Recording Vocals

Singing into a can

Hello to everyone. My family is very musical but I can’t sing or play anything, so I’m the tech. I have run the sound systems in several churches but new at recording. The trouble I’m having is that when I record someone singing, the recording sounds like they are singing into a can. I am using a Shure 869 Mic and have a Yamaha MG10/2 mixer. My sound card is a low end Sound Blaster card. I don’t add any effects hoping to add them later to enhance the sound. I place the person in another room that has good acoustics and no noise. I have tried moving the singer closer to the mic and this has helped some and the vocal is very clear but still very dull. I have tried some other mics but I get the same results. Adding reverb helps but you still get the impression that the person is standing in front of you rather than in the distance.

Any suggestions? New mic, new mixer, new sound card, forget it and go back to live? I really appreciate everyone that posts on this forum; you are a tremendous help and inspiration.

What do you mean by “room that has good acoustics”?

I’m not familiar with that mic but generally you want to record with the mic fairly close to the singer. This should minimise some of the room noise.
Also what are your levels like. If they are not recorded at a decent level they can sound like they are lacking in life a bit as they.

Have you got all the mixer EQ flat? You might want to try and play with the EQ on the mixer before it gets recorded…

A dry vocal track should kinda sound like the person is standing right in front of you…
[edit]Adding reverb will make it sonud furhter away[/edit]

Maybe if you post a sample of the vocal track some of us can maybe get a better idea of things to try.



Maybe if you post a sample of the vocal track some of us can maybe get a better idea of things to try.

Yeah to that.

You have tried other mics? What other mics? You sure it’s not the mic? Perhaps it’s an input problem on your board? Or maybe you are looking for more than that setup can deliver?

The 869 is an electret condensor, that needs a battery or phantom, which I assume you know. It has the usual shure presence peak, which you may not like. technical data here:

Also, describe how you are wired into the soundblaster. Or better, the whole signal chain.

Assuming there is nothing wrong with the recording my guess is that it’s nothing a little EQ, compression, and reverb/delay can’t help.

To be upfront and personal there will usually be a strong proximity effect, the kind a cardioid adds. It will be in the low-mids to lows. Try rolling off some lows, very little at first, and see how it sounds. That will have the effect of backing the singer away from the mic a little.

Next add a very slight touch of compression. Add it so that it just barely effects the sound. Keep the threshold high enough that it doesn’t do much and keep the ratio down around 1.5 or 2 to 1. Experiment with cranking both threshold and ratio. Adding slight compression will smooth over the vocals a little while bringing up the room sound a little (that might not be obvious until you start hitting higher ratios).

Add a very slight touch of slapback delay. If you can hear it then there might be too much. The idea is to simulate a bit of room acoustics without adding audible delay.

Last resort is actual reverb. Reverb can be tricky since it will sound like added reverb if there is too much and the rest of the instruments don’t fit in with it. Adding the same reverb to the instruments isn’t the way to fix it, but may help. That said, adding a little reverb to the other instruments may cause the vocals to sound like they have reverb even if they don’t. This is funny when it happens. Your ears her reverb but sometimes can’t tell where it’s coming from. Your brain will interpret the reverb as coming from some instrument or voice that doesn’t have any a all. Too much reverb just muddies up the mix. A telltale sign of an amateur mix is too much reverb.

Thanks for everyone’s input. This will give me a good start. The room is a small bedroom and I have a blanket up that the singer sings toward. The room is carpeted and has a bed and some furniture, low ceiling, half walls (upstairs cape code). The sound in the room is very flat, no echo. Yes, I am familiar with the Shure Mic and it does get phantom power from the mixer. My mixer is very basic with only tone adjustments. The circut run is from the mic to the mixer to the sound card via the line-in. I record tapes alot and they come out great so it may be that I do need another mic. The others that I have used are of the same quality or less than the Shure.

I will try all of your suggestions and let you know how things turn out. I have not learned how to post music on the board but as soon as I do, I’ll put a sample on it. Thanks to everyone.

Small room - I bet that’s the main culprit. Blankets won’t do much to help - they will only cut a relatively narrow freq band.

Here are some thoughts on the issue, sorry if it’s a bit of a freewheeling ramble.

I’ll second the small room being a problem. I recall recording a singer really dry in a small, dead room and thinking it sounded fine. Then I recorded her later in a more live room and let a little room get on the mic, and it made the first recording sound funny by comparison. (Of course, then a professional engineer said that the second recording did sound a little “boxy”.)

To confuse matters, your hearing abilities are always evolving (and my apologies if they’re actually more advanced than I’m presuming them to be). You might not hear any problems with the room but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Try just moving around, or using a different room. Borrow a church if you can, they are handy spots for recording, as you have a large room if you want it, or you can close mic and still get a dry sound even in the large room.

Then of course there’s reverb. Making the reverb convincing is a skill in itself. Play around with methods. I found it helpful to put a reverb in the aux send and set it to pure wet, and then set the track that I’m sending to that reverb to be pre-fader. Then, turn the fader down and turn the send up so you only hear the reverb. Then mix the dry signal (the channel fader) back in. This helps to make it clear where the line is between the reverb and the original signal, moreso than just adjusting the wet-dry balance (for me at least).

And then after all that, there’s Larry Crane’s rant in a recent issue of TapeOp where he mentions difficulty fitting a background singer into the mix, and solving it by scooting the singer a few feet back from the mic. This from someone who surely knows how to use reverb.

The thing then would seem to be to experiment – break some rules, follow some rules. Your room might not sound great, but it might sound better than the flat vocal (and of course it might not). It’s what sounds good, in the end, that really matters, eh?

Sorry, I looked back at your post again and saw that you have tried both getting away from the mic and getting close to it. Also, a couple of other things occurred to me:

Are you listening to the vocal solo or in context? It might sound good with the rest of the music going. Of course you probably know that from live, just thought I’d mention it.

And finally, are you sure it’s the recording and not the performance that’s dull?

Thanks to everyone, I believe that the room is the problem. I’m going to try the church. Thanks to Phoo, I saved the song I was working on that was being used in a wedding.


Thanks to everyone, I believe that the room is the problem. I’m going to try the church.

Let us know how you get on.