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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bruce Swedien's Vocal Recording Tips

For anyone who doesn't know already, Bruce Swedien is truly the Godfather of modern day recording. Having been part of the team the produced Michael Jackson's greatest hits is only one of the things he's done over his long and illustrious career. He's also recorded so many of the jazz greats, from Count Basie to Dizzy Gillespie, and pop giants like Barbra Streisand as well.

There's a great article on ProSound Web (which also runs a few of my articles too) that's an excerpt from his great book, "Make Mine Music." Bruce also was kind enough to contribute an interview in one of my books as well - The Mixing Engineer's Handbook.

Below is an excerpt from the article over on, from which I took some of his points about vocal recording.
  • "First off, the type of music to be recorded is most important. Pop, jazz, rhythm and blues, country, and classical all require a different approach. The biggest single difference in studio mike technique for vocal recording comes from recording of vocal sound sources in classical music, contrasted with pop vocal sound sources. The first and most important consideration is that I would never mike the vocalist in a classical recording as closely as I would a vocalist in a pop music recording.
  • Good choral recorded sound is best achieved by using as few microphones as possible, with the singers placed well back from the microphones. This technique places most of the sound mixing responsibility on the room acoustics and the vocalists. Obviously, this approach requires an excellent studio or a room with extremely good acoustics.
  • Extreme equalization is most definitely not the way to achieve a superb vocal recording, though a small amount of EQ may be beneficial. If you find yourself having to apply a great deal of EQ to the mike channel to achieve an acceptable vocal sound, it’s time to try another microphone.
  • Your choice of vocal microphone should be made on the basis of the artist’s vocal quality and the sonic personality you want to project – nothing else.
  • Stacking, or “doubling,” a lead vocal is helpful. I frequently change the tape speed of the master recorder slightly during the recording of the “double,” or “stack” (or pitch down the cue mix coming from the digital audio workstation) and play that to the vocalists while recording the “double.” During this process, the amount of pitch change used should be very small. The amount of pitching down that I do is usually only 3 or 4 cents in pitch.
  • When recording vocal duets, I frequently look for microphones for the vocalists that have an obviously different sonic character. This difference in microphone character adds to the already different timbre of the two voices and makes the resulting sonic picture more fascinating. 
  • When mixing a “stack,” or “double,” of a lead vocal track, I frequently keep the “double” at a slightly lower level in the mix than the basic lead vocal track. This serves to add support to the vocal without making it appear to be an obvious trick."
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Anonymous said...

mmmm... The Stacking or doubling of lead vocal where he changes the tape speed of the master during recording of the double, how would you do that if you are recording solely using a DAW?

Bobby Owsinski said...

He describes how he does it in the article. Follow the link at the bottom of the post.

ilter said...

Referring to Anonymous' question: Some of the DAWs like Ableton Live and Reaper are capable of changing the project temp/pitch without destructive audio editing.


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