Archive for the ‘microphones’ Category

Microphone Mod: Carvin’s CTM100 via

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Carvin CTM100 Tube Mic

“Like butter in a black silk cocktail dress.”

I have been interested in microphone modification for years and I went so far as to purchase a Oktava-Mod mic and modification a few years back. While Michael Joly’s mod did sound great, I wasn’t satisfied because I hadn’t done the work myself. I have been short a tube microphone so I decided to get a cheap Chinese mic and put some time and effort into improving the sound.

I ended up getting a Carvin CTM100 tube microphone which is actually the same mic as the Apex 460. At the time of this post the mic is selling for $179 + $12 shipping, which is quite a bargain. The package comes with a large plastic foam lined case, a mic bag, a decent shock mount, a multipin XLR and a power supply. Out of the box the mic didn’t sound bad actually. Certainly better than I was expected for $200. Some high frequency boost made the mic sound sibilant and too bright. While the high frequency boost gave the impression of detail, the mid range wasn’t terribly clear. The was a pronounced proximity effect similar to most large diameter cardioids, but a little boomier than normal. I was thinking that the boost was more in the low mids than in the bass frequencies.

The modification kit that I bought was from I chose the Apex 460 Mod Kit (not the SG version) and for a new capsule, I chose the RK7 which is a darker, more-colored U-47 style capsule. I like my mics darker. Most people choose the RK-12 which is based on AKG’s CK-12 which is much brighter and airy.

The kit including the new capsule is only $209, which seems like a great deal. The service at Microphone-Parts was great. Email questions were responded to quickly and completely. When I placed my order I received a bunch of updates and then the kit arrived in maybe 2 days tops. I was really impressed.

Everything was in order and the mod came with a really nice full-color booklet with directions. The directions are probably the best part of the mod kit. They are clear, specific, they have great suggestions and great advice. There are detailed instructions for desoldering and for how to properly use a solder-sucker pump. There were no weird tools required. A precision screwdriver (size 0 Phillips) was the most exotic tools required, but there are included in every $3 jewelers screwdriver kit. In the directions, emphasis is made on cleaning the flux off the board and connections afterwards which I admit I rarely do for cables or patchbay soldering. Still I had the solvent and QTips.

There are links on the website and in the text that point you to helpful videos and suggestions for tools and supplies to buy. I was able to do the complete mod and test in a leisurely morning. I was careful and I read the directions several times. I was fortunate to not have any missteps along the way and the mic sounds great!

All of the high frequency yuck is gone, the response seems very smooth and very detailed. The upper mid range is accurate and flattering for my voice and gave it the quality of a late 70’s radio personality mic, but with more detail and depth. A former professor of mine, Dr. William Moylan, was always very adamant about using objective, descriptive and accurate language to describe sound and timbre. Unfortunately, the word that seems the most descriptive to me is ‘silky.’ There is a slight bump around 4k and a slight dip at 8-9k. There seems to be a very slight natural compression to the microphone now. Before the mod, transient detail seemed too obvious, maybe even expanded. By constant the microphone seems to have a bit of natural compression. This might be due to the tube or to the slightly thicker and slower moving membrane. The RK7 is a 6 micron. I can’t say that I know for sure what the original in the CTM100 is. I did take some photos of the original diaphragm to compare it to the new one:

Original CTM100 Capsule

This is the original CTM100 capsule and diaphragm. You can easily see that the diaphragm is NOT flat.

Original CTM100 Capsule

In this angle of the original capsule you can see how much dust is on the surface of the diaphragm. This is a brand new mic, so I am pretty sure that the dust is from the manufacturing process.

Effectively all the sibilant frequencies were diminished to the point that I wouldn’t think about reaching for a de-esser. The proximity response seems more gradual and nuanced. The effect could be easily controlled for some reason and there seemed to be more gradations in the boost compared to distance. Overall, I think that the modded microphone sounds fantastic. It will certainly replace my other vocal mics for my own voice and I suspect that I will reach for this mic when I need to tone down an overly bright female or a sibilant/whistle-prone male vocal.


