muddy vocals

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by capncal, Jul 12, 2013.

  1. capncal


    Apr 14, 2009
    so, we've installed a new sound system in a smallish industrial garage area and i've been working on getting things lined out before this rather large event coming up next saturday.

    everything sounds okay at this point EXCEPT the vocals in the room. it's weird, but the vocals sound good, crisp, plenty of volume, well above the mix in my headphones and on the playback. but in the room live...well the vocals actually sound better outside the room than inside.

    i've got one of those sweet little ART tube pre-amps to beef up the vocals but i can still turn it up only to the point of feedback. plenty loud on the playback, plenty loud in my headphones, plenty loud outside the room. just in the room they sound muddy and unclear.

    what should be my next step? sound dampening materials on the walls? is there an EQ setting i could try? turn every one else down? build a drum shield?

    running everything through a mixing board into an 800 watt power amp to 2 15 inch mains, two 10 inch monitors at the front of the stage, one 10 inch behind the drums and i've got one 10 inch monitor in my control room. no inserts or any rack mounts, just the one tube pre for the lead vocals.
  2. derrico1

    derrico1 Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    Charlottesville, VA
    Hard to diagnose over the internet, but I'd suspect two culprits: frequency masking from the other instruments or else room modes.

    1. You'll have problems w/frequency masking if one or more of the instruments are loud in the room while crowding the frequency bands that are important to your singer's tone. (You say the rehearsal recordings sound good, so if you're adjusting instrument eq or changing the balance of instruments at the board, you might hear problems with masking in the room that you don't hear in headphones or on the recordings.)

    Diagnose this and fix it at the source. If possible, take everything but vocals out of the monitors. Start w/ just the drums and singer. Sound okay in the room, or is the singer getting covered by the snare or cymbals? Add bass. Still good? Now guitars and keys, one at a time. Once you find what elements are masking the vocals, eq those instruments and/or adjust your songs' arrangements to create more space in the mix for the vocals.

    2. All but the largest rooms will have spots in which particular frequencies are noticeably hyped or partially cancelled b/c of standing-wave effects. Smaller rooms suffer from this more than larger rooms, and the worst case is a small room which the length, width, and height all emphasize the same frequencies. If you close mic instruments, standing waves might be largely inaudible on your recordings (and in the headphone mix), even if they are loud enough in the room to affect monitoring. Do the vocals sound bad in the room when nobody else is playing? Does recorded music through your PA sound clouded in that room but fine in another venue?

    If standing waves interfere with your monitoring, analyze and then treat the room. (You'll need some acoustical analysis to determine which frequencies are problems; there's no point just throwing diffusers and random bass traps up.)

    Edit: I gather you want the garage to be a performance space rather than just a rehearsal room. Turning down will help, but there's a catch. When the space is crowded, the audience will also absorb some of the higher frequencies—but they'll also raise the noise floor. If you have another rehearsal to get the sound together, build the mix around the vocals. With just the drummer and singer, bring the vocals up in the monitors (w. no effects or compression) and in the PA. Tweak for tone and max volume before feedback, then edge the vocal volume down a bit so you're safely under the level that causes feedback. Level-before-feedback in the stage monitors is the limiting factor here. As much as possible, keep stage volumes down. (Keep drums and amp levels under the vocal levels on stage, and if the system doesn't have the headroom before feedback, don't run instruments through the monitors.) If the drummer and guitarists need to hear themselves at arena levels, have them play quieter (lighter sticks and smaller amps if need be), mic 'em up, and give them in-ears or headphones. In fact, you might give up on the stage monitors, and put the whole band in in-ear monitors. In a small room, there will still be limits to what you the useable performance volume you can get out of the PA mains, but an end-run around stage monitoring will reduce the feedback problem.
  3. Baer


    Jul 8, 2008
    "Muddy Vocals" and "smallish industrial garage" would generally point to the standing waves mentioned as #2 in the preceeding post. You can lessen the symptoms with EQ but to actually fix the problem you will have to analyze and treat the room. And yes, it will be completely different with a room full of people.
  4. butchblack

    butchblack Life is short. Do good. Find and do what you love.

    Jan 25, 2007
    Waltham Massachusetts
    Try upping the mid range, lowering the bass and turning off any echo and reverb as a starting point. I'm guessing the room is all hard surfaces. If it sounds dead on gig night add some reverb back in. Also, it might help if all the instruments turn down a bit, shoot for the low end of what is acceptable volume for the type of music you're playing.
  5. ggunn


    Aug 30, 2006
    Austin, TX
    One thing you might try is to set the stage up across a corner rather than pointed right at an opposing wall.

    Also, what are your main speakers? Two band passively crossed over 15's and horns, for example, can be hard on vocals, especially female vocals because neither drivers are very good at those frequencies and female vocals can get sort of caught in the insertion loss at the crossover point. You've got to have good midrange drivers for good vocal projection.
  6. Steve Dallman

    Steve Dallman Supporting Member

    Most people when they get on a mic, want to hear a big, full booming voice. Listen to recordings. The vocals don't sound like that on the vast majority of albums. Vocals on an album sound natural...almost like the singer is right next to you.

    Work for "natural" sounding vocals. That will mean fairly flat, with a low end rolloff, and if there is a lo cut on the mic channels, use it.

