By Dave Foxx
“You want me to what?” (Me on the phone right after the last column came out.) “Let me get this straight, you want me to explain to the world all my dirty little production secrets? You mean….” Well, why not? Oh, it’s not like they’re inscrutable. I’d imagine most folks with an IQ bigger than their hat size could figure it out if they really wanted to, but that’s not why you subscribe to RAP Magazine, now is it? You subscribe to learn new stuff. Okay. Here goes.
The number one question I get is how to make the VO jump out without making it seem too loud. Simple. It’s all in the EQ. Let me clear up one fallacy many of you have. The male-ness of a voice does not come from pitch alone. In fact, the lower frequencies tend to muddy things up, a lot. What makes a voice sound masculine is glottal fry. Ernie Anderson had tons of glottal fry. For those who don’t know, experiment with your own voice. Try to sustain a note at the lowest pitch you can eke out. Hear the little gaps in the tone? (You might have to record your voice and slow it down a bit.) Those little gaps are glottal fry. It’s where your larynx is constantly closing and opening as it’s vibrating. You know the lady who smokes 15 packs a day and sounds like a man when she’s on the phone? That’s why. It’s not because her pitch is any lower, in fact it isn’t. She just has more glottal fry. (That’s probably the only up side to smoking.)
Now glottal fry pops in at around 500Hz, so get rid of the lower frequencies. Don’t need ‘em. Don’t want ‘em; get rid of ‘em. I throw every voice, including my own, through a high pass filter. Kill anything on the voice track below 400Hz. This will tend to emphasize the sibilants, which is not good, so you need to then compress. Really, crunch it. This reduces the dynamics of the voice track, making it all seem louder. In reality, it’s the same peak volume. The low-end dynamics are louder.
Now here’s the fun part: when you play the voice track over a music bed, you won’t have to duck (lower the gain) on the music bed nearly as much, and in some cases, not at all. Your voice will jump out of the speakers while the music and effects are playing along at or near full volume. (CAUTION: You will also need some compression on the final product to keep everything in line.)
How about an easy to use constant flange that requires no plug-ins? Back in the day, when you wanted flange, you made a copy of the track to be flanged on open reel tape. Then you start playback of the original and the copy simultaneously. As one or the other moved ahead or behind, an open flange effect happened. It all has to do with the tracks sliding in and out of phase with each other, which is neither here nor there. You just want the effect, right? Create 3 tracks on your DAW. Place the same voice track on each of the three. Offset one of them minus 20 milliseconds. Offset another at plus 20 milliseconds. Reduce the gain on the offset tracks by about 6db. Hard pan one to the right and hard pan the other to the left. Hit play. This is great for emphasizing a particular phrase, like the name of the contest or whatever you’re promoting. It’s down ‘n dirty, but it works and it won’t drive engineering’s phase chaser berserk. (The center channel gives it something to hang onto.)
Speaking of creating phase malfunctions, I’ll pass along a little trick that will allow you to drop the vocal out of a song so you can make a do-it-yourself karaoke record or better yet, a song parody. (You still have to provide the singer.) I don’t know if all DAWs have an “invert” function, but they should. It comes standard with Pro Tools™ as an Audio Suite™ plug-in. If you’ve ever gotten a recording in which the ring and tip were switched on one channel accidentally or on purpose, which is exactly what we’re gonna do now, you’ll absolutely need the invert function to fix it. Step 1) Select one track of the song and invert it. (Either channel will do, but you have to remember which one you use.) Step 2) Pair it up with the other channel from the original song and play them back on a stereo channel that is panned to center. Anything that was recorded in the center channel will disappear. About 90% of the time, that includes the vocal. Ta-dah!
The analog way to do this, which you’ll need to do if you don’t have an “invert” function, is to get your engineer to wire a patch chord with ring and tip reversed on one end. Be sure he marks the cord so it doesn’t get used for anything else. Record the song into your system that way, with the channels panned to center and you’ll get the same result.
Now the only drawback to this little stunt is that very often, it’s not just the vocal track in the middle. Often, the bass track is there too, so you might have to add a bass line. Also, some recording engineers will pan the vocal reverb or the backup singers out. They might pop out in your mix. However, I’ve been able to use this trick hundreds of times with great success.
Alrighty then. There are three of my little secrets (which really aren’t such BIG secrets). Now go forth and produce. Have fun. Next time, we’re going for a ride on the magic buss to find ways to simplify the process of processing.