Tracking an 8-Piece Drum Kit for 5.1 Surround

Monday, February 1st, 2010

The Project: Drums in 5.1

I am currently working on a recording of music that I have been writing with Penny Larson, the awesome-est drummer ever. We tracked the drums at U. Mass Lowell’s wonderful Rm 114, which is by far the best room I have ever worked in. Big enough to make great drum sounds with lots of diffusion and enough low frequency absorption to prevent the room from being boomy or rumbly. It’s just totally delicious.

Penny and I first worked together recording Bryan McPherson’s “Fourteen Stories” and then subsequently on Sierra’s EP “Rocks.”

Penny Larson's 8 Piece Drum Set

Penny Larson's 8 Piece Drum Set

The record will be released in 5.1 Surround at 24bit 88.2kHz so there is a lot of opportunity to use the 360 degree soundstage to allow the kit to be heard in all of its glory. There are lot of issues that arise when recording a really large drumset and I will talk a little about these types of issues.

mkit from the Front

8 Piece Drum Kit from the Front

Problems Micing a Large Kit

More Drums = More Mics = More Problems

As you add microphones to a drum setup, the potential for phasing and bleed problem increases exponentially. More drums usually means closer together drums, so isolating the drums becomes difficult. When sounds bleed into unintended microphones the possibility of phase cancellation or other problems increases as well. Adding to the mix problems are a zillion cymbals that will cause physical problems with mic placement as well as bleeding problems. Two objects can not be in the same place at the same time.

Microphone Selection and Techniques

Surround Microphones

Although I love recording with omni’s and a Jecklin Disk, I decided to try something different for this particular drum tracking session. The Jecklin Disk technique creates a very nice realistic stereo image, but I am not going for realistic in this case. I want drums that are bigger than life and over-the-top.

Used a variation of spaced cardioids very similar to that used in the Decca-Tree style employed in the Fukada tree. In this case I chose to use 2 Neumann KM140 Cardioid Small Diaphragm Mics for the left and right speakers and an AKG 414 XLS in Cardioid for the center channel. I used a pair of Neumann TLM103 for room mics facing into an RPG Schroeder Diffusor away from the drum set.

Front 3 Microphones: Neumann KM140's with AKG 414 XLS in Cardioid in Center

Front 3 Microphones: Neumann KM140's with AKG 414 XLS in Cardioid in Center

Rear Surround Left Neumann TLM103 toward RPG Diffusor

Rear Surround Left Neumann TLM103 toward RPG Diffusor

To recap the surround microphone setup: Left, Center and Right “overheads” are actually in front of the kit to enable better balance between cymbals and drums. Rear surround large diaphragm cardioids point away from the kit into the corners of the room.

Kick Drums (plural, as in two!)

I have always been a fan of the delicious warm thump produced by micing the front hole in the kick with an AKG D112. It always provides a great tone, but can lack a little bit in fast transient response and clarity. I have been using Earthworks TC25’s and SR25’s for the kick and snare drums. The tiny diaphragms offer a tremendously accurate transient response and can handle very high SPLs. I use the Kick Pad which ships with the SR25 to pad the mics output and scoop out the middle frequencies to create a great kick sound. With most double kick players, one drum is the main drum and the other is used for accents and kick fills.

First Kick Drum: AKG D112 and Earthworks TC25

First Kick Drum: AKG D112 and Earthworks TC25

Second Kick Drum: AKG D112 and Earthworks SR25

Second Kick Drum: AKG D112 and Earthworks SR25

The Earthworks TC25 is an omni-directional microphone while the SR25 is Cardioid and provides a little bit of isolation with the pickup pattern. I used the SR25 on the second kick drum and employed the Kick Pad in the signal chain, while I used the TC25 turned off axis on the main kick drum. The TC25 has a flat response all the way down to earthquake, so I chose it for the main kick drum, while the second drum was happy with the slightly tighter sounding SR25.

