Monday, March 14, 2011

Recording Tip 7: Use a dark mic with a bright singer. Sibilance problems will haunt you forever. De-essing should be a last resort

The correct microphone choice for a singer is perhaps the most important decision one can make when making an album. Decent sounding albums can happen even with mediocre tracks if the right mic is chosen for the vocal. The opposite is also true. A beautifully recorded track with a badly recorded vocal will probably never sound great. And one of the biggest factors in that decision in choosing a mic is to find one which is favorable to the singer’s particular sibilance issues if they have them.

Just so we’re clear on terms, “sibilance” is the unique sounds which are made in singing or saying the brighter consonants such as “ess” ,“tee”, “tha” etc. It occurs when the air rushes through the teeth creating a bright sound. Not all people have this issue. But some do and it’s a hurdle to jump.

It all has to do with how one’s teeth are aligned. Some people’s teeth make a bright, sometimes almost a whistling sound when singing or saying certain consonants.

As an aside, I’ve found singers with a theatrical background can over enunciate and give similar problems, and not because of teeth alignment. It’s because they were trained to reach the back row with their voice, and of course with a mic a few inches away, that’s not needed. If that’s the case and it’s not a true sibilance issue, I’ll tell them to think of recording like a close-up shot in film. They don’t need to overdo their facial expressions as the camera is up close. Similarly, the mic is right there and they should back off enunciating so hard.

Outside of that, if you’re recording someone with lots of sibilance issues there’s really very little they can do little about it. If you mention it, in all likelihood their performance will suffer, SO SAY NOTHING!

Most singers are already nervous when recording so the last thing you should do is make them aware that there’s some “flaw” in how they sing. Comments like that can make them paranoid and distracted. Suck it up and find a darker mic which doesn’t accentuate those bright consonants. Mics such as a U-67 or U-47 are a good call for such singers. If you don’t have access to such great mics, then it’s up to you to find whatever darker mic you can get your hands on.

But whatever mic you choose, be sure to not push the mic preamp to hard. (Tip #5) If you do, the sibilance will end up as distortion as these frequencies are much louder than the rest of the vocal. You won’t see it, even with a true peak reading meter. ( Tips 3-4) But it WILL distort if the mic preamp is pushed. Once that happens, even your best attempts at de-essing, either manually or with a plugin will be mostly unsuccessful because at that point, you’re just limiting distortion.

When I find a singer with sibilance issues, I’ll try to get one of the mics I mentioned or a ribbon mic. Another choice especially good for females is the Shure SM-7. In my experience I’ve found women to be more likely to have this issue than men, for the obvious reason that they have higher frequencies in their voices. So when you begin recording, don’t assume that the best mic at your disposal is the mic to use. I have a gorgeous C12 than can be absolute death for some singers if they have sibilance problems. So insteand, I’l use my $300 SM7 and get much better results. I’ll listen to them as they speak to me to get an idea even before the recording begins. More often than not, if it’s a problem I’ll hear it right away. But you never know and I’ll pick a put up mics to try and pick the best before I begin recording in order to see what works.

If you do find you need a de-esser, my favorites are the Massey and Eiosis de-essers. The Massey is very good, easy to use and inexpensive. The Eiosis is expensive, but you can really get into the guts of the vocal and tweak to find the exact problem frequency. Both of these companies make great plugins and I highly recommend everything they make.

Massey De-esser
Eiosis De-esser

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