Vocal level automation

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Lunkhead
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Vocal level automation

Post by Lunkhead » Fri May 31, 2019 9:21 am

I just missed a sale on some Waves plugins. One plugin I was looking at which seemed like a potentially very good deal when it was $29 is the Vocal Rider:

https://www.waves.com/plugins/vocal-rid ... ocal-rider



Do any of you folks spend time on automating or otherwise "riding" the fader of your main vocal to get a consistent level for it through a song, beyond what a compressor can do? I had not really ever even thought about that before but it seems like a good idea, and if a plugin can do it "automagically" for me that seems even better.
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by vowlvom » Fri May 31, 2019 9:46 am

I picked this up in a previous sale and I have found it useful a couple of times, but I get the feeling it'd be more useful for vocals that really were all over the place in terms of volume levels, rather than the slight discrepancies that I usually end up working with. It'd probably be a great secret weapon for people who work with live recordings a lot.
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by Chumpy » Fri May 31, 2019 11:56 am

We would often manually draw in a lot of volume automation for vocals prior to getting hip to compression. Sometimes I'll use like a 9:1 ratio with like a -22dB threshold to aggressively squash it, and then add like 10dB of makeup gain. The resulting waveforms look squashed and rectangular, and the sound is pretty retro, but the clarity is really great. Pretty sure it won't be long before until I back on this and cringe. Of course every little mouth sound and breath is now super audible, so I need to deal with those, but it's doable.
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by grumpymike » Fri May 31, 2019 12:24 pm

Lunkhead wrote:
Fri May 31, 2019 9:21 am
Do any of you folks spend time on automating or otherwise "riding" the fader of your main vocal to get a consistent level for it through a song, beyond what a compressor can do?
That is a fantastic idea I've never thought about. I don't use my keyboard enough but I know I can record envelopes with it. Usually, I just slap a maximizer on the vocals and crank it until it annoys me, and if there's still a problem I'll go in manually.

Call me skeptical, but I don't think a plugin could do it well enough.
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by ujnhunter » Fri May 31, 2019 1:09 pm

I've got that Vocal Rider and the Bass Rider and never use them... I just use compression. For vocals I just slap Gain Reduction Deluxe on all my vocals and call it a day. I don't know what Reve does when I give him raw vocals... but when I'm doing my own mixing that's what I'm doing. I slap it on before I record which is nice, because I can hear exactly what the vocal will sound like in my ears as I record... no funny business!
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by jb » Fri May 31, 2019 2:25 pm

My vocal levels are mismatched from section to section. Like the beginning of a chorus that gets louder, or the verse will be soft and the chorus loud and I want them to be about the same level.

I have used volume automation in the past, though I just drew it in. I don't see the point in using a DAW and still trying to do everything as the audio plays. You can see where the automation needs to go, so just put it there. I mean, if you MUST ride a fader, you can set the automation to Touch mode and it will record whatever changes you make while the audio is playing-- and draw them onto the automation for you.
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These days I don't do that very often. First I try to get my vocals level during the performance, and failing that I use clip gain for an entire region and compression for within a region. Both Logic and ProTools have this function-- so I'm sure the other DAWs do as well.

It works prior to the FX chain and is non-destructive.
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by AJOwens » Fri May 31, 2019 2:46 pm

I try to keep an eye on the levels as I'm singing. I hope one day to be able to deliver an even performance. Meanwhile, in the mixing phase, I almost always open the track volume envelope in the DAW and tweak individual phrases or words up or down. While I'm at it, I usually knock out the parts of the track where there are no vocals, which seems to make for a cleaner overall recording.

If the song can take it, sometimes I'll just use blanket compression on the whole track. That can work well for a rock or pop sound. For airy acoustic or folk numbers it can be noticeable in a bad way.

