"The Lyrics And The Mixdown" by Jack Blanchard

BRINGING OUT THE LYRICS. In Rock it doesnít seem to matter so much, but in Country we want to hear the words. I hear too many recordings where the lyrics are lost. If the words arenít audible there are several possible culprits. The singer may not be making them clear, or the producer and engineer arenít recording them right. Sometimes the singer tries too hard to sound Southern or Country, and it comes out slurred and run together. Hereís a trick to get rid of Singerís Lockjaw: Pretend youíre singing to a deaf person who is reading your lips. When Misty and I record vocalists (ourselves and other artists) we use a soft-knee compressor on the mike and maybe later in the mixdown. The compressor brings out the low notes, the soft words, and the nuances that give an artist identity. The compressor should be set conservatively at 2.5:1 or less. The compressor itself should be inaudible. Sometimes the voice needs presence, or edge. To add vocal presence we boost the frequency slightly at 2 kHz, and maybe a touch at 4 kHz. Too much presence can make the voice brassy and thin. A little can make it sound good, and bring out the lyrics. Enhancers like Aphex and BBE can help with general clarity, and instrument/vocal separation, but they can be overdone, if weíre not careful. We try to get backup lead instruments to play in the cracks between the singerís phrases, not during, and we try not to have too much going on in the singerís frequency range. Misty and I find it helpful to analyze the lyrics beforehand, marking on lyric sheets where we want to take breaths, and which words we want to punch. If a song is good enough to record the lyrics should be heard. Each of us has different methods and tastes. Iím sharing ours just in case it may help somebody. EVALUATING THE MIX. I've listened to tips from well-known producers and engineers on getting recordings to sound good. I used to tune my studio speakers by putting white noise (pure static) through them, and holding up a microphone connected to a frequency analyzer. The analyzer would show red and green lights indicating which sound frequencies were too soft or too loud. I would then use a graphic equalizer to make them all even, or "flat". I told my method to a famous producer/studio owner in Nashville and he said it was wrong. He said to this: Hang your speakers, and then sit down for a week or so and just listen to big hit major label recordings through them, adjusting the tone controls until they sounded best. Then mix your recordings to sound as good as the proven hits on the same speakers. Also, I learned somewhere along the line to place my near-field monitor speakers so that my head is the third point of a perfect triangle. If the speakers are too close, I will hear too much stereo spread and not enough of the middle. If they are too far away I don't get enough stereo, and I start to get distracting room ambient sounds. I learned to be very conservative with EQ, which means adjusting the tone to you folks at home. I've also learned that you can get a hit record without knowing any of this.
Copyright © Feb. 4, 2005, Jack Blanchard. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.
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