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Stormalv
Metalhead

Joined: Fri Apr 14, 2006 4:09 pm
Posts: 720
PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 7:00 am 
 

What are your opinions on distorting and/or layering vocals on recordings? How common is it, and is it justified?

On one hand, I find it a bit dishonest, if someone listens to your vocals in a recording and think "Holy shit, these are some powerful vocals", and it's actually because you have layered, used distortion (although not much), delay, etc. But then again, when you play live, and your mic is amplified, that itself makes you sound a lot more powerful, doesn't it? Even though it's not common to use distortion for vocals at gigs?

Just like one guitar will sound powerful live, but on recordings, it's common to use 2 rhythm tracks, or sometimes 4? People rarely complain about that. Is there some theoretical explanation to these things, why does distortion or amplification make something sound more edgy and powerful than it is?

And again, does anyone know how common it is? Maybe for different genres too? If someone is a studio engineer for example.
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kingnuuuur
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Joined: Thu Apr 24, 2008 3:35 pm
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 7:05 am 
 

There has to be rules in place in order for it to be considered cheating. There are no rules whatsoever in audio production. (Unless of course you go to extremes and literally torture/kill someone in order to sample their suffering with a microphone, but let's just say that a different set of outside rules will be involved then)

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awheio
Metal newbie

Joined: Tue Jul 05, 2011 2:00 am
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Location: United States
PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 7:15 am 
 

As I see it, this is fairly similar to the question of whether it's cheating to distort your guitar, or cheating to use an electric guitar, or whatever.

But really, I think the distorting effects you get for vocals just sound a lot different than the harsh techniques. Sometimes I use tiny bits of distortion/overdrive on my vocals, but it's rather easy to tell where, and easy to tell what the effects are responsible for and what I'm responsible for.

But check out tons of black metal for examples of distortion. Like Anaal Nathrakh -- the vocals are insane, but there are also many distorted parts. Just adds to the insanity, but isn't fooling anyone. Show me distortion that can actually replace some good old-fashioned ballsy performances, and I might quit metal altogether.

Edit: Yeah layering is something I wonder (but don't know) about too... I know e.g. Between the Buried and Me does this, along with probably many other "non-metal" bands. Metal bands surely do it often for clean vocal sections... Nothing comes to mind for harsh layering, but it sounds interesting. The problem is that the harsh vocals can already be so hard to control properly that multiple tracks of them would sound shitty really fast.

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Stormalv
Metalhead

Joined: Fri Apr 14, 2006 4:09 pm
Posts: 720
PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 7:29 am 
 

Sirenia and the first 3 Tristania albums have a lot of harsh vocals layering. I sometimes double my harsh vocals myself when recording, it doesn't sound muddy, it just makes them sound fuller, and a little bit more powerful. :)
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splyu
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Joined: Sat Jan 21, 2012 12:09 pm
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Location: Germany
PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 7:56 am 
 

The original Tron movie never got the Oscar for best special effects - their use of computer graphics was considered "cheating".

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mattp
Veteran

Joined: Sun Jun 11, 2006 9:57 pm
Posts: 2910
PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 9:48 am 
 

Stormalv wrote:
What are your opinions on distorting and/or layering vocals on recordings? How common is it, and is it justified?

On one hand, I find it a bit dishonest, if someone listens to your vocals in a recording and think "Holy shit, these are some powerful vocals", and it's actually because you have layered, used distortion (although not much), delay, etc. But then again, when you play live, and your mic is amplified, that itself makes you sound a lot more powerful, doesn't it? Even though it's not common to use distortion for vocals at gigs?

Just like one guitar will sound powerful live, but on recordings, it's common to use 2 rhythm tracks, or sometimes 4? People rarely complain about that. Is there some theoretical explanation to these things, why does distortion or amplification make something sound more edgy and powerful than it is?

And again, does anyone know how common it is? Maybe for different genres too? If someone is a studio engineer for example.


This is a great question! You've touched on the real motivation behind it, that live vocals don't seem to need distortion/layering and still sound awesome. Guitars are the same way -- you never hear layered guitars live, but it is extremely common practice to layer them in a recording.

The recording studio, and the act of listening to a recording, act as a microscope. When you listen to something live, your ability to hear and analyse is significantly reduced for a number of factors. Your ears are desensitized because of the loud volume of the performance, especially if this isn't the first band, your position in the room significantly affects your perception of the mix, you are also paying attention to the visual aspect of the performance, and your standards are typically lower for live music than it is for recorded music. You're also excited to see the band live, and your positive expectation will often carry over into a more positive perception of the music. The most important factor, though, is that in a recording, you can listen to it many times and at whatever volume you want. In a live performance, you can only hear it once, and the volume is very loud, such that you feel it throughout your entire body.

