Music Production Q&A With Gary Gray, Part 2 of 3

Posted by Aaron Davison on Tuesday, August 21, 2012 Under: August 2012

Today’s post is the second in a 3-part series from producer Gary Gray.  Gary and I recently collaborated on a course all about how to produce music that meets the industry standards for licensing music in film and television Based on the feedback Gary has received from the course, Gary has put together a list of the top ten questions he’s received along with his answers.  Part 1 covered a detailed look at adjusting headroom while mixing in order to present the best product possible to Music Supervisors. Part 2 goes in to detail regarding vocal production. Gary is also offering a free 15 minute phone consultation with everyone who purchases our course by the end of the month. 

Over to you Gary….

As mentioned in Part 1, the response to the course Aaron and I recently created has been incredible.

Daily, I’m getting excellent feedback from Indie Songwriters, Producers and Engineers around the world who are hungry to learn more about improving their mixes and masters so they can make more money through licensing their music.

Let’s start by taking up one of the hottest topics by far: Vocal Production.  (Note:  Further details are covered in the course How To Produce Music That Will Get Licensed And Make You Money,” and if you have your own specific questions not covered below, you can get those questions answered with the free 15 Minute Consultation I am offering for anyone who signs up for the Course before the end of August.  I am finding that besides being able to answer people’s questions, priceless research information is also being compiled on what Songwriters, Producers and Engineers need and want, thereby allowing us to expand our ability to help the music community through and

(Questions 1, 1A and 1B Were Covered In Part 1)

Question 2.  How Do I Record Vocal Tracks So They Will End Up Sounding Like They Were Recorded In A Major Studio?

If you are working with a home studio set-up (even if you don’t have “expensive” gear), here is what you can do to record great sounding vocals:

The Digital Recording Process is different from recording to tape.  Some schools and instructors still teach older tape techniques, and apply these same techniques to digital recording.  This is why some vocal tracks “just don’t seem to pop and sparkle and punch” the way you want them to.   The first difference in recording vocals with digital technology is this: You can safely record vocals at a lower level with digital equipment than on tape.  Usually, turning the record input level DOWN a bit (lower than you are used to) will lead to an incredible sounding vocal mix in the end.  For a long time, I was taught (just like with tape) to try and get the highest level possible while recording vocals, without distortion – to get the level of the vocals up to the point where they were just below going into the red. 

The reason?  With TAPE, if you record a microphone in a room with no one singing into it -- just the silent room -- the TAPE MACHINE ELECTRONICS, THE OUTBOARD GEAR and THE TAPE ITSELF will add quite a bit of noise to the recorded signal.  In order to ensure that all that noise does not end up AUDIBLE on the vocal recording, you must turn up the level of the vocal recording itself – in fact, you must turn it up as high as possible (without distorting) so that the SIGNAL-TO-NOISE RATIO has way more signal (Vocal) than noise.  Otherwise – you get a noisy, bad sounding vocal recording.  I dealt with this for years.

With digital recording, if you record a microphone in a room with no one singing into it, you get almost no added noise compared to analog tape recording.  Therefore, the laws of headroom (described in the course and in Part 1 of this blog series) – where 4dB to 12dB of headroom is ideal for mixing and mastering, also apply to the most important track on your song: The Vocals. (Note: This subject of Vocal Recording can also be applied to the Lead Instrument in Instrumental Compositions)  I invite you to try this out on your next recording:

Record your vocal track level at an average of -4dB to -12dB.  It will “seem” too low probably, if you’re not used to this.  It will “seem” like you should turn it up to get a more full, punchy, dynamic vocal recording.  It will “seem” like there isn’t enough signal to end up with great sounding vocals.  

Well, things are not always what they seem, as the saying goes.  Start with this one simple, yet amazingly important trick, and read on. You’ll see where, in the “assembly line” of putting together great vocal recordings, this important starting point fits in to a great vocal (or instrumental) sound.

3. Should I Record Vocals With Effects?

Record dry signal in.  Do not use a compressor or limiter chain (or any other effects) when recording vocals.  You’ve just committed to a technical mixing procedure during tracking if you do that.  Mix while you’re mixing, not while you are tracking.  Exception: Recording Live Gigs when there will be no later mixing.  You CAN record with effects going in on vocal tracks and end up with great vocal tracks, but you’ve limited yourself before you even begin mixing, and you’ll see why you might not always want to use that approach as you read on.

