Help with Vocals

Hey all!!

I have a few bands that I want to release on cd… They were recorded in the 60s on reel to reel 2 track tape… The issues that I am having is that some of the vocals are not loud enough. The guitars and drums are covering it up. What can I use to make it sound better. All reels were copied to wav to my pc. I only had one chance with a few of these reels due to the tape. So I am left with something… Not bad i think…


Can you tell if the shows are in actual stereo, or two-track mono? If they’re really in stereo – the instruments are spread out around you, then you might be able to make use of Vocal Isolation tools.

Dig around in those tools. This is your only chance. If anything goes wrong, the show is in messy stereo or not stereo at all, you’re dead.


–Voice Trap
–Extra Boy

Its 2 track Mono for sure. Stereo wasnt around yet.

If the recording lacks treble (muddy) because of its age you could try this free plug-in for Audacity to boost the odd harmonics,
[set the fundamental to +1, set the 3rd harmonic to about -0.5, all other settings on zero ]

The result is brighter …

For almost any of these tools to work, the voice has to have an “identity.” There has to be something about it that’s different from the rest of the show for the tool to “chew on.” In the case of the vocal management tools – including the one inside Audacity – they depend on the vocal being in the middle with the stereo instruments spread out 'round. No spread ( a mono show), no tool.

The rest of the tools including Trebor’s, try to affect different pitch tones and frequencies and hope to goodness that the voice comes up before everything else. It may help a little, but it’s not likely to do very much without damaging the rest of the show. Human voices tend to have a lot of the same pitch and timber and tonal quality as musical instruments. The “Vox Humana” stop of a large pipe organ comes to mind – Human Voice.

Our silly joke is you’re trying to carefully remove the chocolate from a chocolate cake.


This is off topic, but I did come across a “Humanizer” plugin which works with Audacity which makes music/noise sound like the human voice,
at the bottom of this page …

It’s a fancy version of wah-wah which does other vowel sounds …

A poorman’s talkbox when applied to guitar.

I apreicate all the stuff to try… Hopefully this stuff works and I can release some of the studio garage band reels. It still amazes me how old these reels are and they copied! They are 10" reels speeds between 3 3/4, 7 1/2 to 15 ips. I am open to ideas since this is going to be new to me. I could take this stuff into a recording studio but I cant afford the money to do it. Hopefully when this is all done there will be some nice collectable vinyl and cds for sale.

thanks again!

If these are live “garage band” recordings on two-track tape they are possibly stereo. When you load them into Audacity listen on headphones.

The “vocals too low” problem may end up being part of the charm - vintage, raw recordings.

How were these recorded? Multi-miced through a mixer, or with one or two microphones in the rehearsal/studio space?

The usual problems with live performances recorded off the live mixing desk is that the vocal are too loud - the drums and guitars were loud enough on their own and mostly vocals were put through the PA.

– Bill

Where did you find a tape machine that would still do 15 ips? NAB hubs?

It’s possible somebody set up a microphone at one end of the room and rolled tape. You get many of the same problems as somebody sitting in the audience of a rock concert. If you pay attention, it may not overload, but the performer balance will be seriously magic.


These were recorded in mutilple recording studios in Pgh, PA We had to record the band tracks first and then add the voices. So there are takes of stuff that I have that I want to release. So if i remember correctly we only have a 2 track reel player then. Ampex or maybe a scully? not sure. I might even have some 4 track reels somewhere put I cant find a player for those.

I found a teac, and a 2 otari reel to reel players. Some of the reels copied correctly but others fell apart as soon as I put them on the player and hit play. I tried to bake them but I didnt have success with it. Some reels you only had one chance to copy it.

So hopefully this works! or I will have to find maybe a different take.

I was working on a similar issue recently and I was able to make a “noticeable improvement” with equalization and a “vocal exciter”. (It still doesn’t sound like a modern, clean, digital recording.)

As Koz said, instrument & vocal ranges overlap (and of course an instrument can be playing the exact same note that the singer is singing), but I was still able to “bring out the vocals” to some extent. Every recording is different so you’ll have to experiment. (I experimented so much that I don’t remember the exact settings I finally chose.) I think I boosted between 300 & 800Hz by about 6dB (with a parametric EQ). I was surprised how much EQ it required! I did write-down the settings that I used… Somewhere.

The “exciter” effect adds upper-harmonics to bring-out “T” & “S” sounds… and cymbals… and distortion… This took quite a bit of trial & error too. Where the “T” & “S” sounds are totally burried or missing, this doesn’t help much. Of course, some high-frequency EQ boost can help here too.

I didn’t do this, but some (dynamic) compression is worth a try too. Compression makes “loud parts quieter” or “quiet parts louder” (It’s mostly used to tame peaks & make “everything LOUD”.) You can’t reverse things and make the vocals louder than the instuments, but you may be able to make the sounds somewhat more-equal.

I tried something else that didn’t work. :smiley: Since some male voices were very “thin”, tried to make a sub-harmonic exciter effect… I used a bandpass filter and made a copy that only contained the “lower voice” frequencies. I pitch-shifted that down one octive and mixed it back in. It sounded lousy. :smiley: :smiley: (I have done something similar to make deep bass notes, and that did work!)

A couple of times, I’ve been temped to record my own voice and mix-in my “T” & “S” sounds… But I never have.

Any processing that boosts the level (especially things like 6dB EQ boost) can drive the levels into clipping (distortion). So, it’s a good idea to normalize (bring the peaks back down to 0dB) before rendering the final processed file. (Most audio editors use 32-bit floating-point for processing & temporary storage so you can go over 0dB without clipping. But, “regular” integer WAV files have a hard-upper limit and you can get clipping whan you save/render to WAV.)

Our silly joke is you’re trying to carefully remove the chocolate from a chocolate cake.

:stuck_out_tongue:) I always say, “you can’t un-bake a cake or un-fry an egg, and you can’t un-mix a recording.” But, there is a company called [u]UnMixingStation[/u] that claims they can do it… for a fee…

If they fell apart baking wouldn’t help. It was the Ampex 406/456 tapes that got the “sticky-shed” syndrome that could be temporarily fixed by baking them (actually, a food dehydrator works best). Tapes from the 60s did not have this problem. But they may have been acetate-backed, and those will fall apart in your hand. Baking them is dangerous, as the acetate is extremely flammable.

We had to record the band tracks first and then add the voices.

So you may have two-track tapes with a mono mix of the instruments on one track and the vocals on the other? In that case you’re home free. You’ve probably imported them as a stereo track. Split the track into two mono tracks then you can mix them together into a mono mix.

– Bill


I tried that. It sounded lousy.