Typical speakers can't get live-concert-volumes (thankfully). So how do you replicate that loudness and good feeling of a live performance? Some of the tricks engineers use is to add saturation and heavy compression to the instruments to simulate what happens in your ears/brain with extremely loud volumes. Layering increases the complexity and depth of a sound, which helps to replicate the 3D feeling of live sound with two speakers (or headphones).

At loud volumes, people hear frequencies differently. The human ear is much more sensitive to mid level frequencies at low volume, but the response becomes more balanced at higher volumes. This means engineers need to cut mids and boost bass/treble to make the sound seem louder than it actually is.

Listen to some old Queensryche -- that shit sounds very 'live' and natural, minimal layering going on, not too much production. It sounds fucking awesome when you have a nice system and you crank it up, but it is weak and underpowering at low volumes. Compare to Metallica's Master of Puppets -- a good bit of layering going on and the sound is pretty scooped in the midrange. Sounds better at low volumes, but lacks the dynamic and punch when cranked up high. Compare again to a modern production like Behemoth's Demigod, where there is massive layering, and the vocals/guitars/drums sound absolutely crushing. They've managed to mix/master it in such a way that it sounds balanced at low volumes without sounding awful at high volumes.

There is no cheating in music, unless you're trying to pass off that you can do something when you can't (see: Angela Gossow).
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Stormalv
Metalhead

Joined: Fri Apr 14, 2006 4:09 pm
Posts: 720
PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 10:38 am 
 

Thanks for the informative answer! :) Many good points! :D
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StellarGraves
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Joined: Tue Feb 07, 2012 7:16 pm
Posts: 180
Location: Israel
PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 11:54 am 
 

kingnuuuur wrote:
There has to be rules in place in order for it to be considered cheating. There are no rules whatsoever in audio production. (Unless of course you go to extremes and literally torture/kill someone in order to sample their suffering with a microphone, but let's just say that a different set of outside rules will be involved then)


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Zodijackyl
Lazy Wizard

Joined: Wed Apr 30, 2008 5:39 pm
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 12:35 pm 
 

I agree with everything mattp said and have a few things to add.

Vocalists use reverb live to thicken up the sound of their voice. Some prefer more than others and it's quite noticeable (i.e. Chuck Billy). Sound engineers use reverb, compression, and equalization much like a guitarist uses the knobs on their amp to make things sound good - it's not cheating at all, those are the tools they have to work with and they use them.

Vocals recorded in a studio can be done in many ways. Some engineers/producers prefer a specific microphone for vocals, some use a variety and fit it to the type of vox being recorded, some like to use multiple microphones at different distances from the vocalist, sometimes vocals are multi-tracked. Engineers/producers/vocalists/bands work together to figure out what will sound best for what they're doing - often one will have a better knowledge of certain parts of this, so it is often a part of how the producer is shaping the sound. Some of them consult with the bands more than others, some pretty much just use the setup they prefer (common in shorter recording projects), and often it's just part of a larger plan of shaping the sound.

Some people prefer an inhuman, layered and processed sound like that of Behemoth, some prefer a very clean, plain, and simple sound. If you can get the sound you want by layering the vocal tracks, then do it. If it sounds good, people will like it.

These are your tools, use them to shape the sound that you want.

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Necroticism174
Kite String Popper

Joined: Mon Mar 30, 2009 6:46 pm
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Location: Canada
PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 12:37 pm 
 

There are no rules in music. Distortion on vocals is a means to an end. Just like triggers on drums are a means to an end. If people think that makes you a "cheater" they are retarded.
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ShaolinLambKiller
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 1:39 pm 
 

I honestly have no problem with it. unless it makes the vocals totally unrecognizable as a voice.

Personally i only add some reverb to my vocals cause it makes the vocals 'wet' and blend easier into the mix.
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Kveldulfr
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Joined: Thu Feb 16, 2012 12:01 pm
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 1:50 pm 
 

To distort a little the vocals is pretty common. To make them sound robotic don't.

I've never heard anyone complaining/claiming for cheating by the shitload of reverb applied in Samael's Worship Him or Emperor's ITNE.
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Necroticism174
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 1:57 pm 
 

Kveldulfr wrote:
To make them sound robotic don't.


I love the vocoder style Cynic and Obscura use.
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Kveldulfr
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 3:54 pm 
 

Necroticism174 wrote:
Kveldulfr wrote:
To make them sound robotic don't.


I love the vocoder style Cynic and Obscura use.


