Start At the Source | Miking Vocals Onstage

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

GETTING THE BEST VOCALS ONSTAGE, THROUGH THE BOARD

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FEMALE ROCK VOCALS
When mixing Evanescence Amy Lee’s vocals, it can be tricky to make sure that she stays on top of the mix while hard-hitting drums, bass, dueling guitars, keyboards, choir and strings are all flying around the room. There are times where everything drops out except her and the piano, and this must also cut through. Using a McDSP MC2000 multiband compressor in 4-band mode, I set the first band to compress the lower frequencies from 400 Hz and below so that during the softer moments, the lower register of her vocals doesn’t get lost. When she is singing in the upper registers, this band doesn’t compress until she drops down to softer and lower parts, at which point the compressor may be doing as much as 8 to 10 dB at the lower frequencies.

I don’t mess too much with the midrange band because it is essential for most vocalists. I concentrate more on 1 kHz to 4 or 5 kHz as it is the most sensitive range of human hearing and can get out of hand pretty quickly. Setting the compressor in this band so that it knocks back the loudest parts just a touch can make a dramatic difference. At 5 kHz and up, I generally use a de-esser with a very fast attack time around 1 ms or less, as well as a superfast release time of 10 ms or less, once again listening for any distortion artifacts.

MALE VOCALS
With Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland, I recently switched to a a Waves C6 compressor—you’ll probably want to break the manual out for this one. It has four bands of multiband compression, but also includes two additional bands that act as parametric filters, which can be very narrow or wide bandwidth. I use one of the bands set fairly narrow to help control the signature megaphone that Scott uses during several songs, which sticks out very strongly around 1.7 kHz. The other band is set around 4 kHz to help soften up this range, which can become a little fatiguing toward the end of the night.

BRINGING IN EFFECTS
I don’t use too much effects for processing and believe that they should be used sparingly and only when necessary. A little reverb can help the vocal sit in the mix a bit better at times, but it can also be distracting and cause problems in large rooms. I tend to find a nice-sounding plate reverb with a decay in the neighborhood of 1.2 seconds and the pre-delay set back just a few milliseconds to give the vocal a little more presence.

Pitch shifting can help give a sense of space to the vocal, as well as sometimes mask pitch issues to an extent. You want to apply this very sparingly and not overdo it—just a few cents down (-8) on the left and a few cents up (+8) on the right should work; also, adding a slight delay of 30 ms on one side and 50 ms on the other can help spread this effect out to give you a larger vocal.

RIDE THE FADER
As a mixing engineer, it is your job to be attentive and deliver the best and most consistent show night after night, and this means paying close attention to the artist. Your knowledge of the artist and your ability to make split-second decisions cannot be replicated.


Front-of-house engineer Eddie Mapp has mixed for Evanescence, Stone Temple Pilots and Taking Back Sunday.






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