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How to: indie vocal processing
Old 12th September 2013
  #1
Gear Addict
 
🎧 10 years
How to: indie vocal processing

hi guys

i've been wondering about this for a long time and have searched the forums but seems no specific thread on this yet.

i'm wondering how to get the "indie" vocals. i know that this is very vague and there's a whole gamut of what indie is. but if we listen to stuff like, say, grizzly bear, broken social scene, feist, phoenix, st. vincent, tahiti 80, bat for lashes, toro y moi, etc. etc. whatever there is a marked contrast between this and the top 20 radio pop stuff.

hell, if we look at "shaking through" series (very good check out www.shakingthrough.com/?), ALL the vox have that "indie' magic in it.

for me stuff like jason mraz, jack johnson, or whatever even tho they my veer towards the less mainstream is still clearly the radio pop stuff and has none of that indie stuff so i'm just so curious about the magic ingredient.

i know the general answer would be "don't compress to death / don't autotune / it's all in vocal designs / etc." but i'd like to analyze this a bit further.

vocal design:
- much more "imperfection"
- not perfect singers / more softly sung / etc.
- usually multitracked to get bigger sound
- interest harmonies
etc.

processing chain:
- i think reverb / delay is absolutely key
- from shaking through series, they use tape delays on vox and then into reverbs, etc.
- understand that feist process her vox through vox amps (no pun intended) -- that's why the vox sounds so harsh on the album (but full of character)
- but when i go for reverbs / delays on vox it sounds corny and muddled, what's the trick here (eq the hell out of the fx probably)?

would be great if someone can share their insights. i have access to most of the UAD plugs if that helps (i do have lots of hardware but just so that we can share settings, etc.)