Recently I've found the mic makes a difference. With a dynamic, you have to pay more attention to the levels from moment to moment. Compressor mics are more forgiving about the source proximity (although they will also pick up the fridge in the next room).
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by fluffy » Fri May 31, 2019 4:08 pm

Generally I'll put a compressor on the various tracks as well as a master compressor chain (using Logic's "broadcast ready" preset as a starting point), and then I'll "ride the faders" using automation curves (drawn using my mouse or Wacom tablet, not using live automation recording) to tweak the levels afterwards. My automation curves tend to be pretty simple and gentle.

I've also recently taken to sidechain compression a bit more, where I compress other tracks based on the lead/vocal/whatever levels. That can quickly lead to a gigantic mess of "oh god what is doing anything anymore" though so I try (and usually fail) to hold off on that until the final mastering.

Regarding automation recording in Logic, you usually want "latch" mode, not "touch," as "touch" only records the stuff as you actually move the fader and when you stop moving it it'll snap back to where it was before.
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by jb » Fri May 31, 2019 4:11 pm

yeah the "what is doing anything" syndrome is even worse if you use something like Melodyne that duplicates the audio file and plays it instead of the region playing. Yesterday I deleted a region and couldn't for the life of me figure out why it kept playing. Took me like 15 minutes to figure out....
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by Pigfarmer Jr » Sat Jun 01, 2019 7:12 am

I bought it. Tried it a couple of times. Gave up and use mainly compression and mild automation. I actually found a short cut (read that as a way of doing it wrong) that I'll do on occasion. I'll sometimes just snip a small section of a track and reduce the volume for that word/phrase/section and then glue it back in. But that's only because, even after nearly ten years, I still don't know my DAW's shortcuts for shit.

Also, I'll sometimes EQ and (mildly) compress a track and then print/render it before importing it again and then using even more (mild) compression and/or (possibly) spacial effects etc.,.

All that being said, I probably didn't put in the time and effort to learn how to use Vocal Rider properly. (I bought a bundle that was super cheap at some point or other so I was trying lots of new plugins at once.) I could see it being a simple way to get things close before having to resort to additional techniques for trouble spots.
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by jb » Sat Jun 01, 2019 8:03 am

Clip Gain for Reaper is super easy once you've turned it on in your preferences. You can just drag down from the top of an item to reduce the gain.

The Youtube embed code doesn't let you skip to a time spot (hmm), but jump to 4:25 in this video:

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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by jast » Sun Jun 02, 2019 4:10 am

I saw that plugin in a video about production and immediately thought, hey, that looks like another Waves plugin. They sure have a lot of useless junk. :)
Personally I think a plugin can never replace your own artistic judgement. I mean, how should it know which sections you want louderized, and where you do want a little more dynamics? You'd have to start automating the plugin's parameter(s), and at that point you might as well not use it at all.

I use a combination of manually adjusting gain via envelopes, per-item adjustment and standard compression... sometimes two compressors stacked on top of each other with different thresholds and ratios, one for drastic spikes and another for slightly levelling things out overall.

While there are physical limits to how consistent you can make a vocal performance, I've found that usually I don't need to do a lot of fine-grained manual adjustments. Most of the time, per-section adjustments will do, plus maybe getting separate takes to match up.
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by grumpymike » Sun Jun 02, 2019 10:17 am

jb wrote:
Sat Jun 01, 2019 8:03 am
Clip Gain for Reaper is super easy once you've turned it on in your preferences.
OMG why the f isn't this a default, and why would I ever think "knob" is a functional setting and not an aesthetic setting? Here I've been normalizing the tracks and pulling down from the top, like a chump, for 10+ years. Thank you.

