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Vocal vocals and more vocals
Old 28th May 2020
  #1
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 15 years
Vocal vocals and more vocals

Hi John,

Thank you so much for doing this Q&A - it's really appreciated finally pulling back the curtain a little when you and Serban have been responsible for the sound of modern pop for so long now!

Like most people I am curious about how you achieve the sound of your vocals which have that trademark consonant "pop", tonal clarity and forwardness, width, and effect splash excitement.

For the main vocal chain (e.g. consonant pop/tonal clarity) is there a specific plugin/plugin type/plugin combination which is achieving this? Is it being achieved on the main channel or do you have some parallels which are doing this? Do you use dynamic EQ/multiband compression at all?

For effects sends (e.g. for width) are there any specifics you could mention? And finally, how much of the vocal effect splash excitement is something you're added and how much as been suggested by the producer?

Thank you again
Old 4th June 2020
  #2
Special Guest
 
TheHanes's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by TLS ➡️
Hi John,

Thank you so much for doing this Q&A - it's really appreciated finally pulling back the curtain a little when you and Serban have been responsible for the sound of modern pop for so long now!

Like most people I am curious about how you achieve the sound of your vocals which have that trademark consonant "pop", tonal clarity and forwardness, width, and effect splash excitement.

For the main vocal chain (e.g. consonant pop/tonal clarity) is there a specific plugin/plugin type/plugin combination which is achieving this? Is it being achieved on the main channel or do you have some parallels which are doing this? Do you use dynamic EQ/multiband compression at all?

For effects sends (e.g. for width) are there any specifics you could mention? And finally, how much of the vocal effect splash excitement is something you're added and how much as been suggested by the producer?

Thank you again

I’ll have to tread lightly and generally here.

There isn’t a secret or a special plugin to achieve the “Serban Vocal Sound” It is all about his experience, taste, and skills.

Remember we are getting vocals from 100* (I didn’t count, I’m sure it is more) different producers, recorded by 100 different engineers, in 100 different studios, on 100 different microphones, 100 different mic-pres.

There is no way to plug any standard anything into that and get a specific sound.

Don’t really do much parallel track mixing; again we’re “Old School” operatives.

General effects sends are pretty standard. A bit of chorus, a bit of delay, a choice of reverb(s).

If a producer has sent us some specific effects, we’ll use / modify / work with it. If they don’t we’ll create it. It is maybe a 50/50 split. Remember that some of these producers could and have mixed and released on their own (Max Martin, Greg Wells, etc.) They are coming to Serban to make that final 5% to 10% or so polish. We’re not going to toss out what they have crafted and sent to us, but we will mold it to fit a little better if necessary.
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Old 4th June 2020
  #3
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 15 years
Thank you John for the reply. So generous of you to do this Q&A and I'm enjoying reading the wealth of information you've provided in all the threads

Jonathan
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Old 4th June 2020
  #4
Gear Nut
 
🎧 5 years
Hi John,

Thanks for your time.

Just to add to this thread of vocal processing would you mind breaking down some of your thought process, rather than specific plugins?

Certain things you do or look for from a vocal and why? For example, do you use a compressor or limiter to tame peaks before hitting more compression or are you EQing into certain compressors for tone/or colour? Or do you have EQ techniques like completely notching out problem frequencies etc.

Thanks,
Ross
Old 5th June 2020 | Show parent
  #5
Special Guest
 
TheHanes's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dosxxx ➡️
Hi John,

Thanks for your time.

Just to add to this thread of vocal processing would you mind breaking down some of your thought process, rather than specific plugins?

Certain things you do or look for from a vocal and why? For example, do you use a compressor or limiter to tame peaks before hitting more compression or are you EQing into certain compressors for tone/or colour? Or do you have EQ techniques like completely notching out problem frequencies etc.

Thanks,
Ross
Whatever is required for a specific problem and all of the above.

I would tend to not do a lot of limiting on vocals, I'd prefer to use compression and volume rides.

What I look for in a vocal is vocal comprehension and art. I want to be able to understand the words and present the performance in an artistic way (I was going to say a beautiful way, but not all music is meant to be pretty).
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Old 5th June 2020
  #6
Lives for gear
 
EvgenyStudio's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Hi John,

after analyzing your mixes I found that your vocals have constant sizzle/air on top (like 10khz and above). Example of it from recent mixes, Thomas Wesley - Dance With Me and Marshmello & Halsey - Be Kind. In both mixes lead vocal has this quality, top-end stays in front of the face. So, a few years ago I came up with a parallel track with EQ (boosting highs), compressor (to make it even as hell), deesser (to make it even more even). And then blend back with the original.
But after you mentioning not using a lot of parallel tracks and doing it old school way with insert processing mostly I eager to know how do you achieve this kinda breathy shine top-end vocal? Is it a multiband compression/saturation or the way you use EQ before deesser, so Waves Deesser would act like a multiband compressor (applying compression to high frequencies only)?

