Start At the Source | Miking Vocals Onstage

Jul 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Eddie Mapp



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Eddie Mapp

Eddie Mapp

When EQ’ing a vocalist, look into how the vocal is to be perceived in the mix. Does it stand out first and foremost over everything, or is it tucked away a little to give a better blend with the rest of the group? Live engineers usually rely on cutting offending feedback frequencies first and then focusing on what’s left. Many times scooping a little 400 to 800 Hz can make the vocal sound smoother and it won’t poke out as much by itself, but in the context of the band, it can easily get buried.

If your vocalist likes to “cup” the mic, the wonderful polar pattern that you selected is skewed as most of the phase ports near the diaphragm are covered up. One quick frequency to reach for is 1.6 kHz on your graphic EQ. This can tend to feed back pretty easily, depending on your mic. After this point we reach the 2 to 5kHz range, which is important for intelligibility but can also become very aggressive and fatiguing at high SPL levels. Pay attention to these frequencies so that the vocal cuts through the mix and doesn’t become too harsh. A similar situation occurs from 6 kHz on up, where you need these frequencies to be present but still kept under control. Because higher frequencies are more directional than lower ones, you’ll want to keep this in mind because some cardioid mics can become very omnidirectional around 8 or 10 kHz. (A little cut on your graphic EQ can help solve these issues.)

If you’re mixing an aggressive hard-edged rock/metal group with screaming nonstop vocals, there may not be much dynamics to the vocals; it may simply be turn them up till they don’t feedback and just hold on to your fader! Other types of musical styles may have a very wide dynamic range that needs to be tailored to consistently sit in the mix without overcompressing within an inch of its life. There are dozens and dozens of analog compressors available, and even more plug-ins. Rather than go into specifics on each type of compressor on the market, let’s focus on what I consider to be an extremely overlooked type: multiband compression and dynamic EQ.

These two types of compressors split up your audio into several different bands, which allows you to compress each band independently. Multiband compressors are usually set up more like a crossover that you would use to separate different signals to different components in your P.A. While the signals are split up for independent dynamic control, all of the bands remain intact at the end of the compressor. With dynamic EQ, you have the same controls as you would a normal parametric EQ, but with the added features of being able to either compress or expand at the selected frequency. This type of control can be very confusing and even frustrating until you get the hang of it.

I take a very hands-on approach to keep the vocal under control and intelligible. First, I get a starting point for how the vocal channel should sound after basic EQ’ing at a decent volume without feeding back, and then I listen to how it fits in contrast to the rest of the band. If it’s a reasonably dynamic band, you may want to leave a little extra room dynamically so that the vocal rides along with the other instruments and works together with the band. Setting a moderate compression level with a ratio of 4:1, attack at 40 ms, release at 300 ms with 4 to 6 dB of gain reduction should get you in the ballpark.

I save multiband/dynamic EQ for more aggressive rock-style vocalists, but the concept also applies to other genres. I use these types of compression to maintain my basic vocal sound, even when the singer is whispering or belting it out directly into the mic, with lips touching the windscreen. I tend to set my attack times very fast (3 to 5 ms), ratios pretty high (over 12:1) and release times starting around 300 ms in the low band and shorter times as the frequencies move up. Listen closely to each band because using too high of a ratio and too fast of a release time can cause distortion in the compressor. Essentially, I end up using each of these bands as a separate limiter for whatever specific frequencies I’ve chosen, and then follow this up with a separate compressor to smooth out the result.

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