In this tutorial we look at Compression, Equalization and check out some vocal embellishments.
Compression: Many speech/singing sounds don't carry a lot of sound energy so they tend to be lost under the music and become difficult to hear. When you turn up the vocal to compensate then the loud sounds can peak and clip your mix or just sound too loud. For this reason, vocals can be difficult to sit in a mix without some extra processing. Compression is one of the most useful tools for achieving a better balance, raising the quiet parts relative to the loud parts, evening out their dynamic range and making them easier to mix. Experiment with the Threshold (30% to 70% the amplitude of the peaks), Compression Ratio (between 1.5:1 to 3.0:1) & Gain settings to taste. Also don't forget you can automate (ride) the vocal gain.
Equalization: Unless you are after some radical effect, EQ should be treated with respect (assuming you have a good quality microphone to begin with). Generally it's best to make minor adjustments in the vocal range (+/- a few dB). Most speech/song energy is between 1 to 3 kHz so keeping this range relatively open in the music can really help your vocals to cut through. A little boost in this range can also help to bring the speech out. Sounds above 8 kHz are mostly associated with fricatives ('s', 't', 'k', 'f' sounds). A gentle rising boost here can help to brighten up the sound. Above 10-12 kHz can add a sense of 'airiness'. If you have the opposite problem and these are too loud, check our Vocal De-essing video.
Your microphone: When you are using a professional quality mic you shouldn't need to make any radical EQ & compression changes to get a good sound. Thanks to the explosion in home studios over the last decade, 'professional' quality mics can easily be found in the $200 to $300 USD range. Examples include the Rode NT1-A, Behringer B2 Pro & Audio_Technica_AT2050. These are 'Large Diaphragm Condenser microphones' (LDC), a design that is particularly good at picking up the subtleties of the human voice. The LDC design format is favoured for studio vocal recording duties. You can, of course, pay a lot more, easily $2500+. However, if you go beyond the $500-$600 price-point, nearly all the technological advances in microphone fidelity have been covered and you start paying heavily for brand and other elusive audio qualities that are argued about endlessly in recording forums. Simply, you don't need to spend a lot these days to get a great vocal sound.
Mic preamp: The primary purpose of the mic preamp is to boosting the signal from the mic without adding noise to it and to provide 48V_phantom power (in the case of the mics above). Here a mid-range audio-interface will do the job. Vocals are reasonably loud so you shouldn't need to be 'cranking' the gain to get a good signal. Examples include the EMU 0404 & Edirol UA-25EX. Again $200 to $300 is well spent and will get you a clean (enough) preamp stage.
You: Your vocal performance, room treatment (sound), mic placement and mixing decisions are just as important as all the technology. Recording a good vocal is one of those things that takes practice. No amount of reading stuff about it will beat you systematically trying out different things and seeing how it affects the sound. The word here is systematically. When you find something that works, use it. For example, if you are recording at home, make a test recording in every rooms and from several locations in each (don't forget to say in the recording where you are ), then listen to them. What do you like? What affect does your distance from the mic have? Angle of address into the mic? Experiment, keep notes. You will quickly learn what is important.
In addition to the video above, we have the following 'Vocal' related Guru videos: