Last Week Bill Gibson began his response to this cry for help:
“I’m a gigging singer who is also a technophobe who can’t really see
past his mic. My band-mates discuss technical stuff and I just
pretend to know what they are talking about.”
Today, Bill completes Technology 101 by discussing dynamic processors and effects devices.
The Dynamics Processor (Compression)
The polished, professional, and blended sound that you hear in a high-quality live performance or on a great recording is created, at least in part, by the way the engineer has used compression.
Compressors, limiters, gates, expanders, and duckers are all dynamics processors because they influence the signal’s dynamic range.
A compressor automatically controls the volume of the signal it receives—strong signals are turned down according to the settings on the devise.
So, when you’re singing a song that has some passages which are quiet and tender along with other passages that are really loud and aggressive the compressor will react to those loud and aggressive passages by automatically turning them down in a direct proportion to the strength of the signal.
This is an invaluable tool for the serious vocalist or engineer.
The device is essentially set up so that the quiet passages are just right. The listener should be thinking: “Oh, wasn’t that nice and somehow those lyrics are making me want to cry” not: “I couldn’t hear a single thing that bozo just sang and just that fact that I’m standing here makes me want to cry.”
By adjusting the controls just right (and may I recommend The Hal Leonard Recording Method to help you with that) you can make it so that even when you’re screaming at the top of your lungs the listener is thinking, “Oh my, those vocals sound great and they blend so well with mix and I can really tell this vocalist is passionate about the lyric—that makes me feel inspired and happy inside” instead of, “Oh my God! I think my ears are bleeding because that moron won’t stop screaming at me—I will be so much happier when I get outside!”
Vocal Effects Devices
Effects are all related to delays in some way and are comprised of reverberation, delay/echo, and oscillating effects like chorus, flanger, and phase shifter.
Reverberation and delay effects add a third dimension to a simple left-right panorama, creating a perception that the performance is taking place in an active acoustical environment such as a concert hall, skating rink, classical chamber, or coat closet.
This size dimension is the element that can make the vocal sound large and impressive on a recording or in a live performance.
Simple delays can provide a dimension of size without being quite as intrusive as reverberation but they can both be very effective when used tastefully.
Chorus, flanging, and phase shifting add an interest to the vocal sound that typically simulates a group of singers or even just unique sound effects.
All of these effects require some practice and a little knowledge in order to ensure that you are optimizing their creative potential without simultaneously creating technical problems (and may I recommend The Hal Leonard Recording Method to help you with that too).
No Longer a Technophobe
Your voice, mic, preamp, dynamics processor and vocal effects devices: all of these considerations all work together to shape your vocal sound—they’re all important.
You can purchase different devices for each task but some processors contain all of these ingredients in a single high-quality device (check out TC-Helicon’s VoiceWorks Plus—it matches your personality and creative style).
If you’re recording on a DAW (digital audio workstation) there are also many excellent plug-ins available for both dynamics and effects processing tasks.
So there it is folks. If you’ve learned just a little more about these five fundamental areas, then you’re well on the road to getting an appropriate handle on vocal technology.
You can send your technical question to Bill Gibson’s “Gear Guts” through the VoiceCouncil editor
Bill Gibson is the author of 30+ books about recorded and live sound, including his most recent six-book series, The Hal Leonard Recording Method by Bill Gibson