Pro Tools Vocal Production Templates: How to refine your vocal sessions
My vocal tracking template and some tips and techniques designed to enhance your speed and efficiency while engineering a vocal session.
Welcome to the first post in this series focussing on speeding up your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) workflow.
In this article, I will be running through my vocal tracking template and some tips and techniques designed to enhance your speed and efficiency while engineering a vocal session.
This article is for anyone who is looking to refine their vocal tracking technique and take their vocal production to the next level.
The key to running a smooth vocal session is the speed in which you can react to and implement the artist's instruction. By having your vocal template in the bag you’ll be ready for anything they can throw at you and be one step ahead of the session.
I’m going to share a few tips I’ve picked up from over the years and guide you through my vocal template.
This walkthrough is Pro Tools specific however, concepts and workflows shown here can be applied to any DAW.
1. Get Your IO (Inputs/Outputs) Set
First things first, get your IO set up, this can take a while but you’ll only have to do it once.
I like to go with the 128 default busses and then start to create my own busses after that so they appear in the next layer of the buss menu.
As you can see I have some dummy buses inserted to split between Master, FX, Vocals, this makes the menu much easier to navigate.
2. Record Tracks & Busses
You’ll need to have your vocal tracks pre-named, your vocal chain assigned, and your sends ready for effects.
Here are my Verse tracks Stereo buss at the top with sends to FX. Lead a & b for overlapping. Up to 4 doubles ready to go.
I will usually prefix each record track with the artist's name and suffix with 00. This way, once you create a new playlist that will increment to 01 for take one, 02 for take two and so on. I use take 00 for the comp.
The playlist feature in Pro Tools allows you to have multiple takes on the same track. This is useful for comping vocals quickly and keeping your track count down. Logic has a similar feature but can create playlists automatically, it does organise them quite well, although you cannot name them as easily as Pro Tools.
Each section of the song has its own set of tracks and stereo bus e.g. Verse, Pre, Chorus, Bridge…
3. BV’s (Backing Vocals) & Adlibs
BV’s will get slightly different treatment from the leads vocals. I tend to like wider and airier and will sometimes have their own set of effects. As for the adlibs, these can vary on the type of music your recording but they often require different treatment again and you can get really creative with the effects here.
These tracks go to their own bus corresponding to each section of the song so you can easily have separate control.
4. The Plugin Chain
This is really subjective and my vocal chain changes all the time but you can't go wrong with the basics, eq and compression.
Here’s what I have on my vocal channel:
- Pro-Q2: Filtering out any low rumble, air-con noise, foot stomps from 50hz down. Taking out some honky 500hz and some harsh 2k. This will all change depending on the singer and microphone but this is a good place to start.
- RVox: This is a no-nonsense compressor that just works. Compression is really important for tracking so the singer can get a great vibe in the headphones.
- C4: I start with the ‘Pensado Vocal’ preset (thanks Dave) and pull the high-mid band down slightly to around 1.5k to 4.5k. This is a high energy area that can sound harsh and piercing. I am also using this to add a little top end from 5k up. The high band will also act as a de-eser.
Make sure to link your plugins for each vocal track so that If your tweaking one instance that same plugin on all the other channels will change aswell. See below for how to achieve this in Pro Tools.
I always have effects sends on the vocal buses preset and ready to go so there’s no wasting time loading up plugins. A good place to start is with a great vocal plate setting, a long spacious reverb, and a medium delay. You can then dial them in to taste as you get up and running with the first few takes.
Right now I'm loving Vallahala Vintage Verb and SoundToys Echo Boy for my effects.
Make sure you know the key of the song before you start. I like to set an inactive instance of autotune on each record track (plugins linked so if you change the settings on one, they will all change).
Once you have a vocal comp, you might want to think about using some more detailed tuning programs such as melodyne. If you do this, It’s important you can quickly flip back to the untuned version at any time. An easy wat to do this is to commit your Melodyne plugin and paste the tuned audio onto a new playlist on the same track as the original take to flip between.
7. Headphone Mix
Last but certainly not least, (in-fact the most important part of the session and deserves a dedicated article in itself) is the headphone mix. A lot of the time I will just send the artists a copy of exactly what I am hearing in the control room. Make sure to go out to into the booth, put the headphones on, and try for yourself. Can you hear enough of the track, click, and a healthy level of your own voice? It’s important to check if you have any latency, many artists will not know when they are hearing latency and will just say ‘it sounds weird’ or won’t notice at all until it’s fixed! If you get the headphones sounding on point your onto a winner!
This is the seventeenth iteration of my template, it changes all the time and probably has again by the time your reading this. My advice would be to pick and choose bits of this you like and can fit into your workflow and keep adapting and refining every session. Please comment on how you've been able to incorporate these methods into your own workflow in other DAW’s.
In this section of the blog you will find recording advice, tips and tricks from fellow artists and music producers.
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