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Phatten up Vocals in Ableton Live

G.W. Childs IV on Mar 05, 2011 in Ableton Live 0 comments

Not all of us have a Neumann condenser microphone to run home to when the world seems like a cold dark place, and our vocals sound too thin. In fact, some of us have very limited microphone access, pe

Not all of us have a Neumann condenser microphone to run home to when the world seems like a cold dark place, and our vocals sound too thin. In fact, some of us have very limited microphone access, period. It's with this simple fact in mind that I chose to not only give you some quick tips on thickening up your vocals, but also how to make that crappy mic sound just a little bit better.

To help me achieve a certain level of rubbishy vocals, I chose to use the built-in mic on my iPhone headphones. Ideal? Far from it. It lacks a lot of high-end, in fact, it's pretty much like building a mic from an old magnet. It's a mid-range nightmare, but it's perfect to help show how helpful some of Ableton Live's audio plug-ins can be.

First, let me start off by letting you hear the iPhone vocal recording with no effects, period:

Yep, if the drums weren't in the background, you might have thought I was either very new to this, or mentally challenged when I recorded, with regard to recording quality.

Now, let's see what we can do!

Step 1

Ableton's sound designers were very, very thoughtful when they made the presets for the built-in Compressor that comes with Ableton. Amongst all of the handy presets like 'Acoustic', 'Brick Wall', etc. there is a very handy preset known as 'De-esser'. I can tell you from experience, the 'De-Esser' preset works very well. I'll start off by incorporating the Ableton Compressor in with the 'De-Esser' preset. 'Esses' can be worse than normal on low-end mics, and this vocal line does have some 'esses'.

Step 2

Now that the nasty 'esses' are out of the way, I want to be able to boost my volume without peaking. Normally, I'd use a compressor. However, as the De-esser is already in play in the form of a compressor, I don't want to squash too much. I'll go ahead and use Ableton's Limiter instead. With the limiter, I can boost the signal, but then limit how much audio overall is being sent out.

Step 3

So, I've got some volume now, but this is a really, really 'mid-rangey' recording. See what I mean with the current FX:

To assist with overall 'boxy' feel of the recording, I'll incorporate an EQ Eight. Realistically, if I was concerned about DSP, I'd stick with the EQ Three because I only will really need a few bands of EQ, at the moment. But I like the GUI of the EQ Eight better, so I stick with it.

With this EQ, I use one filter on the EQ Eight to shelve a lot of of the low end off of the recording. It's a little bass heavy, and vocals (in most cases) should not be competing with the drums. Next, I add a little boost with the second filter at 5k. This just adds a little more high-end to the over all recording. Also, it makes the vocals a little more breathy, and intimate, which I like.

Step 4

Finally, with a the addition of a little delay (light slap-back) and chorus, I add some polish and snap to the over all recording. Granted, it's a crappy mic recording, and I wouldn't normally use something like this, but as you can see, some of the more simple Ableton effects made a huge, huge difference! Listen and judge for yourself:

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Sound Designer, Musician, Author... G.W. Childs has worn many hats. Beginning in the U.S. Army back in 1991, at the age of 18, G.W. began learning electronics, communications and then ultimately audio and video editing from the Department of Defense. Upon leaving the military G.W. went on to work for many exciting companies like Lu... Read More

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