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recording vocals in cubase
some common problems and suggested solutions

 

 



Recording vocals in Cubase is a big area - there's a number of issues involved here. I've broken this down into four common problems:-

A. I can't get it to record anything! (there's no sound when I playback the recording)

B. the vocal is too quiet

C. there's hiss on the track

D. there's "crackles" and "popping" sounds on the recording

E. the quality of the vocal - it doesn't sound very professional

 

 

Problems in recording vocals in Cubase

A. I can't get it to record anything!

(there's no sound when I playback the recording)

There are a number of reasons why you may not be getting Cubase to record your vocal. Here's a list of things to help diagnose the problem:-

1. When you hit record on the transport menu, is the red record enable button active? (see green area circled below). If not, you'll need to click it!

2. When you've finished recording, there should be a rectangular box in the track. If you've successfully recorded some vocals, you should see a "wave form" in the box (not just blank or a straight line), similar to the orange box in this example (these screen shots are taken from Cubase 5):-

vocal track

 

If you do, this is a good sign - you are recording the vocals, it's just for some reason you can't hear it. Check the channel is not muted, and check in the mixer (tools/mixer) that the volume is up on the vocal channel, and the master channel is also up. Make sure that it is not a general problem with Cubase by playing other tracks (midi or vst instrument tracks) and see if you can hear anything. If you don't, make sure you havn't overlooked obvious things - are the speakers on? If you're using a physical mixing desk, is it switched on and are the faders up? Check the cabling out of the sound card to the speakers/desk. Try switching it with a different cable if you have a spare.

If there is still no volume, then check that you have an audio driver associated with this track. You can do this by going to inspector and looking underneath the volume and pan controls. There should be an option something like "audio out" and the name of your sound card - make sure that this is selected. If it says "no buss", then you will need to activate a buss by opening the Vst Connections menu (F4 or Devices/Vst Connections):-

The VST Connections Menu

vocal audio drivers

Click on the "Outputs" tab, and then click on "Add Bus". In the dialogue box, Select stereo, and 1 Count. Then OK and close this window, and select the stereo out options where you saw the "no buss" message in the inspector. Then try playing the sound back again.

3. I've tried the above options and Cubase is still not recording any vocals!

Check that the cables are correctly routed into the soundcard. (You'll need to refer to your soundcard manual for this).

Make sure that you are recording the vocals on an audio track (not midi or vst instrument track!)

Make sure that you have activated the recording drivers in your Cubase project. You can do this by going to devices/VST connections and clicking on the "Imputs" tab in this menu. You should see (under the "Bus Name") the words "Stereo In" and underneath this "left" and "right" (see image below). If you do not see this, then you'll need to add a bus, by clicking on the "Add Bus" tab. Once done, select "Stereo" configuration and count = 1. Now your VST connections menu should look similar to below, and when you close this and open the inspector on the vocal audio channel, you should be able to select "stereo in" where it says "no bus" underneath the volume/pan controls.

The VST Connections Menu (again)


Audio Drivers for vocals

 

 

B. The vocal is too quiet

1. Is the mixing slider for the channel to low down?

You can check this by going to Devices/Mixer (or press F3) and looking for your channel in the mixer. When you've found it (look for it's name at the bottom of the track), the level should be about where the red circled slider is (not the green circled one).

vocal mixing in cubase

2. Check the mixer channel on your physical desk.

If you are using a physical mixing desk (before sending the vocal signal to the computer) make sure that the "gain" is up ( that's usually a knob at the top of the channel) and that the slider is up on the desk. Check also that the master out slider is up.

3. Check the outboard pre amp and compressor

It's quite common to use a pre amplifier on vocals to boost the signal before it goes to the computer (you will definitely need to use a pre amp if you are using a condenser mic, unless your desk has 48 volt phantom power switch). The imput and outputs of the pre amp may need adjustment (be careful not to boost the signal too much as this may lead to distortion). If you are using outboard compression, check this unit and it's settings.

 

C. There's hiss on the track

If you're finding that when you play the recording back, there is a low level hum or hiss on the track, as well as the vocal take, this is usually caused by one of these reasons:-

1. The levels are not set correctly

If you have set your level too high, then you will be amplifing electrical interference and any other "noise" that enters the signal path between the mic and the computer. A sure sign that the levels are too high is if you also hear the vocal recording is sounding unpleasant and distorted. Check the level in Cubase and any other levels on your outboard gear (if you are using it).

