Process for recording aggressive vocals?

Process for recording aggressive vocals?
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Hey folks. Now that I’ve finally got my eclectic vocoder/orchestration, hard rock project done and out there, I am turning my attention to a much rawer, noise rock, post rock kind of project.
I am not a very aggressive singer by nature and my vocals come across similar to those of bands like Helmet (example below).

But I’m curious to know what some of you have done when processing the vocals to get them up front, kinds of distortion and other tricks you use that would be different to regular vocals. I’ve never been able to process what I would call naked vocals, as in no/minimal reverb and/or delay.

At the moment, I am recording pretty hot through my Golden Age Pre-73 pre amp which adds a nice amount of clipping/distortion. But from there, I am a little lost.
What are your experiences and tips? Obviously compression and eq play a major role, but give me some details as to how you are using them and what you are doing as a starting point.

Helmet example: https://youtu.be/9346rQ1d8ik?t=48
Yes, there is a delay on the vocals here, this was more the style I am producing more than anything.
Thanks legends!

It all starts with overloading a dynamic mic. Your vocal style will play big role as well, so try to work on a more aggressive delivery. Heavy compression and some overdrive. One tool that does both together and does it well is CamelAudio’s CamelPhat which has been discontinued, but that was the magic bullet for those types of vocals: eq, overdrive, distortion and compression all rolled into one effect.

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I find that if you get the right compression settings, you don’t need a lot of saturation/ distortion to get aggression. And different voices respond better to different compression types - 1176 style is an obvious go-to, you can really crush vocals with that and sometimes I find the 8:1 setting to be better than 4:1. But on my own voice, which isn’t very powerful, the 1176 just makes it sound flat - whereas 5dB from an La2a plus however much else from something with a slower attack & faster release than a 1176 does the job - gets more snap at the start of phrases.

Oh, and I really like the approximation of the Dolby NR trick I’ve got going on in TDR Nova - two overlapping high shelf bands that turn down to roughly flat in the loud bits, but bring up air at other times. That kind of high end compression effect keeps the vocal kind of pushed at the front.

Agree with Descent about a dynamic. Can’t go wrong with an SM7b!

How much overdrive are you actually getting from your GAP 73? I’ve got one, I like it but not at the point it starts clipping - it just farts out. Do I have a dud?

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That sounds interesting, but I’m not sure I get it. I can understand using one high shelf dynamic band to get some air on all but the loudest parts (simply preventing the high end becoming too loud I guess?). But why the second band, and how do you set it (which frequency, and do you increase or decrease the volume?). Does it have something to do with preventing harshness?

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I think the dolby unit uses 3 bands rather than 2, but… it’s just about getting progressively higher amounts of compression as the frequency increases, really. I tweak it to taste. the first shelf starts at about 5k and gets maybe +3db, dynamically reducing down to 0dB on loud parts, and the second starts around 10k and gets another 3db, again dynamically reducing down at volume. So on quiet bits, there’s a 6db air boost above 10k that turns down on sounds that are actually bright/ sibilant. With a condenser, it’d probably be way too much. With the SM7 that’s rolling off up there anyway, it works well.

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Hi Dan, just listening to that Helmet clip you posted, it is pretty clear to me that it is 99.9% delivery. I can’t really hear anything special at all as far as particularly different processing on those vocals. Helmet were popular at a time when massive use of effects was definitely seen as uncool in record production.

However, I think this video below couldn’t possibly be more exactly what you are looking for. This guy is a vocal coach too, so he has a lot of helpful stuff on the technique end, as well as recording strategies:

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OK thanks, yes I get the idea. I never record vocals with a dynamic mike, but then I don’t have an SM7b, not even an SM58, just an ancient Electrovoice (which rolls off even more than an SM58). I think I read somewhere that quite a few rock singers back in the day actually recorded with an SM57 for that distorted, compressed agressive tone. Ever tried it?

Thanks mate. I do have Voxengo’s Voxformer which should have all the tools I need to hit the ball park - compression, eq, gate, saturation, presence.
But the issue I have is that when I remove reverb or delay, I can’t seem to get that upfront but within a mix vocal sound. I have not much experience with that sort of production as I tend to like painting various spaces with various reverbs and delays. I find the vocals sound too detached, karaoke almost without them. I just have to try and learn more, but some starting points are gonna be helpful.
Cheers.

Agree with Descent about a dynamic. Can’t go wrong with an SM7b!

How much overdrive are you actually getting from your GAP 73? I’ve got one, I like it but not at the point it starts clipping - it just farts out. Do I have a dud?