Snare Drum

The first secret to a good snare sound is a good drummer and a good snare drum. For this particular recording Penny brought 5 snares to choose from and I selected the one that sounded the closest to my ideal of the Al Green and Fleetwood Mac snare sounds: excellent attack, white noise snare sound, warm woody tone (sometimes obtained from Brass and Copper drums!), good tonal variation (rim, sidestick, center, flam, rim shot, etc), and a lot of low midrange (150 Hz – 300 Hz). Again I used a two microphone technique using a traditional snare mic, Sennheiser 421, and an Earthworks TC25 omni. The 421 provides the traditional proximity effect low mid whap (technical word) while the omni fleshes out the toal tone and timbre of the snare. I place the omni pointing at the shell of the snare drum so that it picks up both the top and the bottom of the snare.

Snare Drum: Sennheiser 421 Over the Head (Warning: Never Try This Without A Great Pro Drummer

Snare Drum: Sennheiser 421 Over the Head (Warning: Never Try This Without A Great Pro Drummer

Snare Drum: Sennheiser 421 (View 2) DANGER! Amateur/Intoxicated/Drunk/Average Drummers WILL Destroy Mics in this Position!

Snare Drum: Sennheiser 421 (View 2) DANGER! Amateur/Intoxicated/Drunk/Average Drummers WILL Destroy Mics in this Position!

Snare Drum: TC25 Pointed at the Shell of the Drum

Snare Drum: TC25 Pointed at the Shell of the Drum

Toms (All Five of Them!)

There’s really no super secret tracking technique here, just 5 Sennheiser 441’s. Currently the 441 is my favorite dynamic microphone period. It has a wonderful pickup pattern rejecting sources to the sides and a very small rear lobe behind the microphone. The 441 has fantastic tone, a great bump in the lows and low mids from the proximity response and rejects the other toms, drums and cymbals in the vicinity. The hardest part of micing the toms on Penny’s ginormous kit was getting around the cymbals and other hardware. Obviously the 441 is a large microphone and this does make it hard to use in tight spaces.

Tom No. 5: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 5: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 4: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 4: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 3: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 3: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 2: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 2: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 1: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 1: Sennheiser 441

Notice in the Tom No. 1 photo that I had to use a mic clip from a 421 and LOTS of GAFFER’S TAPE to fashion a mic clip. Sennheiser makes great sounding microphones but by far the absolute stupidest microphone clips EVER. EVER.

Flat Ride Cymbal Spot Mic

After doing a few test takes, it became evident Penny’s flat ride cymbal just wasn’t cutting through the rest of the drum kit. The tone of the flat rides is superb, but they become inaudible with a large or loud kit. I used an AKG 452 under the cymbal to get it to push through the masking. Even though the mic is pointing up, the cymbal isolates the mic from the other sounds so phasing wasn’t much of a problem.

Flat Ride Spot Mic: AKG 452

Flat Ride Spot Mic: AKG 452

Again, I cannot stress enough how important a great drummer and good drums are to getting the sound of a great kit. Thanks Penny!

Penny Larson: The Great Drummer in the Center of the Sound

Penny Larson: The Great Drummer in the Center of the Sound

Recording at Indecent Music with Hendrik

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

The following video is about my recording philosophy and the gear that I use at Indecent Music.  I record, mix, and master out of Indecent Music.  I also provide audio engineering training and private lessons so that song writers can learn to be more effective at making their own demos.

How to Become a Hip Hop Producer

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Their is difference between someone who makes beats – meaning composing and performing (or programming) original instrumental music, someone who is really a producer, and a recording engineer that specializes in hip hop tracking and production.

The fastest way to learn to beat making is to make beats with whatever you have available. I have worked with a couple of heads who were complete geniuses with the Playstation software from MTV. Their music was simply amazing. Software that is highly under-rated is FL Studio or FruityLoops. The step sequencer is the easiest way to make music quickly. Read the manual! Watch videos online.  Start working with as many other beat makers that you can find on the net, in your home town. For me, competition made me write stuff that was much better than working by myself in a vacuum. The three big instruments to learn would be keys, drums, and bass. You did not need to work in a studio to do this kind of work. You need a computer, a decent audio interface (Not an M-Box), and a couple of nice monitors. If money is a factor, don’t get a Mac. You get a lot more computer in the PC world and there’s tons of software available.

