technique to track vocals without headphones

Was about to use this technique, and thought it was worth sharing.

Some folks give better vocal performances when they are just singing along with the speakers rather than using headphones. But then you end up with leakage from the rough mix. However there is a way to minimize the leakage to almost inaudible levels.

  1. Set your mix to mono and pan it to come from one and not two monitor speakers.
  2. Use a directional microphone on the vocalist and situate it so it points a null node to the speaker to minimize the leakage you actually record.
  3. Record as many vocal takes as needed.
  4. After the vocalist is done, record a new track with the vocalist staying in the same position as they were when they were singing. The purpose of this track is to record just the leakage you get from the rough mix into the mic. You keep the vocalist in place and don’t move or change any levels so you get as close to capturing exactly the leakage that occurred during the tracking.
  5. Take this leakage track and reverse the phase on it.
  6. For each vocal take, mix it and the phased reversed leakage track together.
  7. Adjust the level of the phased reversed leakage track in the mix until the backing level is minimized.

FYI, noise canceling headphones work on the same principle of summing together noise and phase reversed noise.

Nice, but a lot more work than having the singer put up with headphones :wink:

Sure it is more work, but not that much. Besides I like to treat my main singer real nice, since it’s usually me. :sunglasses:

That’s clever, but also convoluted. A studio vocalist should learn to use the headphones. It’s a better methodology. I am suspicious of artifacts with the phase-cancellation technique.

I’m getting more into Mid-Side Stereo miking, so the phase-cancel technique you describe wouldn’t work for me.

Yes I have used this technique ! I was skeptical before trying it but it worked quite spectacularly.
And it definitely helps the performance vibe when the headphones come off…
For the recording of my “leakage” track I had to kick my vocalist out of the studio… he just couldn’t keep quiet for the 4 minutes needed to record the spill on its own. It still sounded great though… :sunglasses:

I’m interested in hearing Tom’s response to this.

All well and dandy, but only really advantages on a main vocal (if you can be bothered). For songs that have a lot of vocal tracking and backing tracks let alone multiple dropins in segments you could spend an age setting it all up.

And what if you change the tracking volume or someone knocks the mic position etc, etc.

Just way to much for large vocal projects IMO.

On the positive, a good technique to have for those problem times though.

In theory it should work, but if there is any room sound in there, you will have a hard time canceling it out since room sound is so organic and non-linear. Hyper and super cardioid mics are not my choice for recording vocalists because if the person moves, the tone of the vocal will change dramatically, so you would have to force the singer to sing standing really still. You would probably have the vocalist pretty close to the mic too. This isn’t natural and usually doesn’t lead to that “juicy performance”. I have used a similar technique (canceling) a beep in a drummer’s headphone that was audible in the cymbal decay at the end of the song and it worked well, but you are only dealing with a notch where the beep of the click resides in the EQ. The little bit of room that was left was covered by the sustain of the other instruments.

I have used a floor monitor that was quarantined off by gobos for a group of vocalists 12 or so people a while ago when I didn’t have enough headphones. Recorded them in M-S and had a sound absorber in behind the shoe to block the monitor but there was still bleed. I didn’t cancel the bleed because the SNR was fine for where the part sat in the mix.

Beware… Main vocals undergo a lot of treatment, compression, eq, spatial… yadda yadda yadda… the noise floor will come up and bite you in your a$$ if you aren’t careful. If I ever used this technique (and would avoid it at all costs), I would do the cancellation, print it and have the best SNR before I started processing the main vocals because if you have the phase reversed channel and main and start treating the main, then theoretical null has just been voided.

As with anything, YMMV! :mrgreen:

technique to track vocals without headphones

A cappella!!! DONE
:mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

Thanks Tom, makes sense. Although I do like the way of thinking, it might prove beneficial at some point :slight_smile: