This is a quick tip for a subject that has long troubled many engineers. Keeping stringed instruments out of vocal mics and vice-versa.
Typically, I have always tried to get acoustic-guitar-wielding-singer-songwriters to record simultaneous “Live (Keeper)” vocals and guitar separately…
Alas, the many benefits of multi-tracking with isolation can be lost in a heartbeat, if you have vocal bleed on the guitar and guitar bleed on the vocals. This can be a bummer both ways because normally these folksinger-balladeers sing & play very inspired vocal takes during live tracking with guitar in hand, and it may feel very unnatural to sing the song “sans guitar” later. Also they may feel very timid about playing the guitar “sans vocals” for similar reasons.
Generally, the tracks recorded separately can be much cleaner for mixing and thus more workable with a variety of audio treatments. But only if the performance is preserved. Doing so requires a bit of concentration and skill on the part of the player, along with comfort and ultimately trust in the engineer that things will work out in the end. I have tried various workarounds using baffles and blankets galore. I wish I could say I have perfected the process but frankly, I’m still looking for the best method.
In my perfect scenario, I envision a big box within the vocal booth, made of foamcore and auralex foam, possibly employing light-weight wood framing / exo-skeleton and a little bit of Plexiglas in the top, for the player to view the hands & strings. the player would sit in my contraption and I would then Velcro a blanket around his or her neck, sealing off the guitar mics below from the vocal mic above…separation would be achieved, and balladeers would be allowed to “do it live”, albeit almost completely restricted.
But until now, I havent bothered to fashion my Rube Goldberg-Acoustic-Vocal -ISO contraption. (For obvious reasons)
Thankfully, my good friend Robert Butler of Coyote Creek Studio has his own workaround. And also thankfully, it is about 100% less cumbersome. Robert described his observations to me. (See below):
“Here’s a trick that bailed me out. Had a client with a deadline but asthma too. Needed to keep the breathing out of the 67 on the charango. This setup did the trick. Interestingly, the proximity of the plexi not only boosted the signal into the mic but it changed it slightly too. Made it all kinda intimate sounding”.
I should also note; that in a lot of instances, an inspired performance with vocal bleed is still the better route. It really depends on the situation and the song. These are just some observations I personally have found to be the case on various sessions, and Robert and I are offering solutions to problems where they occur.
Having said that, this is in no way the final word on this topic, and if anyone out there reading this has found other ways of solving this issue….then please write us and we’ll post your article along side this “tip of the iceberg”. Thanks again for your comments and readership.