Help me make music for MuFi
July 17, 2006 7:08 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me be a better home recording engineer? I've posted some things to MuFi which were pretty fun, but are technically suck-tronic.

I've been making music for about 20 years, but have never recorded my work in any serious way and don't really know what I'm doing.

1. The Rig: A Shure SM58 to a Eurotrack MX802A mixer to MAGIX audio studio 2005 DeLuxe. I also use a Korg workcenter and various amps and guitars.

2. What's really killing me is mixing the vocals. Guitars and banjo with or without amps seem fine but when I try to lay the vocal tracks it just sucks.

I know there is no easy answer to this, but perhaps (even though I've searched alot) an online totorial or something might be helpful. I know there are some gurus out there, I've heard you on MuFi! Thanks in advance.
posted by snsranch to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, see below, but also, if you're mixing down dry vocal tracks, yeah, you might not be happy with how they sound. Think reverb, and compression, and check out the Yamaha Recording Handbook I recommended to someone else a couple days back...
posted by baylink at 7:27 PM on July 17, 2006

Are you using compression on the vocals? Compression is super super important for anything even close to a "pro" sound. You'll want to squash them pretty good so they stay loud and proud on top of your mix.

Other tricks I use: doubling (two separate vocal takes), doubling and stereo pan (take the two separate vocal takes and pan them left and right, making it sound super wide). I also usually shelve everything below around 250hz or so to clear out some of the bass mud.

Also once I lay the vocals down on top of the music I start making cuts in any instruments that fall in the same frequency range as the vocals. When I'm being really anal I'll drag out a spectrum analyzer and watch for significant overlaps -- that's where you lose clarity.
posted by frenetic at 7:34 PM on July 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you have any spare cash I would really recommend getting a large diaphram condenser mic. It doesn't have to be a super expensive one, the one I use was around $200 US. The SM58 was the same mic I used for years and had the same problem, back when I didn't know anything...I only know slightly more now.
I think the SM58 is more of a live mic. The SM57 is better for all round studio stuff, it's super cheap and sort of known as a 'workhorse' mic. But I would really check out a condenser. You won't believe the difference. At first you will HATE your voice, because the mic is so clear and doesn't hide anything. Then you will learn to love your voice and how to sing to the mic and it will make all the difference.
For what it's worth, I used to always read about compression this and compression that and I spent hundreds of dollars on compressors that I ended up hating and now never use. I avoid it like the plague. I like to record as dry as I can and tweak stuff later if need be...this is a personal preference and to each his own, etc.
But then again, I'm not necessarily going for any kind of pro sound, either. Just a real sound, or my sound, or whatever.
posted by chococat at 7:49 PM on July 17, 2006

What's specifically wrong with your vocal tracks? Do they sound ok when solo'd but won't sit in the mix? Or do they sound wrong on their own?
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:53 PM on July 17, 2006

What choco said. And to be clear, I wasn't (trying to) recommend recording vocals wet if you have any other choice at all, just that you want to wet them down some when you mix.
posted by baylink at 8:04 PM on July 17, 2006

Response by poster: chococat, I will definately consider a condenser mic after I sell my scooter. That sounds really good, thank you. Read the following......

the duck: much like what chococat said, my voice on this mic sounds very "live" as compared to the condensed/compressed sound of the other instuments. Totally out of place and difficult to remedy even with effects.
posted by snsranch at 8:44 PM on July 17, 2006

Good vocals are an art and science.

As far as the latter, amazing sound is gonna cost you exactly $350 dollars or less. I know, not as good as working with what you've got now, but as chococat points out, the Shure SMs are great (I have the 58 and 57, love them both for live work, the 57 is the perfect mic to record a guitar amp), but not up to the task for serious studio vocals. You'll need to spend $200 or less on a Studio Projects C1 condenser mic, which will provide you with radically better base capture quality.

Then get the PSP Audioware Vintage Warmer, a truly wonderful thing that will not only perform magic with the recorded vocals, but give you serious coolness for guitar/drum/anything you run through it, all the way up to entire mixes.

Seriously, this combo will give you $10K worth of boost for $350, and after 20 years, you deserve it. Treat yourself.
posted by dbiedny at 8:55 PM on July 17, 2006

An art note: adding _just a touch_ of plate or reverb to the vocals does wonders, the trick is that you really, truly only need a small dab. Listen to the vocal track alone, add around 30% of a reverb send, switch back to the mix and slowly crank down the send to around 10-15% reverb, remainder dry vocal. Like spice, it's good in small doses.
posted by dbiedny at 9:00 PM on July 17, 2006

Try removing the ball/popfilter thing from the end of the SM58. This will effectively turn it into an SM57, and will certainly brighten things up a bit.

A condenser mic is definitely worth a try but there are other dynamics that could work, like a Sennheiser 421 or Beyer M88. There are also some good small diaphragm condenser mics like the Neumann KM84 or the AKG 451 that can be found used for reasonable prices (they're often more versatile as instrument mics too). In any case mic technology is less important than how well it compliments your voice.

Also, what sort of room are you recording in? A room that's too live or too dead can cause problems.

As others have said, EQ and compression used judiciously can help a vocal track sit in the mix. If you're in the hardware realm, the FMR Audio RNC is astonishingly good for the money.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 9:30 PM on July 17, 2006

dbledny, that's my mic!
posted by chococat at 9:30 PM on July 17, 2006

oops, dbiedny.
damn small font preference.
posted by chococat at 9:32 PM on July 17, 2006

Read this comment I made awhile back for some mixing tips.

You can get an MXL 990 and 991 condenser for $100 or so. I use those with a PreSonus TubePre (also $100) and it sounds great.

It's important that you pan, EQ, and compress the other instruments in your mix to make room for the vocals. I'd emphasize panning. I don't know what you do currently, but there's a huge difference between recording one vocal and one guitar and putting both in the center and recording one vocal and two guitars and putting the guitars on either side.

You'll also probably want to use some compression on your vocals. If you don't understand compressors very well, you can read lots about them online.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:48 PM on July 17, 2006

A room that's too live or too dead can cause problems.

How could a room that's too dead cause problems?
posted by ludwig_van at 9:49 PM on July 17, 2006

How could a room that's too dead cause problems?

Vocals with absolutely no reflections or reverberance can sound unnatural- sort of disembodied. Most pro studios usually don't go for a completely dead sounding room.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 10:15 PM on July 17, 2006

That's why there are reverb plugins. For home recording I think one should try and deaden room reflections as much as possible.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:17 PM on July 17, 2006

It depends on what you want. Ever recorded in a bathroom with some tiles? Sounds great. Or in a boathouse or a big hall. A room with the windows open.
Again, depends on what you're going for, but I prefer natural tones and reflections (and ambient sounds creeping in...) over plug-ins.
posted by chococat at 10:24 PM on July 17, 2006

Chococat beat me to it. Sometimes natural ambience is better than the pretend stuff. That said, I do have a 224 in the storeroom.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 10:34 PM on July 17, 2006

The June 2006 issue of Sound On Sound Magazine contained the best article I've ever read on vocal recording. There were tons of tips on microphones, placement, room acoustics, etc ... and all very easy to understand. I learned a lot from this article and, like you, I've been recording for about 20 years. If you can't track down that issue then you can buy access to the article online for US$1.75. Go here.
posted by General Zubon at 8:59 AM on July 18, 2006

Yes, obviously natural reverb can be nice. But that doesn't mean that having "too dead" a room is going to cause problems.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:52 AM on July 18, 2006

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