thanks guys
Old 12th September 2013
  #2
Lives for gear
 
frans's Avatar
 
10 Reviews written
🎧 15 years
I can't give you THEIR recipes, I can offer mine - so here's a few things for you to try.
-run a dynamic mic through a guitar amp, mic the amp, if you crank it, you'll need to put it in a another room so it won't feedback as much...or maybe you want feedback
-you could also split the output of the mic with a y-cable, so you got the direct signal and the amp signal, the amp signal will come back via another mic in front of the cab/speaker..or via a D.I. after the amp's power section, either disconnecting the speaker alltogether (which will kill any tube amp if you don't connect at least some power soak) or maybe split it with something like a THD hotplate. The signal from the mic in front of the speaker will be a tiny amount of time late, so be prepared to time/phase align a little or gust give a toss, lowcut the direct signal to hell and back so it just adds the upper highs your speaker doesn't give you anyway. If the amp got a spring reverb: perfect! Make sure to kick the amp to make it go "ka-blamm--sproing-g-g!" for that extra drama in the song.
-run your signal through a hardware reverb or delay, no matter what make or year, get it dirty and don't be afraid to commit to weird fx, the performance will be quite different than if you just record plain tap water clean vocals
-take a cheap guitar, run it into a distortion or fuzz and scream into the pickups, they are microphonic. Not the best signal/noise ratio, but lots of fun.
-use found and broken mics, mics you got from the flea market, from the attic of a school or church, CB radio mics, sing into headphones you (adapter cable or wire and duct tape) plug into a preamp
-use anything as a preamp that wasn't intended to, as long as signal goes in and out again
-split the signal after the preamp, one clean, the other good to trash with whatever you come up with, distortion, reamping a mic in a condom inside a fishbowl full of water in front of a fullstack (dynamic mics prefered...)
-hide a mic in the studio and the singer's got to run around with headphones, screaming and having to find it until the chorus
-tie the singer to a chair, duct tape the mic to his/her/it's chest/neck/hair/nosering, get a long cable and push them down a flight of stairs that's deep enough to last them trough the bridge
-record them on the loo
-record them with a boom running on a beach
-put up every mic you have in a big cluster and have the singer move from one to the other, slow, fast, erratic. Nice with different FX on each mic. Diamanda Galas did that live.
-scream into a piano, use a contact mic or drum trigger, compress the signal to taste to bring up all the strings in sympathetic vibration. If you don't got a piano, some guitars will do. Or a snare drum. Or a cymbal. Or a big window pane or... a tin can.. or... a railway bridge. Don't laugh, railway bridges make first class spring reverbs. As long as your trains don't come in on the wrong parts. And yes, I DID use a railway bridge as a reverb. Don't use a "real" mic, use a contact/piezo.
(the list goes on and on and on, the game's called "I can make it even weirder")
Old 12th September 2013 | Show parent
  #3
Gear Addict
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by frans ➑️
I can't give you THEIR recipes, I can offer mine - so here's a few things for you to try.
-run a dynamic mic through a guitar amp, mic the amp, if you crank it, you'll need to put it in a another room so it won't feedback as much...or maybe you want feedback
-you could also split the output of the mic with a y-cable, so you got the direct signal and the amp signal, the amp signal will come back via another mic in front of the cab/speaker..or via a D.I. after the amp's power section, either disconnecting the speaker alltogether (which will kill any tube amp if you don't connect at least some power soak) or maybe split it with something like a THD hotplate. The signal from the mic in front of the speaker will be a tiny amount of time late, so be prepared to time/phase align a little or gust give a toss, lowcut the direct signal to hell and back so it just adds the upper highs your speaker doesn't give you anyway. If the amp got a spring reverb: perfect! Make sure to kick the amp to make it go "ka-blamm--sproing-g-g!" for that extra drama in the song.
-run your signal through a hardware reverb or delay, no matter what make or year, get it dirty and don't be afraid to commit to weird fx, the performance will be quite different than if you just record plain tap water clean vocals
-take a cheap guitar, run it into a distortion or fuzz and scream into the pickups, they are microphonic. Not the best signal/noise ratio, but lots of fun.
-use found and broken mics, mics you got from the flea market, from the attic of a school or church, CB radio mics, sing into headphones you (adapter cable or wire and duct tape) plug into a preamp
-use anything as a preamp that wasn't intended to, as long as signal goes in and out again
-split the signal after the preamp, one clean, the other good to trash with whatever you come up with, distortion, reamping a mic in a condom inside a fishbowl full of water in front of a fullstack (dynamic mics prefered...)
-hide a mic in the studio and the singer's got to run around with headphones, screaming and having to find it until the chorus
-tie the singer to a chair, duct tape the mic to his/her/it's chest/neck/hair/nosering, get a long cable and push them down a flight of stairs that's deep enough to last them trough the bridge
-record them on the loo
-record them with a boom running on a beach
-put up every mic you have in a big cluster and have the singer move from one to the other, slow, fast, erratic. Nice with different FX on each mic. Diamanda Galas did that live.
-scream into a piano, use a contact mic or drum trigger, compress the signal to taste to bring up all the strings in sympathetic vibration. If you don't got a piano, some guitars will do. Or a snare drum. Or a cymbal. Or a big window pane or... a tin can.. or... a railway bridge. Don't laugh, railway bridges make first class spring reverbs. As long as your trains don't come in on the wrong parts. And yes, I DID use a railway bridge as a reverb. Don't use a "real" mic, use a contact/piezo.
(the list goes on and on and on, the game's called "I can make it even weirder")
lol. love the one with the chair going down the stairs.

but the thing is, we're not in the pioneering days of indie rock or whatever any more right.

the thing has become so formulaic.

i want the formula.

i think it's a prerequisite to experimentation--to get the fundamentals down first.

i know this sounds so scientific and is an anti thesis to all things artistic and musical. but help out a n00b plz.
Old 13th September 2013
  #4
Gear Addict
 
🎧 10 years
bump -- no one?

is the question too vague? or is there not many people going for this sort of "sound"?
Old 13th September 2013
  #5
Lives for gear
 
andyfreeman's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
I had three thoughts:

1. Always go for character. If the singer's voice has a weird character, capture it as is. If the voice is (comparatively) "normal", add character beyond EQ and compression. Absolutely nothing is off limits. Crazy microphones, distortion, Feist-y or Strokes-y guitar amps, guitar pedals, weird spring reverbs....anything. Be prepared for ANYTHING.