A real producer puts the whole show together. They hire everyone, often write songs with the artists, choose the studio to work in, find live musicians to fill out the sound. Sometimes that means doing everything yourself. A lot of the time the producer FUNDS the project and gets the biggest share of the profit (if any).  A producer is a big picture person usually with an excellent understanding of the psychology of creative people, motivation, fear, competition and excellence. This is something that comes with lots of experience, a strong musical background, charisma and usually fame or money.

An engineer deals with the tiniest details of tracking and mixing. Moving a mic a half inch, rotating a mic off axis, how to attenuate the peaks of the kick to get it to sound bigger, without making it wimpy. Attack and Release time minutia for compressing drums, bass and vocals. How the sound stage can be used to the best advantage, how to either avoid masking or use it to create new timbres. You need to learn this either in a studio as an apprentice, in a good audio school that has great facilities (I teach at New England Institute of Art in Boston and at U. Mass Lowell both have great facilities) and then leverage that into getting good internships.

Sometimes there are people who really are all three. Sometimes you will find yourself in one role or the other depending on who you’re working with.

The best job to get to learn audio engineering is working for live sound companies as a grunt. You will carry the bass bins, mic stands and a 43 foot console. But you will get to watch the FOH and monitor guys throw down. Live is good because it forces you to learn to do things quickly and it puts you around dozens of musicians every weekend. Not wanting to be embarassed is a very powerful way to learn.  You are always on stage being watched from the time you load in, to the time you strike the stage.

(posted to GearSlutz 7-4-09)

What books do I need for Survey of Music Technology at UML?

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

As many of you already know, I am now teaching at two colleges: University of Massachusetts Lowell and the New England Institute of Art.  At both schools I teach in the Audio Production departments, but at UML, it is called SRT or Sound Recording Technology. I can recommend both of the text books.  They have different perspectives and both are well established texts in the field.

The first book that is required reading for UML’s  class 78.305 “Survey of Music Technology” is Experiencing Music Technology by David Williams and Peter Webster.  The book is quite expensive in stores, but is a little cheaper at Amazon as usual. A new edition of the book has just become available to update the content with internet technologies, contro surfaces and other innovations from the last 10 years.

Experiencing Music Technology Book

Experiencing Music Technology

The second book is also expensive unfortunately. Audio in Mediais in its 8th edition and is one of the most updated books on the subject. This text covers everything from acoustics to post-production. It’s fantastic overview of music technology from mics and loudspeakers to control surfaces and signal processors.

Audio in Media Book

Audio in Media

DIY: A Jecklin Disk for Stereo Recording with Omni’s

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

What’s a Jecklin Disk?
A Jecklin Disk is a device that helps to record the most natural sounding stereo image that I have been able to achieve. It is a 12 inch circular disk with acoustically absorptive foam on both sides. Omni-directional microphones are mounted on both sides of the disk. The foam acts much the way your head works to block high frequency sounds from being picked up by both microphones equally. The sound is delayed as it tries to get around the disk and high frequency sounds are absorbed.

For instance, if there’s a sound coming from your left side, sound travels first to your left ear and then to your right ear. The delay that occurs between the left and the right helps us to determine directionality of the sound source. Additionally the sound gets partially absorbed by your head. So you get more high end sound on the side of your head that is closest to the sound source. The Jecklin Disk emulates this. Our friends at Mercenary Audio have a great version of the original article by Jürg Jecklin. ( If you aren’t interested in making a disk yourself, you can easily order a really nice commercial model at Mercenary!

This is what a Jecklin Disk looks like in use with a pair of Earthworks TC25 omni’s:

Now that you know that you want one, but you don’t have $260 here’s how to put one together:

First step is to get out your trusty compass and set it for a 6″ diameter, which will create a 12″ circle. Compasses are really great for working with measurements and drawing circles in specific distances from the edge of a flat surface.

