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Old August 25th, 2012, 09:33 AM   #1
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Tips for recording piano + voice

Hello alll you music recording engineers. I'm playing around with recording some music. Right now it's just a single instrument (piano) and voice. I'm recording each track separately so I've got the piano track and then I'm playing it back through headphone and having the singer lay down the voice track. I'm recording everything totally dry and am planning on adding FX when I mix. I'm looking for any tips suggestions on or a basic guideline workflow for the voice. So far I've played with the following:

1 Clean up - remove any breathing, extra noise, S's, etc.
2. EQ - Generally dropping a bit below 250Hz and boosting slightly above 8KHz.
3. Add a slight amount of reverb and sometimes a bit of delay.
4. Applying a small amount of compression to even out the volume.

I'm also trying to see if making a bit of a whole in the piano track between around 500Hz to 8KHz helps to bring out the vocals a little more.

Recording with a Rode NT2-A mic going straight into a Tascam DR-680 recorder. Not the greatest but it seem to be getting a pretty clean recording.

Any suggestions or tips would be great. Thanks!
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Old August 25th, 2012, 02:13 PM   #2
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Re: Tips for recording piano + voice

Hi, Garrett! This sounds like a great opportunity for Ty Ford to pop-in. I'd also suggest speaking with Doug Oade, if you know him. They are both the greatest audio resources I personally have spoken with. And of course, you, but you're asking the question.

There are some recording 'Tips' on the AKG website, showing how to mic-up a piano and also different voice set-ups you might find useful.

Sorry I can't be of more help.

Regards,

J.
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Old August 25th, 2012, 02:32 PM   #3
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Re: Tips for recording piano + voice

Thanks James. In a former life I actually wanted to be a recording engineer recording live classical music. Recording and doing post audio to mix music is a whole different animal than mixing for movies or video. It's turning out to be pretty intensive. Listing and tweaking every little phrase without trying to make it sound processed. I'm sure an experience engineer could do it in no time but for me it's a matter of trial and error. And so far more errors.
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Old August 25th, 2012, 05:23 PM   #4
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Re: Tips for recording piano + voice

Did you record the piano in stereo? If so, there's width already so the need to drop the mids to reveal the vocal may not be needed - and probably worth thinking about because it is noticeable. Please don't eq by formula - as in dropping a bit and boosting a bit. You use eq as a tool - and a small cut at 250Hz might be right for one microphone and one voice and very wrong for another. I assume you want a natural, contemporary, realistic sound? If so, then be gentle with any eq, and add or cut where it's needed. So much depends on the type of music too - so it may be appropriate to compress, or not - sometimes the singing style, especially if they are either sibilant or breathy, needs careful attention as compression can make these elements more prominent. The only rule is there is no rule. There are things that often work to repair problems, or create something very formulaic, but in general, piano and voice probably means realism - so harsh or inappropriate treatment just sounds wrong.

For reverb, much depends on the result you want. If you've recorded in mono, then a stereo reverb with a little extra distance can separate it from the vocal. Only you can decide the type of reverb you use. As for delay - what for? I've found that I'm now using an autotune plugin far more than I did before on good singers, but with a very gentle correction tolerance.

Much depends on what you have in the way of sound treatment available. Big wet and watery reverbs might be out of place, but a bit of shorter reverb with a quality plugin or real processor might work. I'd really avoid doing anything until you sit down to do it. It could be appropriate to try a double track for a thicker sound, but perhaps not if the singer is singing Ave Maria!

My own experience is that getting a good piano recording is the key to the success. If you have recorded it in mono, then it will be much more difficult to make the thing work without separating voice one way and piano the other - which is a bit unusual.
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Old August 25th, 2012, 07:44 PM   #5
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Re: Tips for recording piano + voice

You haven't said how much experience the talent has and that's very important. Unless the singer is present when you record the piano track,
you're laying yourself open to trouble.

Even if they've rehearsed together beforehand, it becomes 'all different' on the day.

eg: I had a job to record the Aust. operatic tenor Donald Smith in the Jenolan Caves west of Sydney for the N.S.W. Dept. of Tourism.
It was an organ and vocal album of popular songs but we couldn't transport a big organ from the Sydney Opera House,
the only alternative was to pre-record it.

I knew the problems, so I had Smith present at the session and he rehearsed with the organ just before each take.
I nearly drove him mad asking, 'is that the right tempo?' 'how's the feel?' I didn't insult them by asking 'Is that in the right key? but one arrangement was wrong and had to be transposed.

The following week in the Cathedral Cave when Smith opened up, some of the Organ tracks WERE slightly too fast and he had to sing with less voice to keep up.

So imo the best way is to record the piano and voice together whether it's classical or pop.

The audience will be listening to the *whole* performance, not the eq on the piano.

A side bar. We recorded over 3 days and stayed at the Caves House, 1930 popular guest accommodation. Queen Elizabeth 11 stayed there in 1954 and we drew lots to see who would sleep in the 'Royal Quarters'. I won and actually slept in the giant Royal double bed, it was enormous, she could have still been in there :)

Donald Smith has passed away now, but he was Aust most famous operatic tenor and a great guy with a great sense of humour. We both love Aust Shiraz and the dinners each night were a hoot!

Cheers.
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Old August 25th, 2012, 10:53 PM   #6
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Re: Tips for recording piano + voice

maybe a naive question, but why not record the two together, on separate mics & tracks to allow mixing etc but at least a single session to avoid all the timing and other issues mentioned regarding separate recordings.
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Old August 25th, 2012, 11:03 PM   #7
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Re: Tips for recording piano + voice

I think he recorded the piano first, then played back that track and had the singer sing along with it, sort of like karaoke.
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Old August 25th, 2012, 11:16 PM   #8
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Re: Tips for recording piano + voice

what i meant to say in my previous post was: what would be the ideal approach -- record separately or record together?
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Old August 26th, 2012, 12:07 AM   #9
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Re: Tips for recording piano + voice

Thanks everyone for your help and input. First this is purely an amateur project. My 11 year old son is the musician who will be playing the piano and is the singer so there shouldn't be any trouble with the piano tempo or feeling. I have thought about recording the vocals and piano at the same time. The problem is I really like the sound when there's a little distance between him and the mic and there's no way to keep the piano from bleeding into the vocal track. If someone else were playing the piano it would be easy to get some separation between the two but that's not the case.

I may still try it and see how it sounds but I'd also like to try to pick them up separately which would give me the most flexibility in post. It also makes it easiest to pull together the best parts of multiple takes so that it takes some pressure off of getting both perfect at the same time.
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Old August 26th, 2012, 10:53 AM   #10
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Re: Tips for recording piano + voice

Why not do both? Record multiple times because each performance is different, and some are better than others. Especially if he "loosens up" after the first couple of takes. So record some with him playing and singing at the same time, and some with him playing and singing as separate events. Play the piano back for him (headphones) so he can hear it and adjust his singing as required to make tempo. Touch up pitch problems in post if required.
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Old August 26th, 2012, 11:43 AM   #11
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Re: Tips for recording piano + voice

Hi Bruce,

That's basically what we're doing. This is the first time he's being recorded so it is proving to be a challenging experience. So far from our testing it seems recording the piano track ahead and then having him just sing gives a better vocal performance but like you said, he's pretty inconsistent so it just really depends on the take.
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Old August 26th, 2012, 01:47 PM   #12
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Re: Tips for recording piano + voice

I do this a fair bit, and there are two issues to keep in mind. If the musicians are not expert (or even if they are , often) they will make mistakes. Second problem is crosstalk, or spill. Piano will leak into the vocal mic. To be fair, if you balance it properly it probably sounds more 'real' - but recording as live, removes total control, and any possibility of transparent editing. If you record five takes, none of which is perfect, then you can take the good bits from one take and replace the bad bits with hopefully different good bits from another take. Comping, as it's known is a standard technique now. Real pros, especially those who are traditional singers may be awkward and only want to do it with the piano live, because the pianist and vocalist feed off each other and push and pull timing. Less skilled people won't be able to do this.

With keen amateurs, I'd start by recording the piano, get it right - then add the vocal. Easier by far to fix!

Garrett - upright or grand piano? What song is it? With a grand you have many more options than with an upright - but a stereo recording will be much easier to work with afterwards to get a nicer tone.

I've produced a series of specialist recordings that are meant to be used for Ballet exams - this meant getting a clean recording, and having a bare minimum of reverb. On the other hand, I've produced some material for the BBC - a previous chorister of the year - and this was in a tricky room.

http://www.granthorsley.com/reflections.mp3
http://www.limelight.org.uk/lovewentariding.wav

Two different very mic techniques
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Old August 26th, 2012, 02:37 PM   #13
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Re: Tips for recording piano + voice

Nice recordings, Paul.

An interesting thing I noticed about the second one was that the rather naughty piano part is being fairly belted out (glad I didn't have to do that one!) and even though the balance on the recording is very good, the singer appears to be taking it much more easy. I don't think that could balance as well acoustically as it does in the recording, but it sounds good. In fact, I don't think the chorister would have thanked you if you had gone for a more conventionally balanced performance as the vocal part would have some job competing with the pianist.
It's a similar effect to the prominent alto and bass flute solos in large orchestral settings that used to feature in film music - difficult/impossible to make work in a concert hall but very effective in studio recordings.
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Old August 26th, 2012, 03:40 PM   #14
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Re: Tips for recording piano + voice

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Originally Posted by Paul R Johnson View Post
With keen amateurs, I'd start by recording the piano, get it right - then add the vocal. Easier by far to fix!

Garrett - upright or grand piano? What song is it? With a grand you have many more options than with an upright - but a stereo recording will be much easier to work with afterwards to get a nicer tone.
The piano is an upright, Yamaha P22 student piano. So it's not the best but like they say, the best instrument for your particular job is the one you have in hand. So It will have to do.

As you suggested Paul, I'm planning on getting the piano recorded, then record the vocals. We've been testing it out a little and it does seem that it will give the best overall finished project.

The song is Only Somewhere We Know by the band Keane.

Thanks for your help
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Old August 26th, 2012, 06:45 PM   #15
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Avoiding Counterfeit Products

Hi Garrett - since you're apparently looking for acquiring a mic, and if you consider buying one using one of the internet sites for used equipment, it would behove one to be aware of the possibility of counterfeit items out there.

Using one brand as an example, Sennheiser, they have a helpful web page to help with spotting counterfeits: Sennheiser USA - Counterfeit Alert Other brands may (or may not) have similar resources.

I've been looking for a few more mics for my "tool box" and I'm getting pretty worn out looking at used equipment and knowing it could be a phony.

Shure is another company being targeted by Chinese trying to make money off someone else's good name. In one case, as way of identifying a counterfeit mic one weighs it - well, they figured that one out and now they put weights inside to make it match the real mic. Bottom line: be very careful. Even buying from a major retailer doesn't necessarily guarantee the real thing. Something about Guitar Center several months ago came up.

A few decades ago there was an outfit out of the San Francisco Bay Area peddling phony Shure phonograph cartridges up and down the coast.

On another note, some video I've got lined up is also with a piano - one an upright institutional model and the other with a grand piano, no singing though, so I found your post and the responses very interesting.
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