Saturday, September 27

Tips on how to mix vocals and put some effects like a professional

Vocals is the most important instrument in any audio mixing work. In fact if the vocals are not properly mixed, it will give a serious difference between good and poor audio production work.

Mixing vocals is therefore a big priority in the audio mixing session. In this article, I will share my personal techniques when it comes to mixing vocals. I will illustrate those essential principles I have in mind to come up with a greatly produced vocals.

First Principle: A greatly recorded vocals will make it very easy to professionally produced recorded vocals.

Explanation: Garbage in--> Garbage Out, never dream of having a professionally mix vocals if the recording sounds bad. The problem now centers on your recording skills of vocals. It is why mixing is very different from recording when it comes to technical aspects of music production. When you say high quality recording it says, "it captures the best performance without any noise, interference or clipping"

How do to this? I do this by testing the vocal level first before recording. The objective is to record the vocals at a maximum level without clipping or distortion.. Once you have set the levels, you can now proceed to recording.

It is highly important that recording should be completely raw and without ANY EFFECTS including reverb. Some engineers add reverb only feed to the vocalist headphones to ensure that she feels it LIKE A PRODUCED SOUND, so that she can sing with confidence.

Real recorded vocals from a professional studio is DRY. Without any effects I mean. It is highly important that if the recording is done digitally, it should be recorded above CD quality, this means going above the normal 16 bit 44.1Khz standard. Popular sound cards such as Audiophine by M audio can get 24 bit 96KHz.

Second Principle: Clean up the audio first before using it in the mix

Now the recording is done, open it up using your favorite audio editor (I am using Adobe Audition). Then zoom it out and remove any background noise and unusual breathing related noise. Noise normally occurs in the beginning and in the end. Breathing noise (should sound minor) occurs during the pause of the stanzas , or in the way to the chorus of the song.

You can refer to my past tutorial on tips to remove noise in recordings, regarding this in detail. After noise removal, since there are lost amplitude, you can normalize the wave to bring up the signal to a maximum.

Third Principle: EQ first before Compress

Believe it or not, vocals does not need serious effects like other instruments. The simpler your effects used, the better will be the produced vocals. It is highly important to EQ first using this setting:

Cut 200 Hz (high pass filter)= -6dB
Boost 3000Hz Q = 1 = 3dB
Boost 15000Hz Q = 1 = 3dB

Take note that if you take the summation of cut and boost, it is literally equal to zero, it cut 6dB and I boost 6dB. So only EQ effect overall, the frequency response change , NOT the volume.

For compression, I share some techniques on audio compression tips in mixing that includes vocals. Personally I like the Sony Wavehammer plugin in Adobe audio, presets to voice. It produces some of my finest mixed vocals.

Fourth principle: Be very conservative with reverb

Frankly, the mix vocals I used has a very low amounts of reverb. This could be due to the fact that I am mixing for rock and pop which audible reverb is not very popular unlike in other genre.

But not only that, having low amounts of reverb makes the vocals stood up and sounds very strong (in your face). You can easily captivate the listener with strong vocals with low amounts of reverb. I use Sony ExpressFX Reverb, set to Plate reverbs. Plate reverbs is highly recommended for vocals and only set it:

Room size: 30
Liveliness: 10~15
%Original(dry mixing)= 85%~90%
%Reverb = 15%~10%

Then listen very carefully to the mix and avoid boosting any frequencies of other instruments in the 3000Khz range because it belongs to the vocals. Or else you are facing a muddy mix vocals that ruin the production.


Sunday, September 7

How to Maximize Volume in Audio Recording?

There are a lot of ways to increase volume in audio recording, take note the following before you increase volume:

a. Maximizing volume is only done in the mastering process.
b. Maximizing volume in the mixing process is not advisable.
c. It is not only reaching maximum amplitude but by having a well balance mix.

OK.You need to make it loud? In my experience, before you make it loud make it sound pleasant first. This can be done by properly mixing those tracks and keeping it well balanced.

As a rule, it is best to have a maximum amplitude of around -3 dB to -0.5dB during your mix down. This means that after mixing, there should be no peak louder than -0.5dB. The basic reason is to give some space during the mastering process. The mastering process involves the following important processes:

a. Track Trimming and Noise Reduction
b. Equalization
c. Compression

Those 3 major processes affect the quality of your overall tracks particularly equalization and compression process.

Honestly it is the compression process the sets the volume loud. Aside from compression, normalization also makes the sound loud. Normalization is different from compression in a sense that compression makes the track silent parts loud while normalization is not.

Normalization is a fairly easy process, the overall goal of normalization is to attain maximum track volume without compression. This preserves maximum sound quality compared to compression because of the absence of distortion. Compression can distort the tracks if overdo and tend to lose track dynamics. Normalization is a classic technique to make sounds loud and is commonly applied during 60's and 70's. Have you noticed that when you compare Led Zeppelin tracks and Green Day tracks? The Led Zeppelin tracks tend to sound less louder than the Green Day tracks, but sound cleaner and clearer. It is because Led Zeppelin mastering engineers uses less compression and relies more on normalization.

The rest of the techniques illustrated below applies best to mastering process. Although you can individually boost each tracks during mixing but only normalization is recommended not compression. Compression is best done during mastering process.

To do normalization in Adobe Audition 1.5.
1. Using Edit view, highlight the parts of the audio wave you want to normalize.
2. Go to effects---->amplitude
3. Then in constant amplification tab, Find "calculate normalization value" then click "calculate now. This will give the amount of boost in dB needed to reach maximum amplitude of 0dB.
4. Then click OK. It will then normalize the tracks to 0dB.

See screen shot before normalization:

See screen shot after normalization:

See the difference??? Normalization only amplifies the whole wave in such a way no peak will be louder than 0dB.In other words it will not sound as loud as using compression but it sounds absolutely clean.

Below is a screen shot of the same wave using compression:
Tools/Settings: Waves L2 Plug in, -8dB threshold, Out of ceiling= 0dB

By looking at the wave, this maybe the loud sound that you like, but it may distorted at some point in the wave.

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