4. Any Tips Or Tricks Related To Microphone Techniques or Mic Selection For Vocal Tracks?

 Try recording with 2 microphones.  That’s right.  2 separate microphones at the same time.  I do this quite often.  Regarding microphone selection --  If you have the money, than you might be able to purchase a Telefunken U-47 (many consider it the ultimate vocal mic) or a Neumann U-87, or similar mic.  However, for a lot less than $10,000 (which a good U-47 could cost you), you can purchase a great vocal mic that will give you awesome vocal track production for less than $300.  There are many out there – just Google “Vocal Mic” and you’ll see examples come up such as: Shure SM7B $349, Telefunken M80 $249, Sennheiser E835 $99, Electro Voice ND267A $79, Shure SM58 $99.  

When using more than one microphone, be very particular about where and how you place the microphones.  Experiment; because if the mics are not placed in the right position, they can create phasing problems (cancel each other out) or specific phase problems (cancel out specific frequencies).

For an incredible look inside a session utilizing some of the best recording equipment in the world – including 4(!) Telefunken U-47’s being used on the vocals! Watch this video:!

This was a recording Mix Competition by Terry Anderson and OAK (the Olympic Ass Kickin Team) “Girls With Glasses” Session.  Does the vocal track sound great?  Yes it does.  Value of Mics used on the vocals: $40,000.

Now, on the opposite side of the microphone coin, producer Max Martin recorded lead vocalist Adam Levine of Maroon 5 in a much different way – also a technique I often use.  Home studio owners read this carefully:  Max Martin recorded Adam Levine holding a Shure SM58 (no mic stand), sitting on a couch, IN THE CONTROL ROOM, WITH NO HEADPHONES, STUDIO MONITORS CRANKING AWAY.

That was for a scratch vocal track, you’re probably thinking.  Nope.  That was for the final vocal tracks of hit recordings!  What about bleed through? Good question.  Answer – hardly any – that’s what the Beta Shure SM58 is designed to do – minimize bleed through of drums and guitars during live performances.  Ya, but what about the vocal quality of the recording through such an inexpensive microphone? Good question.  Answer – it sounded great.  Value of Mics used on the vocals: $99.  And as Duke Ellington always said, “If it sounds good, it IS good.”

Be wary of “laws” in the recording world.  Many of them are simply not true.  Such as:  Always record vocal tracks in a separate room, headphones on the singer, with no bleed-through of music.

Some of my best recorded vocal tracks have been done:

In the control room

Singer holding the mic (no stand) sitting down.

Shure SM58 (or many other types of mics – which all have had little bleed through problems)

Monitors cranking away.  (Singer facing the monitors so the mic is not pointing into the speakers)

In fact, some of the top pro singers I work with PREFER recording this way, because they can really get into it without the constraints of headphones, more like a live performance. Some singers, understandably, do NOT like recording this way – they like hearing their voice with reverb and delay in the headphones, etc. 

The point is – if you become educated and learn ALL THE TOOLS available to you, you will record with more confidence.  When you record with more confidence, your singer will sing with more confidence (which includes you, if your also singing!).  And great tracks are more about performance than anything else.

 5. Now That I’ve Recorded My Vocal Tracks Properly, What Can I Do To Edit, Mix and Master Those Tracks To Make Them Sound Like They Were Produced In A Major Studio?

Ok,  here is where we really roll up our sleeves and where you can learn some excellent secrets and apply some tricks and tips used by top pros – right there in your home studio. (To Be Continued In Part 3).

Stay tuned for Part 3 in this series. . . which covers a thorough answer to number 5 above, as well as how to record guitars, basses and keyboards; as well as Midi tricks and tips, how to get a full, lush orchestration sound, and how to create pounding Electro Dance Mixes that you can sell to Music Supervisors.    And don’t forget, if you purchase the course “How To Produce Music That Will Get Licensed And Make You Money” before the end of August, you will receive a free 15 Minute Consultation with Gary.  So act now!


“I think this course is excellent and Gary is a great teacher. This is the best production info I have seen in a long time. 

I need exactly what Gary offers - to take my production skills to a more professional level. I'm fine with writing and performing. I've struggled with my engineering chops for years mostly because "I'm a girl" and was always told I needed a producer to do the heavy lifting. Not anymore!  I have a ton of songs, but they are not produced yet. If I can get them to a competitive recording quality I know I've got a good shot at getting some licensing deals. 
Many thanks to Gary for this wonderful, helpful information! Great job! He is helping me achieve a long-awaited dream :-) “

- Mary Shaw


“Thanks again for making such a wonderful course available.”

Allen Simpson


“Hi Gary,

Thanks so much for the critique!  Very detailed.  Awesome.

Take care,

Andy Gabrys”

(Note, as part of the course, Gary will do detailed critiques of three of your tracks for free!)

In : August 2012 

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