P.S. also I found out this kind of quality is controllable and depends on production around. So in Katy Perry - Daisies, there's not a lot of tracks carrying high-end information, only acoustic guitar, and vocals, so it would sound weird with a lot of sizzle in the vocal. But in "Be Kind" and "Dance With Me" there's a snare, percussion, 808 hats, and some harmonic elements with sharp sizzle top end so making excited airy lead vocal makes it stand out in the mix. I hope it all makes any sense
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Old 6th June 2020 | Show parent
  #7
Gear Nut
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheHanes ➡️
Whatever is required for a specific problem and all of the above.

I would tend to not do a lot of limiting on vocals, I'd prefer to use compression and volume rides.

What I look for in a vocal is vocal comprehension and art. I want to be able to understand the words and present the performance in an artistic way (I was going to say a beautiful way, but not all music is meant to be pretty).
Thanks John, and thanks for your time and for sharing.
Ross
Old 7th June 2020
  #8
Lives for gear
 
scorpix74's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Thank you for this Q&A. As you mentionned chorus, I'm curious which ones you like to use on vocals and do you process them?
Old 7th June 2020
  #9
Gear Head
 
🎧 5 years
Also vocal related, I have 2 questions:

1) Once the vocals in the final mix have passed through the producer's vocal chain and/or your vocal chain... how many points/bands of EQ adjustment would you say is typical? Like adding up across all the plugins. Is it loads of small ones or just like a few PERFECTLY placed big ones.

2) Some of you guys' mixes seem to have a lead vocal that is doubled L&R without one in the centre, Eg Last Friday Night in the chorus. Or sometimes with a centre one but the doubles are just as loud and somehow it sounds like 1 super wide lead but in mono doesn't have that "doubled" phasey sound. I mean, I guess that's a production decision but how is it working... unbelievably tight 3 part doubles (somehow phase locked?!) or some mid-side/widening thing like PS22?

Thanks!
Old 8th June 2020 | Show parent
  #10
Special Guest
 
TheHanes's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by SongsByGROVER ➡️
Also vocal related, I have 2 questions:

1) Once the vocals in the final mix have passed through the producer's vocal chain and/or your vocal chain... how many points/bands of EQ adjustment would you say is typical? Like adding up across all the plugins. Is it loads of small ones or just like a few PERFECTLY placed big ones.

2) Some of you guys' mixes seem to have a lead vocal that is doubled L&R without one in the centre, Eg Last Friday Night in the chorus. Or sometimes with a centre one but the doubles are just as loud and somehow it sounds like 1 super wide lead but in mono doesn't have that "doubled" phasey sound. I mean, I guess that's a production decision but how is it working... unbelievably tight 3 part doubles (somehow phase locked?!) or some mid-side/widening thing like PS22?

Thanks!
No one answer here. Some producers will send sessions with a lot of plugins and multiple EQ's on them, some are raw vocals that we're doing all of the work on.

When sent stuff with plugins in place, we'll listen through, turn on and off their plugins, turn on and off bands within their plugins; see what is actually useful or not.

One reason I like the MH Channelstrip is it has 6 bands that are all fully configurable. I might use one for a hard 20Hz rolloff, one for a low shelf rolloff, one for an intelligibility boost around 1kHz, one for a high shelf boost for air. Two others then available for specific frequency dips.

I put a Waves Doubler on an aux return and send a bit of vocals to it. Slightly delay and slightly detune the left and right sides from each other. Just a little bit, mostly not noticeable.

A good singer like Katy Perry with a producer like Dr. Luke can double (or quadruple) her vocals well enough for that double effect. It would not be possible to create just from effect.
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Old 10th June 2020 | Show parent
  #11
Moderator
 
Oroz's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheHanes ➡️
One reason I like the MH Channelstrip is it has 6 bands that are all fully configurable. I might use one for a hard 20Hz rolloff, one for a low shelf rolloff, one for an intelligibility boost around 1kHz, one for a high shelf boost for air. Two others then available for specific frequency dips.
Hi John, thanks for sharing. Expanding on that subject, do you ever use plugins such as the Maag EQ, Eiosis EQ (with the air band) or other options for adding air? Or do you always use MH Channelstrip with a high shelf for that process?