I love my 7B. So that’s a tick.
We actually discovered what the Pre73 can do when I left my drummer in charge of recording our singer for an hour while I had things to do. He recorded it hot and it sounded awesome, so I’ve now been doing the same. I run it pretty hot, the wave forms are clearly squared off! It’s quite a pleasant distortion - not that nasty digital stuff. If I remember to, I’ll post a sample of it. It may well be a taste thing, and hopefully not that you have a dud!

Hi Dan, just listening to that Helmet clip you posted, it is pretty clear to me that it is 99.9% delivery. I can’t really hear anything special at all as far as particularly different processing on those vocals. Helmet were popular at a time when massive use of effects was definitely seen as uncool in record production.

Thanks for the link to the vid. I will watch that soon! Yeah, I don’t have a lot of practice in the delivery of this style of vocals. Of the tracks I’ve done so far, I am getting a reasonable tone in the Helmet ball park which is fine by me, but I just need to find a way to make it sit snuggly in the track without (or with minimal) reverb and delay. I had a play last night and found that the fact that it is aggressive, therefore louder vocals actually seemed to have some slight roominess to it anyway (I have a pretty decent sized room I record in.
Thanks heaps for the tips.

I think I read somewhere that quite a few rock singers back in the day actually recorded with an SM57 for that distorted, compressed agressive tone. Ever tried it?

Yeah, I use a SM7b. I have tried the 58 before but seem to find it very muffled and hard to clear up. I recorded my singer with one a while back for one particular song and his actual vocal performance was better but the sound was, to me, clearly inferior and needed far more work.

The 57/58 is a sound, and there’s usually something better but sometimes you want a kind of boxy tone on a vocal. I have an old '58 that I bought in 2003 and it spent more than a decade set up in a cold, damp band lockup. It’s very mellow up top, and the foam’s degraded so it pops a bit. But… I keep it around for massed backing vocals because it just packages them up to stack without taking up loads of space. It’s also great for tambourine sounds - rounds off the transients nicely.

The beta series has a bit more cut/edge. Bono’s used a Beta 58 on a lot of his studio work.

@danmanisa you raises a good point about performance - often singers are much more comfortable and confident holding a mic. I know I am - Even when I’ve tracked with SM7 or RE20, I’ll hold it rather than put it on a stand. This might limit mic choice and result in a less than ideal tone, but 100% of the time I’d rather have a great performance with sonic issues than a perfect unispired take to work with.

As for ambience and its role in placing a track within a mix…

Saturation can do the same job, of making it feel like a cohesive mix… I’ve been really enjoying the IK tape emulations - they’re CPU intensive so I’m bouncing each track down before I actually start mixing, but between that, a single instance on the master bus, and some bus compression, things sound cohesive much quicker. And there’s still a place for ambience even in heavier mixes - it just doesn’t take much. Even just a single muted echo, buried in the mix, can give a sense of space that the listener can pick up on.

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This is the way I see it too. The performance , attitude, and volume of the singing is mostly where you’ll achieve your desired results. It’s good to have decent control of your vocal dynamics too. A heavy duty squashing/limiter probably helps a lot, but it’s always a good idea to try to control volume spikes or drop-offs with your own voice. I find that whether you’re singing heavy vocals or soft vocals, it’s important and useful to have good dynamic control.

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Just something that I think hasn’t been said that can be of use at times, depending on your voice.

Saturation and EQ “trick”. Add some saturation to your vocals with the goal to make them darker. If you have a saturator like decapitator or saturn, you can easily roll of some high’s, or presense. After that, if you get a nice color EQ and give it a high end boost, you’re mainly adding air, and the part that you darkened before, will not get so pointy as it would with it. Just something to play with :slight_smile:

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@ColdRoomStudio - This was awesome. Having no experience in this style at all and having blown my voice out recently trying it, I watched this and had a go and was able to get some half decent results for what I was after. I will rewatch it several times and practice every now and then but it was a great link! Thanks

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Thanks @DeRebel! That’s the sort of advice I’m after. I know vocal technique and delivery are crucial but that’s gonna be the case in any vocal style, but I’ve always had trouble making more “naked” vocals fit nicely without sounding too … i dunno… fake or exposed or something… can’t think of how best to describe it. I will try your suggestions when I start mixing soon. Thanks!

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Hey Dan, no worries! It just so happened that I’ve been experimenting with some different vocal styles and textures for some of the recent stuff I’ve been recording, and I found his videos very helpful. I tried out some of the techniques on this track: