3: Use of FX to present a Vocal – Multiple songs

Since my last blog post, I have been working on Alton Everest Exercises, and have noticed that my ear for spot and relatively narrow band frequencies is quite good. On the other hand, it seems I’m still not as good at sensing overall tonal balance as accurately. I’ve also not done as well in the dynamics based exercises. I shall focus my efforts more towards these areas, by repeating these exercises a few times over the coming weeks.

After sitting down with my monitors correctly positioned in a nearfield listening setup and headphones to hand, I listened to the following songs:

Kings of Leon:

  • 4 Kicks
  • Day old blues
  • The Bucket

Arcade Fire:

  • The Suburbs

The Fray

  • How to save a life

Arctic Monkeys

  • Fluorescent Adolescent

My overall impression of the listening experience (centred around Vocal FX) was that a large portion of the songs kept the vocal quite “dry, upfront and transparently processed”, with exceptions tending to go for a “retro” sound.

Beginning at the “exceptions”; the most obvious by far is Fluorescent adolescent, which appears to use a “retro” sounding slapback delay with a small feedback. Aside from this, I found it difficult to hear if any other effects were used on this vocal, but would hazard a guess that there was a very small “room” reverb, as I could not hear any obvious tail, but the vocal has a definite sense of space.

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs follows a similar approach, with a slap back effect used on the vocal, although opting to use a little more reverb than the Arctic Monkeys’ offering. The vocal still remains relatively dry of reverb, but there is a definite tail audible, which increases during choruses.

The Kings of Leon tend to leave the vocal very dry, and extremely forward in the mix. On the whole, from the material I listened to, it seems that they tend to opt for a medium sized reverb which I would describe as a hall, or plate with slight predelay. This is slotted very low in the mix, and only subtly surrounds the vocal, always rather dark sounding. Of the 3 songs, the Bucket was the driest by far.

The Fray seem to take a similar approach, with quite a tight reverb sound low in the mix and slightly pre delayed. It was difficult to pick out some of the time, but it seemed a much smaller tailed reverb than in some of the Kings of Leon songs. Again, apart from this the vocal was largely untouched, and sounded natural (if not maybe a little “warmed up” by proximity effect or something similar).

Overall, I would say that choosing the “right” reverb and keeping it subtle in the mix is most important when presenting a vocal in this genre. In my past experience, bad reverb choice can quickly make the vocal sound “out of place” when played on differing playback systems.

Another point I’ve taken from this is that obvious use of FX is okay as long as you commit to it, and it suits the song. Slapback delays (and other short delays) seem like an oft used tool in this genre, so I will keep this in mind when mixing.

We are fast approaching the Vocal overdubs session for our AST recording, and having this information at hand will help me mix the result, as well as create a pleasing headphone mix for our singer.

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2: General work overview – Feedback and listening activities

After a review session some time ago, I believe my points to improve upon are relevant. But there remains one large oversight on my part:

What genre am I focusing my development on?

From the top of my head, I was able to pin the genre down to a rather broad category of “indie” based on the artists that I have recorded, and continue to record. But Indie is an extremely wide ranging genre, with everything from simple 3 piece bands to much larger groups encompassing synths and heavily processed instruments. It was clear that I needed to narrow my field of research.

After talking to Emilio (the frontman of a band whom I’ve recorded numerous times and am currently recording for further assessments), I was able to pick apart the areas that he finds inspiration from, and more accurately pin down the category that his music could be defined by.

Rather than label a genre or subgenre (something that I find very hard to do within the bracket of indie), I’ve made a short list of artists/songs/albums which reflect areas shown within the music I will be recording over the coming months:

  • Kings of Leon – Aha Shake Heartbreak (Album)
  • Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (Album, but in particular the title song is very similar to one song I will be submitting)
  • Arctic Monkeys – Fluorescent Adolescent (Song – although some of their other material is also applicable)
  • Elliot smith – Waltz #2 (song)
  • The Fray – How to save a life (song)

The works in this list were picked due to their instrumentation and/ or general “vibe” being similar to what I’m currently recording.

Now that I’ve established a firm base of songs to analyse, I would also like to mention that I will be beginning the Alton Everest listening exercises this evening.

I shall start by concentrating on the vocal qualities of the songs mentioned and completing a few of the listening exercises. I will post my findings over the coming weekend.