2. Most indie artists I've worked with have a clear idea of what they want the vocals to sound like.

I think this is because a lot of these artists started by making demos at home with Garageband, fooling around with effects. I've had some pretty bizarre requests from artists about vocal sounds, and nine times out of ten they want me to recreate something they did in their home setup. And - of course, in that case, I'll just do as I'm asked or even use the file they made if the fidelity and performance are what they want.

3. When in doubt, mess it up. Take it way too far. Give them something to say no to and you'll narrow your options, getting closer to what they want.
Old 24th September 2013
  #6
Gear Addict
 
🎧 10 years
any more thoughts?

while i appreciate the "try everything" vein of thinking, truth be told i think all of the indie musician have a certain "sound" that is very identifiable

i mean it's actually very interesting.

listen to jason mraz's "Make It Mine". The sound is basically Tahiti 80 (or other loungey french pop indie type bands). Instrumentation, arrangement, and vocal design is probably huge, but again, vocal processing is important too right.

or gotye, even if it's a hit, there is a certain element of production that borrows from the "indie" genealogy.

problem is there's quite a **** load of subgenre:
- generic indie pop
- indie folk / americana (broken social scene, feist, grizzley bear, fleet foxes, etc.)
- moaning awful sounding indie rock (modest mouse, etc.)
- washed out reverby type (glofi, lofi, dream pop, shoegaze, etc.)
- psychedelic / distorted (tame impala, etc.)
- garage / revival rock
- and then there's the flavor of the week / month / year / etc.
BUT in each sub-genre they all sound the same and also there's the overarching "i ain't no top hits" vibe

anyone very into the scenes above can share their techniques please? thanks
Old 25th September 2013
  #7
Deleted 651cf92
Guest
Record it in Williamsburg, mix it on a mac book pro whilst wearing a beanie.



The secret is the hat, it has to be made of wool, it will filter the vocal to sound like a radio hit, then take the hat off and it will sound indie
Old 25th September 2013
  #8
Gear Addict
 
spurratic's Avatar
 
2 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
I might be able to offer some insight.....I did some engineering and production on the new By Divine Right Album - Organized Accidents. Jose Contrares is a prime example of the vocal sound you are mentioning. In fact, I think he is by far one of the quintessential singers in Canadian Indie music. Here are some of the techniques we used in the studio.

Chain;
Mics - Neumann U87 (main)
Shure Beta 58

Pre - Old Midas Legend Console (70's British)

Comp - 1176

The first thing that struck me was how close he sang to the mic. The pop filter was a mere centimetre from the grill of the U87 and he had his face mashed up real close, to the point where he was virtually touching the mic through the pop screen. I think this was to simulate how he sings live.....with his lips against the mic. He said he uses the pop filter just for spot control.

When he used the beta 58, it was no pop filter. Held it just like he would hold a mic live.....then again he does a great job of controlling pops naturally.

We had a healthy boost of 6k from the board.

We also side chained the signal through a reverb tank and at times either a guitar amp with some distortion, or into an old cassette 4-track with the levels red-lined.

In the case if the amp, we would have the amp mic'd and be recording that separate.

Then during mix down....we would have his main vocal prominent, with a bit of either the amp or the 4-track mixed in just to add some bite or to again simulate that live sound.....

Most of the time however, it was just main vocal from the U87 with some reverb tank.

The reason for using a reverb tank vs. Post processing of reverb, is Jose would use the reverb in his performance, deciding based on what he was hearing....how hard to push words, how to use 'ssss' and punch in his voice to coax the reverb. Much better than just trying to slap a reverb on there afterwards.

