OK, you're using your computer with voice recording. Now how do you tweak that computer voice recording to your advantage?
Computer voice recording opens up a world of possibilities for a lot less money than previous analog and digital recording solutions.
How does all the computer technology relate into providing good products for computer voice recording? Several ways. With computers, you can use DSP, or digital signal processing extensively with vocals to craft the exact sound you need. DSP has also made possible plugins like AutoTune. We'll discuss those later.
So what are the tools? How can you use a computer and software to improve your voice recordings? Here's a few tools:
With these types of processing available, you can do amazing things with your computer voice recordings. You'll need some kind of audio editing software for your computer. There are many available, some free, some not. They offer various feature sets, so when you are getting one, look for compatibility with the tools discussed here.
First of all, dynamics are the flow of music – the transition from loud to soft in volume. Dynamics are a lot of what makes music flow and work; they add life to it.Sometimes the dynamics of a recorded vocal track aren’t quite right. Maybe the singer got too quiet at one part of the song, and you can't hear him/her among all the other voices/instruments. Or, maybe they sang too loud, overpower the rest of the mix.
You could just turn them down, but what about the parts when they were just right? Well, you could use automation in your DAW software to counter-act that, but a compressor will do the job as well.
You put a compressor on the track to smooth out the loud parts but keep the quieter parts the same, so the track will sizzle from start to finish – no bad spots!
When a compressor does its job, it takes the loud parts and makes them quieter. So when you turn it back up, the quiet parts are now louder. This can be used to make sure the singer's volume remains constant during a song.
All this said, remember that it's hard to polish mud.
EQ is also a prevalent effect in computer voice recording. You can shape the vocals as the occasion requires. Your microphone has a lot to do with the sound, but you can adjust with EQ to make it like you want.
For voice, I find that there is a lot of harshness in the 1–3khz range. If your computer voice recording sounds a bit harsh and blaring, try gently cutting in this range. Take it easy, or it will sound hollow and empty. This is where some of the most important frequencies in the voice are.
From 3khz to 8-10khz you have the air of the recording. You can boost this upper end a bit to make it more live, but with too much it just sounds too sizzly – more like burnt!
To make the voice warmer and fuller, try boosting at around 200hz or so. You may want to do this on the lead vocals; they should sound the best in the overall mix.
While experimenting with EQ, you’ll discover a new source of information on EQing. Who is this new teacher on EQ? Where can you learn the most, and best remember what you learned? The answer may surprise you…
That’s right! Experiment – try different things to see what they do. You will learn better by doing than if I just told you what to do. If you are trying to take away an annoying buzz, and you work for 20 minutes on it till you get it, you’ll remember exactly what to do next time!
Reverb is one a fun thing to do with audio. It can make your tracks sound good, and add some professionalism. Basically, it is adding reverberation (many small echoes) to a track to make it sound like it was recorded in a different room.
The effect can be anything from a closet full of clothes to a church, a bathroom to a concert hall, or a cathedral to a garage.
Take care when you use reverb, because you can overdo it very easily. If you’re doing a band, you can put different instruments in different reverbs, but be subtle rather than distinct. Don’t do too much, or it’ll sound wishy-washy. Too much reverb is a classic amateur mixing engineer mistake.
Levels and pan are two of the most basic things in mixing. They don’t apply just to voice recording, but to everything too. They are the basic building blocks of any mix. Just ask any mixing engineer and he’ll tell you, you can’t mix without levels and pan!
With levels, each track is set at a specific volume in relation with the rest of the tracks. This makes tracks seem louder or softer in comparison to others. It is very necessary, because without it your mixes would seem abnormal and out of perspective.
For example, the lead vocal should stand out from everything else to allow for intelligibility and understandability, so you would turn its level higher. You would set the instruments that are less important quieter so they can fill the mix out.
Levels can also be used to adjust the perceived distance in your mix. Quieter tracks will be heard as farther away while louder ones will seem closer. Distance from the microphone has an impact on this too.
If levels are vertical adjustment, panning is horizontal. You know what a stereo track sounds like, right? Pan is used to make the left-right positioning heard in stereo audio. Most all mixing is done to stereo, so you need to get used to using pan in your mixes.
Panning will make a soundstage, so you can tell where the sound is coming from – right or left. When you sit on the front seat in a concert, you can hear the orchestra from left to right. Your mind localizes these sounds, so you can tell that the violins are on the right side!
When you hear a recording, two tracks are played back in a left and right scenario. When you mix you can use panning to make this soundstage.
If you have all your tracks panned to the center, it will probably sound full and overloaded. You might even have clipping, because too many signals are occupying the same space. If you separate them between two channels, it sounds a lot better. Try it!
After the basic computer voice recording mixing effect, you can go into special effects. These can be anything from a basic pitch adjustment to a crazy flange effect.
Do you ever have a vocal track that varies in tune? Maybe they gradually sharped the song, or maybe they just hit one note a bit flat. How do you fix this? Do another take, right?
Not if you have pitch correction software! You can use pitch correction to help your out-of-tune track. Digital Performer has limited pitch correction built in, and AutoTune is another outstanding product. With AutoTune you can adjust the pitch up or down, and even add or subtract vibrato.
OK, suppose you have a vocal track that you want to sound thicker. What do you do for that? There are a few tricks available to do this.
#1, try double tracking. This means record one take of the song, then go back and overdub a second track. Make sure the timing and pitch are on, so it sounds almost like the same voice.
The effect will be that of a doubled voice. If you did it good, it’ll still sound like one voice, but thicker and fuller. If it wasn’t done quite good enough, it’ll sound like two different voices.
There is a pro tool to do this. It's called VocAlign. It takes all the guesswork out of it, and makes it very easy to get good results.
Another trick is take one voice track on the computer and duplicate it. Normally, I leave it in the same position, but you can give the second track a few milliseconds of delay (10-40 will do). That’ll give you a fuller sound too. This is a "cheater" way of doing a double track! Now you can give it different settings for EQ, compression, reverb, and other processing to add a little color.
Another way to do this is by using an echo or delay plugin. Then you can set the length of your delay, from 1 to 100 milliseconds. A cool trick when using delay or echo is to set the delay a little longer, say from 100 to 400 milliseconds. This gives you a slap back echo, or an echo that slaps right back at you.
Well, now you know a lot about recording voices. With all this info, you can go a long way. Looking back, what would you say is the most important step in the whole chain?
It has to be the singer. They are the ones responsible for a good recording. If your singer can't sing, you just can't make them good!
Spare nothing to get a good performance. The singer cannot sound bored. Get the singing intense and very charged with the song's emotion. This is the key in getting a computer voice recording to sound good.
Another rule of thumb is you can’t polish mud! Really, though, that is truth. If you have some gold, polishing will only make it better. But, if all you have is mud, no amount of scrubbing will make it shinier!
Lee started his career in recording with an auspicious goal - record tracks of his own voice singing in harmony. As a hobby project, it didn't have the funding to go to a studio and pay for someone to do it for him. Like many of you, he pulled himself up by the bootstraps to learn the art of recording.