[linux-audio-user] Re: [linux-audio-dev] Tastes like chicken!

tim hall tech at glastonburymusic.org.uk
Sun Nov 28 19:00:20 EST 2004

Last Sunday 28 November 2004 15:47, John Check was like:
> >   Vocals are often a problem for people who don't particularly think of
> > themselves as "good" singers (whatever that means: is Bob Dylan a "good"
> > singer ?), and there's a resulting tendency to put the vocals too far

No, from a technical POV, Bob Dylan is not a good singer. So what? plenty of 
people love his voice and buy his records. Never really understood it myself. 
My favourite singer, Robert Wyatt used to suffer from his fellow Soft Machine 
members deliberately rearranging songs so he couldn't fit any vocals in. 
Philistines. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

> I say two words to my comparatively green musician friends who say "ya
> gotta have good vox"; Tom Waites. AFAICT it's the same with every singer as
> far as insecurity goes and I've worked with lots.

Well, you _do_ have to have good vox, but what that means varies according to 
the needs of the piece and the listener.

There are certain things that will improve vocal performance - Confidence, 
relaxation, good breathing. warm-ups and a good microphone & monitoring. 
Technical limitations aren't a problem if you work with them. If you've only 
got a vocal range of half an octave, don't try those Maria Carey songs! Find 
out where your strong notes are and pitch accordingly. Most people who tell 
me they can't sing are in fact trying to sing well out of their range (Basses 
who try to follow female leads at pitch for example).

> > back in the mix. The thought is often to truly "mix" the vocals in with
> > the instruments, but I suggest taking it the other way on, i.e., mixing
> > the instruments against the voice. The song is the thing, its melody and
> > lyrics must be clearly heard (or at least clearly sensed: I can't
> Yup. I used to work a lot with doo woppers. 'Nuff said.

Absolutely. One musician friend of mine has this dreadful tendency to 
flange/chorus everything he does. He thinks this 'fattens up' the sound. I 
keep trying to explain that it in fact does the opposite, it muddies it all 
up into a chorusy wash. The best vocal sound is inevitably the least messed 
about - maybe a little compression and a natural reverb, that's it.

Best practice seems to be to set the balance of the drums and main vocal first 
and then mix everything else slightly behind, bass first, rhythmic / chordal 
instruments last and usually furthest back. Backing vocals can be anything 
from dry to lost in the wash depending on how close you want the harmonies 
and the mood of the music.

> > usually understand the lyrics to Mudvayne but at least their man is out
> > front). One of my favorite local musicians made a wonderful album years
> > ago, but the one mistake he made on it was to mix his voice too deeply
> > into the instrumental sounds. He told me he wished he hadn't done so,
> > and that his decision was based on his poor opinion of his own singing.
> > Sometimes it's best to get another opinion, I guess that's part of the
> > function of a good producer.

Definitely. The human voice is the closest instrument to our emotions and we 
are all our own worst critics. It's important to get it right as the vocals 
are also the main point of emotional contact in most songs. Remember, some of 
the great stuff about Elvis is when his voice cracks with emotion. The way 
you feel when you record the vocals is what gets transferred to the listener 
- if you feel like you're doing a tightrope walk and only just make it to the 
end or are on the edge of tears, that's what the listener will perceive. 
These are often the 'magic' takes.


tim hall

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