buy a new microphone. I use a Rode NT 1-A. For the price range it’s the best choice you could make. Aspiring producers with little money, the Rode NT 1-A is the bomb. However, the quality of the vocals on my albums is not excellence and i’m arriving at a point in my career where i should be giving you listeners excellence. When i get paid from some freelance commercial/game work i’ve done, i’ll be purchasing an AKG 414 and we’ll bump the quality of vocals on my albums up a notch.

So, there you go. My little discussion on recording the vocalists, a HUGE part of my albums. The vocalists make the entire thing sink or swim. It’s what people listen to. i can have all the backing tracks i want, i can have all the details in all the backing tracks going on and have worked out for months and none of it matters if the vocals don’t cut it.

The operas are designed so that if you broke everything down to just a piano, guitar and singers, you could perform the pieces and they would be enjoyable. The Room Beneath New Albion changes that a bit. For the new one coming out i’m not even going to pretend it’s every going to be performed. it is meant to exist as an album. It is written and produced as an album, specifically. You’ll understand when you hear it.

See you tomorrow, boys and girls.

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Posted by on November 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


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