From Minor Threat to Linkin Park, over the last 25 years, screaming has become a mainstay in rock. But how do you get the best recording?
Screaming. It’s not something that you instantly associate with top 40 hits. But in the last few decades, from the DC hardcore of the 1980s, through 90s grunge, to modern-day screamo and metalcore, the screamed vocal has become a standard vocal delivery that needs as much care and attention from a producer as any other. But it’s a tricky thing to capture. Here are some tips for getting the best scream on any DAW – be it Garageband, Logic, Protools or Cubase.
One of the most important aspects of recording a screamed vocal delivery is capturing the energy that comes with it. It’s no use having someone screaming on a tune if they sound bored! The point of introducing screaming into music was to add an emotive vibe to the music – so make sure the vocalist is prepared to give it their all.
Everyone has their way of doing this. Some like to get the singer loosened up with a few run-throughs, some dive straight in, others think a few drinks help (although this is arguable!). In an online interview Ross Robinson (Machine Head, Korn) gave this summary:
The main ingredient is definitely capturing the soul of the artist, the spirit side, not necessarily the tones or perfect pitch and all that, it’s definitely peer spirit on tape … the listener communicates more with the heart and accepts it more, because it’s personal.
There is no ‘best’ microphone to use, or compressor, or plugin when it comes to screamed vocals, but there are a few standards that are tried and tested. The Shure SM57 is great as handling ‘plosives (which are there in abundance with screamy vocals), especially when combined with a good pop shield. This will give beautiful clean vocal sounds with no pops or booms on the mic. Condenser mics can also be used, but for very loud screaming, they may struggle to cope with the noisier moments without some compression on the way in.
Try using a number of mics, and see which sound best in the context of the song. Some may distort a little – but producers of this kind of music aren’t generally looking for a pristine take – so sometimes distortion is exactly what the band is looking for! A steadfast suggestion is this: Just play around. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is a one-size-fits-all solution. Regarding plugins, pops and booms associated with bellowed vocals can be filtered using a high pass, or de-esser.
Again, experimentation is key here. For the detail on the vocal, keeping an excellent low input gain with the singer nice and close to the mic will give more clarity. But sometimes it will make the vocals a little too close for comfort for the listener, so telling the singer to back off may work well. Some bands (see Bear Vs Shark, Refused) very often made use of an off-mic screamed sound in quieter passages of music. This took the intensity of the vocal sound away, making the vocals sit more comfortably, but kept the emotive delivery intact.
Overdubbing can come in very hand with screamed vocals and try out different layers and deliveries can often really thicken up a screamed take. Another thing that’s worth experimenting with is compression and limiting – either through an outboard compressor or a plugin within your DAW. Screamed vocals could be very jumpy in dynamics – so it’s important to make sure the right amount of compression and limiting is applied to bring out the quieter moments, and take the peaks – but again, it’s important not over to do this. Over-compression or over-limiting of a vocal can leave it sounding flat, lifeless and sometimes quite awkward sounding. Make sure a happy medium is found.
Distortion, reverb, slapback delay and even chorus can all be used to create a great screamed vocal sound. Like everything else, experimentation is the way forward. One bit of advice would always be to record vocals dry. Adding extra distortion, reverb, chorus, flange or anything else on the way into a mix is a bad idea – a producer may decide later that it’s too much and then be stuck with it. So with vocals always try to just stick to the basics (compression and occasional mic-based distortion) and then experiment with applications of other effects to give the take some edge after a good take is achieved.
Scream If You Want To Go Faster
Experiment. Using different techniques, effects, positions, and equipment will always get the best results in the long run. It’s more time consuming, but ultimately that time is a payoff, as it’s all knowledge that can be used in the future. Just play around at every step of the way and have fun.