Best regards!
Old 10th June 2020 | Show parent
  #12
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TheHanes's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Oroz ➡️
Hi John, thanks for sharing. Expanding on that subject, do you ever use plugins such as the Maag EQ, Eiosis EQ (with the air band) or other options for adding air? Or do you always use MH Channelstrip with a high shelf for that process?

Best regards!
Generally the MH Channelstrip is the first choice; again, just out of a kind of comfort factor and familiarity.

Not really going for the cleanest, purest, EQ available. Also not really going for any specific coloration from the hardware emulation.

If something more specific is needed there are tons of choices; I still kind of approach as if I'm mixing on a console. Grab the EQ in front of you on the channel, if you need to insert something else, that can be done.

And also, if a producer has sent a session with whatever they are using on inserts, we'll start from there and evaluate what the are doing.
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Old 18th June 2020
  #13
Moderator
 
Oroz's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Hi @ TheHanes , thanks for everything you’re sharing.

When you get lead vocals that are triple tracked, do you pan them hard C, L and R? Are their volumes the same or are the doubled tracks lowered in volume?

Regarding panning on everything else, do you like to hard pan completely C, L, R?

Thanks in advance.
Old 18th June 2020 | Show parent
  #14
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TheHanes's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Oroz ➡️
Hi @ TheHanes , thanks for everything you’re sharing.

When you get lead vocals that are triple tracked, do you pan them hard C, L and R? Are their volumes the same or are the doubled tracks lowered in volume?

Regarding panning on everything else, do you like to hard pan completely C, L, R?

Thanks in advance.
Again depending on how the rough mix is done, how the producer has laid it out for us. If they are meant to be lead vocals, we'll treat them as equal loudness. In this case, the producer may have them both Mono center, or panned. We'll generally follow their lead on that.

If they are BGV doubles for spread and thickness, they'll get turned down. I love hard L/R panning in my BGV's; I want that spread, so most of the time I'll be doing that.
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Old 18th June 2020 | Show parent
  #15
Special Guest
 
TheHanes's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by EvgenyStudio ➡️
Hi John,

after analyzing your mixes I found that your vocals have constant sizzle/air on top (like 10khz and above). Example of it from recent mixes, Thomas Wesley - Dance With Me and Marshmello & Halsey - Be Kind. In both mixes lead vocal has this quality, top-end stays in front of the face. So, a few years ago I came up with a parallel track with EQ (boosting highs), compressor (to make it even as hell), deesser (to make it even more even). And then blend back with the original.
But after you mentioning not using a lot of parallel tracks and doing it old school way with insert processing mostly I eager to know how do you achieve this kinda breathy shine top-end vocal? Is it a multiband compression/saturation or the way you use EQ before deesser, so Waves Deesser would act like a multiband compressor (applying compression to high frequencies only)?

P.S. also I found out this kind of quality is controllable and depends on production around. So in Katy Perry - Daisies, there's not a lot of tracks carrying high-end information, only acoustic guitar, and vocals, so it would sound weird with a lot of sizzle in the vocal. But in "Be Kind" and "Dance With Me" there's a snare, percussion, 808 hats, and some harmonic elements with sharp sizzle top end so making excited airy lead vocal makes it stand out in the mix. I hope it all makes any sense
Kind of hard to answer this one because it isn't necessarily any one thing that is happening. Basically it comes down to that is the way that Serban likes the vocal to sound, so he'll find a way to get the sound he wants.

It may mean boosting the hell out of the highs and then carefully de-essing things that get overwrought. It may mean some strategic single-band compression to tame certain frequencies. Sometimes saturations is called for, other times it doesn't fit.
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Old 18th June 2020
  #16
Gear Head
 
🎧 5 years
Hey John, just wondering do you guys use Soothe on vocals? Seems like it's one of the most popular vocal plugins lately. And if so, are you using it first or last or somewhere between? Thanks!
Old 19th June 2020 | Show parent
  #17
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TheHanes's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by SongsByGROVER ➡️
Hey John, just wondering do you guys use Soothe on vocals? Seems like it's one of the most popular vocal plugins lately. And if so, are you using it first or last or somewhere between? Thanks!
We have been using Soothe on occasion; it is one of those things that producer's started using and sending us sessions with it on.

It is not something to be put on every vocal, but is good for taming specific problem areas.

I would put it after the EQ and before the De-Esser.
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