I was thinking about Shagrath-like heavily modified vocals. Cynic's vocoder is ok.
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TheUglySoldier
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Joined: Mon May 12, 2008 3:44 am
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Location: Australia
PostPosted: Tue Apr 10, 2012 5:50 am 
 

Nope. I like the idea of less effected music, but effected isn't necessarily a bad thing - if it sounds good, it sounds good. And really, there is still work to be done in order to create certain sounds, tinkering with the computers. The only dilemma can sometimes be is whether or not you can reproduce it live.
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Pfuntner
Metalhead

Joined: Wed Jul 19, 2006 9:33 pm
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Location: United States of America
PostPosted: Wed Apr 11, 2012 12:08 am 
 

If you like what layering and distortion do to your vocals, then keep doing it. The point is to make music that sounds good.
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MalignantTyrant
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Joined: Sat Oct 29, 2011 3:27 pm
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Location: United States
PostPosted: Wed Apr 11, 2012 9:02 pm 
 

lool what sort of distortion or effects would Helmuth from Belphegor use on his vocals?? They sound pretty sick.
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infinitenexus
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Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 2:35 am
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 3:25 am 
 

When I do death metal style vocals, I use a tubescreamer VST with the gain turned down all the way. It doesn't distort my vocals any, but it smooths them out a good bit. Kinda changes them from old chris barnes to peter tagtgren. Definitely an improvement.
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FearlessUndeadMachines
Metal newbie

Joined: Fri Sep 02, 2011 12:57 am
Posts: 77
Location: United States
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 5:33 am 
 

kingnuuuur wrote:
There are no rules whatsoever in audio production.


That is correct, and there are same number of rules and laws in music; zero.

The reason I don't use distortion on harsh vox is because it simply sounds bad to me. If your vocals sound so weak that you're looking through your plugins for a distortion VST, you need to just re-cut your vocal and push harder.

Sometimes I'll layer vocals because it sounds good. We layer guitars, don't we? (I'm sure somebody in this thread will insist that only one guitar and amp are allowed, lol)

A lot of kids nowadays are just laughably anal about this kind of thing. You guys need to loosen the fuck up. Enjoy life a little.

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MalignantTyrant
Metalhead

Joined: Sat Oct 29, 2011 3:27 pm
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Location: United States
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 7:03 am 
 

infinitenexus wrote:
When I do death metal style vocals, I use a tubescreamer VST with the gain turned down all the way. It doesn't distort my vocals any, but it smooths them out a good bit. Kinda changes them from old chris barnes to peter tagtgren. Definitely an improvement.

if you sound lke Peter Tagtgren then you should probably seek a band and get big quick
loolz, kidding, kidding. . . . I hope
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Nightwisher1990
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Joined: Wed Nov 18, 2009 6:26 pm
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 15, 2012 7:14 am 
 

To me I use a lot of compression on my vocals in addition to some EQ, as well as small amount of reverb it sounds good with that, I don't really know how loud I really sound when I growl but I guess I don't need distortion to make them any louder.
I only use distortion when I do high vocal fry to make sound a black metal like scream it works, but I never use it seriously.

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elf48687789
Metalhead

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 17, 2012 6:18 am 
 

Ministry used a distortion pedal on the vocals when they turned industrial in the late 1980s.

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infinitenexus
Metalhead

Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 2:35 am
Posts: 1939
PostPosted: Tue Apr 17, 2012 8:46 am 
 

Nightwisher1990 wrote:
To me I use a lot of compression on my vocals in addition to some EQ, as well as small amount of reverb it sounds good with that, I don't really know how loud I really sound when I growl but I guess I don't need distortion to make them any louder.
I only use distortion when I do high vocal fry to make sound a black metal like scream it works, but I never use it seriously.



Nothing wrong with compression and EQ. I don't think there's anyone out there that doesn't use those on recordings, and reverb is a valuable tool as well.
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Commandaunt
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Joined: Thu Mar 10, 2011 10:31 am
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Location: Canada
PostPosted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 11:32 am 
 

I don't think it's cheating, if you wanna do it thats fine, like many others have said, if it sounds good, then thats all that really matters .. for the studio version. The only problem I see is transferring it to a live setting where problems could arise because you need these effects to recreate that sound. EQ, compression, bit of reverb, the basics are all I use, mainly because I like to be able to mimic my vocals whenever I want, without any sort of effects.

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hansgrinder
Metal newbie

Joined: Sat May 16, 2009 1:43 pm
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 11:29 am 
 

Who the hell cares? The only 'rule' in recording your own music is "if it sounds good, it is good." If you have a song or a project where distorted vocals would sound cool, then why the hell wouldn't you distort them?

Making music is about putting your ideas on the table for the world to hear. If someone's gonna chastise you for 'cheating' in your recordings then they're probably an idiot and have no business criticizing you in the first place. Make music that YOU like before anything else, lest metal as a whole begins to enter 'pop' terrain by catering to a large, indifferent group's tastes.

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awheio
Metal newbie

Joined: Tue Jul 05, 2011 2:00 am
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Location: United States
PostPosted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 2:30 pm 
 

For the most part, I agree with all of this, but I do think it's more complicated. There is more to music than _just_ the way it sounds. Unless of course your only artistic goal is to make things that "sound cool". I just think that's a boring goal. The ways in which you do things may have ideological significance, so if you subscribe to some kind of ideology that values unaltered things, then maybe you should avoid effects on the vocals -- but then maybe you should avoid them on the guitars too...

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