2. Is there a lighting circuit near the mic or the rest of your recording equipment?

Sometimes mains interference can be caused by lighting, especially if you are using a dimmer switch. Test this by recording with the lights off and see if it makes a difference.

3. Poor quality recording equipment.

A poor quality mic or desk can produce high frequency hiss or low level hum. You may need to change them! If you have a friend that has a higher quality (or even just a different mic) see if you can borrow it and check this out (before buying one and finding out that this wasn't the problem after all!)

 

D. "Crackles" and "popping" sounds on the vocals

This is a very common problem so I've written a special page about it here on Cubase noise and also here about asio drivers.

E. The quality of the vocal sound

This issue is different from the above - what you may be experiencing is a vocal that is sounding a little muffled, or simply does not seem to capture your voice very well. Unless you have accidentally activated some dodgy EQ on your vocal (check this by going to the vocal channel and hitting the "e" button), you may need to consider investing in a better microphone. Here's three mics that I would recommend for recording vocals, from the cheapest to the most expensive:-

The Shure SM58

One of the most popular mics on the market, and with good reasons. This is a mic that performs well both for live work and recording vocals. I used it for one or two years when I was first setting out. It's dynamic, which means it doesn't need a pre amp or phantom power.

Here's were you can get hold of one:-

 

Shure SM58 Mic

Shure SM58 Mic

Legendary for its uncanny ability to withstand abuse that would destroy any other microphone, the Shure SM58 has not only helped to define the sound of rock vocals on stage, it's also been used as a hammer to build stages and gone on to perform flawlessly later at the gig. And in the studio? Daniel Lanois always uses the SM58 or Beta 58 on Bono's vocals. The Shure SM58 Mic is world-renowned for its distinctive upper-midrange presence peak that ensures an intelligible, lively sound. Perfectly fits the hand, balanced for total comfort during long gigs. Frequency response is a smooth, vocal-tailored 50Hz-15kHz, and the price is a bargain considering its life expectancy.


The Audio-Technica AT4033

A truely great all around mic, and one that I've used for several years. Good for vocals and acoustic instruments. This is a condenser microphone so if you buy one I would recomend getting a pre amplifier for it, as it needs to be powered. When you use this mic for the first time, you'll notice a huge difference in background noise - beware, it will pick up everything! (e.g. computer fans, chair shuffling etc) You might find you need to move the mic as far away as possible from the computer, or better still, have a separate vocal booth for your recording sessions.

Here it is:-

Audio-Technica AT4033CL Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

Audio-Technica AT4033CL Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

The Audio-Technica AT4033CL Large Diaphragm Condenser Mic uses transformerless circuitry to virtually eliminate low-frequency distortion and enhance the capture of high-speed transients. An 80Hz high-pass filter easily switches between flat frequency response and a low-end roll-off that diminishes ambient noise and popping with closely-miked vocals. Requires 48V phantom power. Includes AT8449 shockmount.


 

The Neumann U87

Recording mics don't get much better than this one, and with good reason. One of the best vocals mics you can buy. However, they don't come cheap! So, if you have a few thousand dollars kicking around, here's where you can get one:-

 

Neumann U87 Ai Shockmount Set Z Microphone with Box

Neumann U87 Ai Shockmount Set Z Microphone with Box

The Neumann U87 studio Microphone is famous for its warm sound and well-balanced characteristics. Equipped with a large dual-diaphragm capsule with 3 selectable directional patterns: omnidirectional, cardioid, and figure-8, it offers a 6dB improvement in signal-to-noise over its predecessor. A 10dB attenuation switch enables the U87 to handle sound levels up to 127dB without distortion; and the low frequency response can be reduced to compensate for proximity effect. The preferred studio vocal mic for decades, the Neumann U87 also makes a great main mic for band or home studio recordings, as well as a spot mic for single instruments. Frequency range: 20Hz to 20kHz; impedance rated at 200 ohms. The Shockmount includes a windscreen, cable, EA87 elastic suspension and comes in a wooden jeweler's box.Requires phantom power.


Pop Shields

Not to be overlooked - this is an important piece of equipment if you're aiming for high quality vocal takes. A pop shield does what it's name implies - it shields the mic from the heavy "plosives" such as the "p's" and "d's" in the words of your lyrics.

Nady Pop Filter

Nady Pop Filter

Attaches to mic stand; gooseneck allows proper placement of 6" Lycra screen in front of mic. Stops plosives. Protects your mic.


 



 

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