Stick the point of the compass as close as possible to the corner of a piece of 3/8″ nice-on-both-sides plywood and mark out 6″ on both the edges of the plywood. You can just draw an arc across the whole board if you want. I put the lines on the plywood already so you can see what I’m doing.

Next, you stick the point of the compass at the edge of the board where you drew the arc. This point is 6″ away from the corner. Draw an arc on the board where the center of your disk will be. Now move the point of the compass to the other point where your first arc intersected with the edge of the board and draw another arc where the center of the disc will be. Where these two arcs intersects is the center of your disk.

Now you can draw out your 12″ circle by pointing the compass in the center and making a complete circle.

Now it’s time for POWER TOOLS! Be sure to use hearing protection and eye protection. You never get you hearing back when it’s damaged. I prefer to use a saber saw (also called a Jig Saw) for cutting arcs and circles. You want to use a smallish blade with small teeth designed to cut wood, not metal.

Carefully cut the circle out of the plywood. Don’t worry about small imperfections in the cut because you will be sanding the edges smooth.

Now that you’ve cut the circle out of the plywood, take the rest of the plywood over to the table saw. We’re going to cut out 5 of squares of plywood to make the base of the Jecklin disk. These will all get sandwiched together to make the base that the mic stand threaded flange will attach to. Rip the first rectangle from the edge of the cut circle so that the disc will nestle perfectly in the base.

After cutting out all the little rectangles, you can see the odd one with the arc cut into it. This will be the middle piece of the sandwich.

Get your clamps, wood glue and blocks ready to glue together and clamp.

Glue is art. The glue is a abstract representation of the emptiness of the skulls of our nations leaders. After you get all the pieces together, clamp them after making sure all the pieces line up as smoothly as possible.

Go ahead and put the base aside to dry (give it at least an hour or so). Now go to the drill press to putting the mounting holes through the disc. This will be where you’ll mount two microphone stand flanges on either side of the disc. My drill press has lasers! Jealous?

After you get the disk drilled out and the base is dry. Go ahead and glue the disk into the slot in the base that you left with the arc cut out. Notice the two mic flanges on the table saw to the right of the disk. After the glue dries, you’re going to need to thoroughly sand the entire surface of the disc and the edges of the base as smooth as possible.

Fit self-sticking foam to the disc in preparation to attach it permanently.

After you have your foam cut correctly, you can go ahead and seal the disk with a few coats of Polycrylic, a latex version of polyurethane. Polycrylic is great for furniture that isn’t going to be walked on, but it really sucks for floors because its just not hard enough.

Notice that the wood grain is coming out more with the layers of clear finish.

After the Polycrylic dries, go ahead and attach the self-sticking foam to the disc and trim all the excess off with an hobby knife.

The last step is to bolt on the mic flanges through the disk. You will mount your mic clips onto the flanges.

Here’s a close-up of the base of the Jecklin Disk.

Now add a couple of omni’s and you’re good to go. Two omni’s on a Jecklin Disk, a few feet in front of a drum set, make for a wonderfully natural drum sound. A great inexpensive omni mic is the Audix TR-40, which sounds wonderful and almost as good as mics costing 5 times as much!

Drum Set Tracking at Indecent Music

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

Most rock acts that call looking to book studio time at Indecent, are really interested in what kinds of drums sounds I am able to create. It’s very hard to talk about these types of sounds over the phone without listening to audio samples. This posting shows off one of the typical drum mic set-ups that I like to use. Every project has a different flavor, and so every drum/mic set-up has its own unique approach. However there are some techniques that I consistently employ to get the most typical sounds for rock and pop music.