If you have any tips for not making envelopes and takes infuriating, please let me know.
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by jb » Sun Jun 02, 2019 10:20 am

There is no end to the stupid fiddly settings in all of these apps. I hate computers.
grumpymike wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 10:17 am
jb wrote:
Sat Jun 01, 2019 8:03 am
Clip Gain for Reaper is super easy once you've turned it on in your preferences.
OMG why the f isn't this a default, and why would I ever think "knob" is a functional setting and not an aesthetic setting? Here I've been normalizing the tracks and pulling down from the top, like a chump, for 10+ years.
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by ujnhunter » Sun Jun 02, 2019 2:12 pm

Personally I have my clip gain with the volume line in the center that I can drag up or down...
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by grumpymike » Sun Jun 02, 2019 2:46 pm

ujnhunter wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 2:12 pm
Personally I have my clip gain with the volume line in the center that I can drag up or down...
That’s actually how I found out about the knob- cause I didn’t want freakin red lines everywhere by default. It’d be nice if they were off until you select an item or something.
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by ujnhunter » Mon Jun 03, 2019 7:04 am

grumpymike wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 2:46 pm
ujnhunter wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 2:12 pm
Personally I have my clip gain with the volume line in the center that I can drag up or down...
That’s actually how I found out about the knob- cause I didn’t want freakin red lines everywhere by default. It’d be nice if they were off until you select an item or something.
Ah... perhaps it's a theme thing, mine is a gray line that is a bit lighter than my waveform... it's not distracting at all and it's nice to see at a glance if an item has been adjusted or not just by seeing the line... but that's why Reaper's customization is so great... people who don't want to see lines don't have to see lines. :)
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by jast » Mon Jun 03, 2019 3:26 pm

What used to bother me about the lines is that it was rather easy to click them by accident, so I changed it so that you can only adjust the line when the item is selected. Customization! :D
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by Lunkhead » Mon Jun 03, 2019 4:01 pm

I'm surprised to hear that folks basically brick wall limit their vocals (aka severely compress then crank the make-up gain way way way up). Am I understanding that correctly? I have always just used some compression and tried to set it to have a maximum gain reduction in the range of 4-10db. I feel like I read in various places a long time ago when I got started like 15 years ago that a good rule of thing for compression was to aim for ~5db of gain reduction if you want things to sound natural but I'll have to research that topic again perhaps. And I guess if your vocals are basically brick wall limited already then there'd be no need to ride the fader or have a plugin to ride the fader for you.
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by jast » Mon Jun 03, 2019 4:20 pm

Of course brick walling vocals makes everything easier, and it seems to be all the rage in current pop music anyway, along with almost robotic autotuning... but I don't care for current pop music, so I'll stick with more subtle compression, thank you very much. :}

BTW gain reduction is one thing, but personally I think of it in terms of two different parameters: threshold and ratio. More ratio to compress harder, lower threshold to compress more. For instance, you can compress almost all levels but subtly, or stuff close to the top of the range but aggressively.
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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by Lunkhead » Fri Jun 07, 2019 8:57 am

I started watching this video and guy spends the first 9 minutes(!) on vocal fader automation.

AND he also uses the Waves Vocal Rider plugin after that even. Whoa!

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Re: Vocal level automation

Post by jast » Fri Jun 07, 2019 1:27 pm

I'm sceptical about the very idea behind this plugin.

I like understanding what's going on. I know what a compressor does, for instance. I may not know some of the fine details like which shape its attack/release curves have, what kind of RMS windows it uses, and so forth... but by and large I can predict what's going to happen with a certain set of parameters on different input material.

Vocal Rider wants to sell you the idea of doing the work for you. It makes opaque decisions of when to bring the vocals up, and when to pull them down, allegedly in a way that improves the mix. I can only guess it works like a really slow compressor (long attack/release), maybe with multi-band analysis, but who knows?

Unlike automating the vocals yourself, what Vocal Rider certainly doesn't do is make artistic decisions. For me, I think the process would look like this: I add this plugin, let it do its thing, then listen to it critically and see if it made good choices... and personally, I'd much rather keep developing my skills so that I can just make these choices myself right away. But I think there's a huge temptation here to just assume that its decisions are good, and then you're just cargo cult mixing...
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