When a vocalist gets too close to their mic, the sound will change. Here, with Larry Crane guiding you, listen to and examine subtle changes in tone that result from “eating” the mic in the studio. Learn about plosives and nasal tones as well as overall vocal clarity. Learn how to identify when a singer is too close to a mic, and when to change the positioning.
- [Instructor] One issue I deal with when mixing other folks' sessions is oddly recorded vocals. There are a number of things that can go wrong tracking vocals and I frequently find that they've been sung too close to the mic and that causes a lot of issues. I recorded that example here. We did one vocal like we see here, about six inches away from the mic. And then we did other vocals as close as the singer could get up to the microphone. So let's listen to the vocals in the session.
First we're going to start with the vocals sung six inches away, pretty typical position. (pop rock music) ♪ People will abandon you ♪ ♪ And that's okay ♪ ♪ Just sayyyy ♪ ♪ Say your lines ♪ - Now we're going to hear that same vocal, but recorded way up close on the mic. (pop rock music) ♪ People will abandon you ♪ ♪ And that's okay ♪ ♪ Just sayyy ♪ ♪ Say your lines ♪ - They definitely sound different.
You can hear a little bit of a muddy overtone or something in the close mic. Let's solo those to hear for sure. This is the one, once again, the one about six inches away, solo. (a cappella) ♪ People will abandon you ♪ ♪ And that's okay ♪ ♪ Just sayyyy ♪ ♪ Say your lines ♪ - [Instructor] And now let's hear it. Close mic. (a cappella recording) ♪ People will abandon you ♪ ♪ And that's okay ♪ ♪ Just sayyyy ♪ ♪ Say your lines ♪ - [Instructor] What I hear is, number one, the popped 'P' sounds worse, and we're going to examine that later.
And I also hear like a nasal tonality that comes forward when she's much closer to the mic like that that isn't as pleasing and it kind of muddies up the tone of the vocal itself and how it fits in the mix. Let's go over to iZotope RX and I'm going to show you what we found out. So here's that same top of the chorus. So, in the spectral view, we can get a better idea of what's going on when that mic is up way too close on the singer. The track on the top here is the good vocal, so to speak, and the bottom one here, is the one that's up very close.
Listen to it real quickly here, here's the close mic. (a cappella) ♪ Just say ♪ - And then the decent mic, six inch (A cappella) ♪ Just say ♪ - And then the closer mic. (a cappella) ♪ Just say ♪ - So what I start hearing is that tonality and I wondered where it was coming from. If you look at the fundamental, this is the bottom fundamental note of what she's singing.
(mid-high note) The first harmonic. (higher note) They seem to be pretty much the same level on both. (higher note on one track) (higher note on the other track) Let's here the fundamental and the harmonic first harmonic together. (fundamental and harmonic notes) (fundamental and harmonic notes on other track) They're not that different, so this mic isn't exhibiting a crazy proximity effect, which is nice, it's a half decent mic. So I found that the next harmonic, the second harmonic up is hard to say, it sounds a little bit louder maybe on the closer mic.
(higher note) (higher note) But what I really found is this and let's go down here. This little area between these two harmonics is where the real difference is. And this is kind of between so it's between the harmonics is where a lot of the tamber resides on a recording and the texture, what we think of. And I think this is where a lot of the tonality that starts to bug us is showing up on this recording.
(higher note) (higher note) (higher note) (higher note) To my ear, the one that's closer sounds just a little raspier, less musical. And I think that's part of what's causing the nasal tone of the voice to change. The other thing that we also find is the top end is quite different. Because we've gotten really close to the mic and are singing right there, the frequencies and the high range are not given some room to open up, I'm not really sure, the mic closes down a little bit, possibly.
When it's back off six inches, we hear this. (section of vocal tone) Nice air. When it's close we hear this (section of vocal tone) It even sounds scratchier. It doesn't sound as good. So those things combined create a different texture, and it's not just proximity effect. It's not just that, but it just sounds different because of the texture, the tonality, and the placement of the mic on the voice changes.
The other thing I also noticed was the popped 'P', if you listen to it right here on the close mic. ♪ People will abandon you ♪ - The 'P' on 'people' is the one that has a little bit of a pop and you can see the low end energy right there just this little section. (soft airy sound) Very subtle, hard to hear on most monitors and headphones. On the closer mic, (soft airy sound) it's actually a little more obnoxious sounding, if you hear it solo the whole track, the 'P's.
(one track) ♪ People will aband- ♪ (second track) ♪ People will aband- ♪ (one track) ♪ People will ♪ - Even though the top one evidence is more low end energy, like around 50 hertz and so, the bottom one has a little less of that very deep low energy. The bottom one doesn't sound as good, I think we just got a collection of more nasally overtones of that popped 'P', that make it sound worse which is totally interesting and unusual. So, all of this is knowledge you can use when you're tracking vocals to really carefully place the proximity of the lead vocal mic, especially in cardioid and figure 8 positions, it's going to make a big difference.
And it's subtle things that happen, it's not just the proximity effect that we always talk about. But it's subtle issues with tonality, and how it picks up the tamber of the voice and even affecting the clarity of the words and everything. It'll totally change how it sits in the mix and it'll totally change how it sounds overall and feels to the listener.