The photos from this particular mic configuration are from the drum tracking sessions for a 5-song project that I am producing for Sierra ( , a folk-rock artist that I heard for the first time several months ago. Our goal was to get a pretty natural, acoustic drum sound that wouldn’t be out-of-place on a singer-songwriter album based on acoustic guitar and vocals. I already knew that I wanted to work with Penny Jane Larson ( on the record because Penny and I have great chemistry in the studio and and she’s just a great f*ing drummer. Sierra and I worked up tempos and some feels in our pre-production work and sent MP3’s to Penny so she would have an idea of where Sierra was coming from.

Penny and I decided to use the “small” house kit at Indecent, which is a 7-piece birch Premier kit with a 20″ kick and 14″, 12″, 10″, and 8″ toms. Penny only needed the 14″ and the 12″ so we didn’t bother to include the other pieces, because they would just ring, rattle and cause problems. Penny brought a copper Slingerland snare drum that sounds very woody and warm. She used that drum for everything that didn’t require side-sticking and she opted to use another snare with hardwood hoops for the more mellow stuff. I have the Evans EMAD system on the kick drum and Evans 2 ply heads on the toms. Penny did a great job tuning and damping with duct tape and tissue.

After we got the drums to sound really great in the room, I started mic-ing up the kit and choosing mics that I have had good luck with in the past. This first stage is mostly driven by experience. I’m not listening the drum mics at all at this point, but rather placing specific mics where I think that they will sound best. After everything is set-up, then I move to the control room to choose pre-amps and compressors. Basically we arrived at a set-up that looked like this:

Indecent Music Drum Mic Setup

In this particular setup (and in most of the setups that I favor), the majority of the drum sound is derived from the overheads and the room mics. Note in the picture the drum overheads are attached to a heavy studio boom stand and are separated using a Jecklin Disk ( This provides for a near-perfect stereo effect. I use two omni-directional mics (TC25’s) from Earthworks’ Drum Kit. I place the mics 7 feet off the ground below an area on the ceiling that has been well treated with acoustic foam. This tends to cause the mics to pick up the drums directly and not the reflection of the sound off of the ceiling. The TC25’s are ruler flat and provide an extremely accurate picture of sound in a room. They don’t color or alter the tone of the drums, the room or anything else.

Jecklin Disk with Earthworks TC25's

I also use a room mic (notice off to the left in the photo) made by Shinybox. This is a ribbon mic called the 46 MXL ( complete with a premium Lundahl output transformer. The Shinybox ribbon competes with mics double and triple its price like the Royer 121, for instance. The mic is extremely warm and pleasant sounding with a pronounced roll-off of high frequencies. The mic has a figure 8 pattern which picks up some of the back of the room as well as the drum kit itself.

AKG D112 and Earthworks SR25 in a Kick Drum

The next most important part of the sound is the kick drum. The overheads and the room mic usually get a great snare sound, but most of the time the kick is over-emphasized in my small drum room. There are a lot of different ways to handle a kick drum, but I have been happiest using two mics in the hole on the resonant side of the drum. I usually use an AKG D112 ( because it has the classic kick sound with tons of low end. In order to get a little definition I prefer that drummers use either a wood beater or the hard plastic side of the new hybrid beaters. This provides for a certain amount of click. Also in the hole, I point an Earthworks SR25 ( small-diaphragm condenser right at where the beater hits the head of the drum. This provides for a much more defined and punchy kick sound. I usually mix the two mics’ signals together pretty equally, or I favor the SR25 slightly.

Snare and Tom mics are only used to emphasize the sounds already in the overhead mics. For the snare drum I use a Shure Beta 56 ( It’s basically a Beta 57 with a slightly different body. The mic sounds pretty good, and it has a tight pattern which helps to reject sounds from the hi-hats, kick drum and rack tom. The specially mount on the mic is unfortunately poorly conceived and can make it difficult to patch in a mic cable. It won’t work with the Drum Claw for instance, and usually can only be used with the smallest extension of the boom arm on most stands.

