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Ask Joe: Dealing With Vocal Level Differences From Take To Take

Your tool of choice will likely vary depending on your mixing style, but it's always good to know there are multiple options at hand.
This article is provided by Home Studio Corner.

I love answering questions from people about recording, especially one like today’s on such an interesting topic.

If you have a question you’d like me to cover, click here.

Here’s a question from Kevin:

“Joe,

I was curious if you have a suggestion on how to level out the volume differences between vocal takes when creating a comp track from multiple vocal takes.

Any ideas? Kevin”

Good question, Kevin. I’ve got a couple suggestions for you.

First, for those of you who don’t know what a “comp track” is, it’s simply the process of taking a bunch of different “takes” and combining the best parts into one final track.

1. Change how you’re recording vocals

Whenever you’re working on a song, and you encounter a problem, it’s easy to start looking for a way to “fix” the recording.

Before going down that slippery slope, stop and ask yourself this question: Is there a problem with the way I recorded this track?

Make it a habit to always try to fix problems at the source before resorting to editing, EQ, compression, etc.

For example, when recording vocals, if the vocalist is too close to the mic, any small change in the vocalist’s distance from the microphone will result in a big change in volume.

Move the vocalist back to maybe 12 inches; then things will be much more consistent.

If you’re worried about picking up too much room noise, just try it. It’s probably not as bad as you think it is.

2. Change the volume of the audio clip itself

If you’re comping together a phrase, and one word is significantly louder (or quieter) than the rest, you can simply adjust the volume of that audio clip itself.

In Pro Tools, you can do this by using an AudioSuite plugin. There’s a plugin called “Gain” that lets you change the volume of the audio file itself.

This allows you to increase the volume of that one clip without needing to automate it later on.

3. Use Automation

If you don’t feel like using offline processing (AudioSuite plugin), you can simply use volume automation to even out the level differences between takes.

The problem with automation is that once you write some automation, you can’t move the fader on that track to change the overall level of the track.

If you want to change the overall volume, you’ve got to go in and change the automation on the track itself.

4. Use Compression

Sometimes all you need is a little compression. If you were going to compress the vocal anyway, try adding the compression before you bother with the steps above.

Since compression decreases dynamic range, it may very well cover up any discrepancies between various takes.

 

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