    I don't know what EQ you have on each channel. Start flat with the bass backed off a little. Listen to the voice you are eq'ing. We all sing in the three piece I'm in. Our guitar player has a low, pretty bassy voice. I cut his low end the most, and then boost the mids, using the frequency to find the portion of his voice that needs to be pushed up to get his voice to be clear and present in the PA. I adjust treble to get the sibilance and sizzle I want. Every voice is a little different.

    Instruments, and voices have a natural hump...usually somewhere around 250Hz. Put your ear up to the soundhole of an acoustic guitar when someone is playing it. Hear that "whoomph"? That's the hump. It adds up quickly in the PA.

    If you run multiple instruments in the PA, make a sonic space for each instrument. If you put drums, bass and keyboards in along with guitar amps, think it out. Let the "bass" instruments (kick and bass guitar) have the low end. Cut the bass on the keys and guitars, although some keyboard sounds also need low end. Find the characteristic tones of each instrument and bring them out in the mix. Guitar might take a little mid boost in the lower to mid mids. Key patches might need higher mid push.

    Again, keep the lows out of the vocals. Most vocal mics have "proximity effect" which means when you get close to the mic, the low end is boosted. Cutting back on the lows at the board can nullify this effect. Then use mids to make each voice stand where it should in the mix, and highs to maintain clarity.

    If you have a graphic EQ on your PA, DON'T just set it for a smiley face! Find out where the crossover point is on your PA cabs. There is often a hump at that point and bringing the closest band on your EQ down a bit can smooth things out nicely. Usually around 2k.

    There is a buildup of frequencies around 250hZ due to the 'hump' I explained earlier. Bringing that frequency down a little can really clear a PA up.

    That is a good place to start with a graphic EQ...Flat, with a little drop at 250k and at the crossover frequency...usually around 2k.
  7. JohnMCA72


    Feb 4, 2009
    Some good posts above. I'll add that nothing sounds the same alone as it does within the mix. Several different instruments & voices may sound just fine (or even great) on their own at "sound check". But they may all be "favoring" some of the same frequency ranges, & when you put them all together they just overload an area of spectrum. The reverse can be true, too: What sounds great as a mix can sound "wrong" when an instrument is all alone. Just about everything has fundamental and/or harmonic frequencies that fall in the "midrange" area. In addition to what others have posted, EQ (individual input channels) can be used to isolate the sounds of different instruments, so that they aren't all clogging up the same sonic space.

    Your problem is probably really several problems, all happening at once. It's likely to have several partial solutions & not just 1 thing that "magically" clears it all up.
  8. lakefx


    Sep 14, 2012
    All of this is good advice. Most likely, your headphones provide a relatively flat frequency response and your 2x15 mains are significantly lacking in mids. Get yourself a good graphic EQ to put between the mixer and the power amp. Play back some music and listen back and forth between the system and your headphones. Mess with the EQ until the two sound about the same.
  9. Hmm, my first guess is the room acoustics suck eggs - look into acoustic room treatment.

  10. capncal


    Apr 14, 2009
    all good info folks. lots for me to work on in the next couple of weeks. thank you all very much.

    i did discover one of my mains was missing a horn...duh. so i've upgraded the mains and i'll see how well that works tonight - got a blues band that uses the space for rehearsals on monday nights.

    several folks have mentioned i might try EQ ing my issues away so that'll probably be the next step.
  11. ggunn


    Aug 30, 2006
    Austin, TX
    FWIW, if all you have is 15's and horns, EQing might not solve your problem.
  12. capncal


    Apr 14, 2009
    last night sounded as good as it ever has, only my POS sansamp bass driver has started creating a buzz....that thing does that sometimes i'm starting to notice. some gigs i take it to it works like a charm, other times it won't work at all. it's been working in the space until last one issue under control and something else goes awry....the life of the sound man.
  13. will33


    May 22, 2006
    Try finding some eq slider somewhere labeled 250hz and pull it down a little bit. That is where the woof in the vocals is that makes lyrics hard to understand. It's also where a lot of good mains speakers start to come above their baffle step, making them stronger. It's a double whammy that a small adjustment in the right area will fix.
  14. taurus1


    Sep 13, 2006
    Vancouver B.C.
    anytime the sound is muddy or bad, just blame the soundman, easy.
    I learned that on TB
  15. TimmyP


    Nov 4, 2003
    Indianapolis, IN
  16. capncal


    Apr 14, 2009
    does not apply in this case. i'm the sound man!

    had a HUGE event this past Saturday with about 12 bands from 2 to midnight! all in all it sounded good but the vocals are still a lot stronger in my recorded feed from the board and in the headphones than in the room.

    going to try stacking the 10's i've been using as monitors on top of the 15's and close the stage in a little bit.
  17. capncal


    Apr 14, 2009
    i'll def check this out next.
  18. capncal


    Apr 14, 2009
    i moved one 15 to a stand behind the drummer so he could hear. the other 15 just stage right of the drummer on the floor. set up one 10 far stage right on a stand at about head level and the other stage left on a stand about head level.

    the vocals are very much more pronounced and clear and crisp in the room now. all are yorkville speakers and they are all piggy backed, or daisy chained. whatever it's called.

    this eliminates the need for additional monitors for the band as it's a smallish space and with one 15 right behind the drummer and the two 10's close by the edge of the stage, everyone could hear everything last night at band rehearsal!