Beta 56 on a copper Slingerland snare drum

With snares and toms, I try to split the difference between close mic-ing and distance mic-ing. The closer the mic is to the rim of the drum, the more ring ends up in your sound. Pointing the mic at the center of the drum helps. This is where your get the least amount of sustain and the most attack. I try to get my mics several inches up and above the rim of the drum pointing dead at the center of the drum. The further away the mic is from the drum head, the more of the drum head the mic actually picks up. To get a natural sound you want the mic far away from the drum head; to get isolation and a more artificial sound, you get closer to the head.

Tom Mics: Shure Beta 57 and Audix D-4

You can see from the picture above that I have moved the mics further back that most typical tom configurations. The creates a more natural sound, but does allow for more potential bleed from other drums. I usually don’t compress the tom mics to help minimize the sustain and bleed of the other toms. Here I am using a Shure Beta 57 ( on the rack tom and an Audix D-4 ( on the floor tom. The D-4 sounds fantastic on lower toms and even on kick drums and bass guitar cabs.

The only other consideration is the hi-hat. Here I am using a single Audio Technica AT4041 small diaphragm condenser microphone. I point the mic straight down on the top cymbal a couple of inches from the edge. This helps to reject the sound of the toms and snare and provides a little bit of isolation for the hi-hats. In the configuration below the mic is also rejecting sound from the two crash cymbals on either side of the hi-hats.

AT-4041 on the Hi-Hat

All of the mics went into tube pre-amps except the Shinybox 46MXL which went into a modified T1953 using Burr-Brown OPA2134UA op-amps for all gain stages. The D112 went into an LA-610 with a bit of compression. The Earthworks mics for the overheads went into TL Audio stereo tube pre, and all the other mics went into ART tube pres: 2 Dual MPs and a DPS-II. I opted to record with no additional compression other than the LA-610 on the kick. The tube pres compressed the sound slightly and I was able to get a very natural and warm sound without any extra processing.

Please write if you have any comments or questions!

How to Get Warmer, Thicker Rap Vocals

Monday, December 17th, 2007

This is a response to a student question, from Akeem Custis, about how to get rap vocals to sound thicker, warmer and better in general.

First, your mic and preamp are very important. Some mics are warmer and fatter than others. The same goes for preamps. I have gotten some great results with the EV RE-20, which is a dynamic mic. Mic placement is pretty important on rap vocals too. You want to use a cardioid mic to boost up the lows a little with the proximity effect. Make sure that you have at minimum one really good pop filter. I often use two pop filters: one foam “windscreen” on the mic itself and a metal Stedman pop filter as well. Sometimes I use one pop filter in front of the other or different types. Turn the mic slightly so that the mic isn’t pointed directly at the artist’s mouth. This is called an “off-axis” mic placement and also helps with plosives.

Since I don’t know what you’re recording with, I would suggest first compressing the vocal heavily. With the attack and release in auto, use a 6:1 ratio to reduce gain up to 15 dB, then boost the vocal as far as you can without peaking. If you put a boost of 2-5 dB at around 150 Hz that can also fatten up a track, especially in the male vocal range. If it starts to sound muddy, then just back off on the peak filter. Your bandwidth should be between 100 Hz and 200Hz or about 1 octave.

When you add additional vocal tracks of doubling, you can also create phase problems and end up with a thinner sounding vocal than if you hadn’t added the additional tracks. One way to handle this is to pan the additional tracks so that they’re not all sitting on top of each other. This will tend to sound much bigger than tracks all panned center. Usually on rap vocal tracks, the hooks use doubled voices (or tripled or more) panned out. This creates a bigger vocal production to set the hooks out from the verses. Most of the time, the verses aren’t panned out so heavily and there are many fewer vocal doubles.

I have had really good luck with doing doubles, but using different tones of voice to avoid phase problems. For instance, have the MC record the first take of the track in the tone they would use live. Now do a whisper double. This one won’t interfere with the frequencies in the first take very much. Now do a hard aggressive double. Listen to these 3 takes together in mono to see how you’re doing. Mix the different voices up or down as appropriate.

If you have already recorded the tracks, then you can try using a doubler with the additional voices panned out. This will probably cause some of the phase problems that I already mentioned.

Good Luck Mixing!