Capturing Passion, Pursuing Perfection

Dec 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Blair Jackson

Recording Celine Dion’s Vocals

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Celine Dion’s vocal chain begins with a Telefunken 251e as the main mic, with a Sennheiser 8020 as backup and spice.

Celine Dion’s vocal chain begins with a Telefunken 251e as the main mic, with a Sennheiser 8020 as backup and spice.

Dion is a hard-working perfectionist when it comes to laying down her vocals, but she is also extremely accommodating in working with myriad producers on her album projects. “Her thing is the voice,” Lalonde says. “Of course the track is important and it will give the song a lot of its flavor, but we’re always focused on the voice. That’s where I come in. No matter what producer is there, I’m working as a liaison with them. They’re choosing the performance, but we’re working on how she’s going to deliver it. We always give the full option of many colors, and 80 percent of the time they’ll do the comp, but my focus with Celine is to make sure she’s hearing everything okay. She has a vision when she comes into the studio, and I’m going to give her pretty much the end result—with the delay, with the reverb, compression, not necessarily to tape, but to her monitor so she can deliver it the way she wants to.”

What Lalonde describes as his “go-to” vocal recording chain to Pro Tools—used on about 80 percent of Water and a Flame and the entirety of Sans Attendre—is: a Telefunken (USA) 251E modified by Tony Merrill of Stephen Paul Audio, “totally customized for Celine—they changed the capsule and worked on the electronics”; a Boulder Jensen Twin Servo mic pre; GML 8200 EQ; Neve 33609 stereo compressor; and Weiss ADC2 analog-to-digital converter, which “sounds amazing, has a great clock and also has an input and output volume control for the gain staging, which is great for Celine, because there are some songs she records top to bottom and she is so dynamic—where she goes from a whisper to belting out a chorus.”

While they settled on a go-to chain, different combinations were tried out on the front end. “With the Eg White songs—‘Water and the Flame’ and ‘Didn’t Know Love’—he phoned me and said, ‘I’ve got this [Neumann] M49 and I’ve got a [Telefunken] V76 [preamp]. Do you have any objection with trying them?’” Lalonde recalls. “And I said, ‘No, that’s what we want to do—try different things.’ So he showed up with these, and we got voltage converters for the mic and preamp, and it turned out to be a really good solution for those songs because the M49 is a little less bright and more precise in the midrange [than a Telefunken 251] and it’s got a really great vintage feel to it. We ended up buying an M49 and a V76.

“Gain structure is always a big part of the battle,” he continues. “Celine is so dynamic that you need to be on top of every piece of gear in the chain to make sure that nothing is overloading when she is singing a loud note. There are so many places where it can overload—the mic pre, after the EQ, after the compression, on the insert, or after the EQ to the cue system. Even the headphones can clip. That is why I like the [Sony] 7520 [headphones], which can handle more power. It is really vital that I know where my gain structure is at all levels of the process, before and after every piece of gear.”

With tracks coming in from different locations, Lalonde asked the producers to come with stems—drums, bass, electric guitars, acoustic guitars, piano. “I’ll typically have between eight and 12 stereo stems,” he explains. “I will always plug in an EQ on the stems and notch out 2.5 kHz wide, -3 to 6 dB, to make a hole in the frequencies for the vocal. I will also bus the stems from the board to two other faders on the board and use an SSL bus compressor to control the dynamics.






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