Hope some of these tips help. Check out the new BDR record.....it was an amazing project to work on and I think the vocal sound is probably exactly what you are after.
Old 25th September 2013 | Show parent
  #9
Deleted 4398cbe
Guest
Quote:
Originally Posted by spurratic ➑️
We also side chained the signal through a reverb tank and at times either a guitar amp with some distortion, or into an old cassette 4-track with the levels red-lined.
Figured I would ask just to clarify for the OP, but by this do you mean you actually used some sort of side chained compressor to duck the effect against the vocals during tracking, or are you just saying you split the signal and recorded and effected vocals with the regular one?
Old 25th September 2013
  #10
Gear Nut
 
XMaramena's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
I've got great results before from an SM58 running into an ART VLA to get this sound.

But the main idea that'll help you is to keep it relatively dry when it comes to reverb and delay. Don't be afraid to be slightly cheesy - chorus/ensemble effects on the background vocals over the chorus. But the room helps too - try recording it just in a regular untreated medium-sized room like a living or dining room where you don't have a clean, treating studio sound.

Also, the Kramer Master Tape plugin from Waves can be great at giving things a bit of old-school "grit".
Old 25th September 2013
  #11
Lives for gear
 
1 Review written
🎧 10 years
I know the strokes and a lot of indie bands mic up a small cab on their vocals till its breaking up and mic it with a good chain. The strokes achieved it by using a little peavy amp a average neuman mic like the tl series and went into an avalon or great river to an ssl console for that gritty high end. Itb this could easly be achieved using speaker phone or any cab emulation. Also the sm57 has a nice honky indie tone that bands like the killers and death cab have used on several albums. You can also use a hpf to thin it out and a ssl emulation to get a griddy high end itb. Ive had good results with these methods.

Also another method is using crummy old radioshack mics to get a vibe. If your recording it with a good chain on a cab its more like an effect than say just poor quality recording.
Old 25th September 2013
  #12
Lives for gear
 
soundeq's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
two words.... Spring Reverb

Edit:
Ok a few more words...
Compression, attack and release... Go extreme
Old 25th September 2013
  #13
Gear Addict
 
spurratic's Avatar
 
2 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Deleted 4398cbe ➑️
Figured I would ask just to clarify for the OP, but by this do you mean you actually used some sort of side chained compressor to duck the effect against the vocals during tracking, or are you just saying you split the signal and recorded and effected vocals with the regular one?
Sorry for using a dual term...but yes, we just routed the vocal to a second channel via aux and recorded the spring reverb tank on another channel.
Old 25th September 2013
  #14
Deleted 7764de7
Guest
I know the shaking through guys prefer to use hardware to get their effects. Particularly through a reamping chain that uses a Roland space echo into amps into the studio. Each session sounds unique because they use different guitar pedals they have on hand.

I did a session with Brian in June (not an episode) and we utilized a similar chain.
http://marcneibauer.bandcamp.com/track/how-long

Main vocal
U67 in cardioid
Helios mic pre (cranked and distorting)
La2a?
Lynx Converter
Not sure about reverb

Backgrounds were
U67 in omni
Helios
La2a
Reamped into
Space echo
Into two fender Amps with reverb cranked
Close mic'd with telefunken Elam 260s back into mci console


The shaking through guys also have the benefit of working with amazing vocalists who have unique delivery and talent. Can't buy that!
Old 25th September 2013 | Show parent
  #15
Lives for gear
 
doorknocker's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 15 years
First of all, I'm very careful with distorting vocals in general because it is so overdone - indie or not.

But for a telephone-like yet warm vocal sound I found singing through a 50s Astatic 'harmonica' mic to be pretty good. Another trick is to sing through such a mic and a 'good' mic at the same time.

I tried something like that recently but actually ended up using just the Astatic track (DI through a Chandler TG-2).
Attached Thumbnails
How to: indie vocal processing-astaticsony.jpg  
Old 26th September 2013 | Show parent
  #16
Deleted 4398cbe
Guest
Quote:
Originally Posted by spurratic ➑️
Sorry for using a dual term...but yes, we just routed the vocal to a second channel via aux and recorded the spring reverb tank on another channel.
No worries, I just remember not knowing what most of this stuff meant and I could definitely have seen myself googling "side chain" and spending days chasing something the wrong direction when it was actually easier than I expected. Haha.
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