Vocals. Processing. “How do you get those harsh vocal effects.” Answered.
Whatever you want to call it – Terror EBM, Dark Electro, there is a rather unique and if I had to be honest, pretty narrow vocal style associated with it. It’s been discussed at some length, a google search will bring you to many of the bands commonly using that style discussing it, not always honestly, and generally they will tell you a whole different variety of rarified, esoteric, and painfully expensive processing and technique.
I can’t speak for every band in this genre. I can speak from what I personally use, and what I have learned in all the years I’ve been screwing with my own vocals. Don’t take this to mean that I consider what I have done, what I will do, perfected by any stretch – it’s not. So, first some common factors:
The sound you are most commonly hearing – it’s sometimes high and piercing, it’s sometimes lower and grumbling, it’s sometimes more intelligible and sometimes less… but it’s always somehow clear that yes, you are listening to a band in this genre. That sound in 90% of cases can be traced to one processor.
The Boss SE-50. It’s a little half rack space processor Boss once made, designed mostly as guitar multi FX.
Inside that little box is an algorithm called “Pitch Shifter” it’s basic function is to split the signal into four parts, allow you to pitch each part slightly differently, and when it’s combined again, you get “that” sound. It’s as close to a cure all box for that particular vocal sound as there is. How do I know this? I use it. Want more proof? I have seen entire shows held up because a band forgot that processor, I have seen bands try like hell to hide that they have it on stage, I have personally borrowed one of the two I own to bands on numerous occasions.
Is it the only thing that can do that effect? No, but it is the most commonly used. Go look at the gear list for a band you like, in this genre (i’ll wait) in 90% of cases, there is a Boss SE-50 on that list. Possibly a Boss SE-70, which is the same thing, with a few more effects and options. Is it that easy? Buy that processor for $80.00 on eBay and go to town? No, it’s not. It can be if you want it to be, but… honestly if you are trying to find your own style you need to be a little more creative. Some bands don’t bother, most do.
Here is some common questions and some downsides:
Q :“What kind of distortion do you use on your vocals”
A: I don’t use distortion of any kind. It would utterly impossible to use on stage without feedback.
Q: “I bought that processor… what preset is it”
A: It’s based on “Pitch Shifter” adjust the “Mode” (Mode effects the amount of time between when you sing and when the effect starts, because it effects the quality of the pitching algorythm. You usually want this at 1 or 2, although you may, since there is four settings for each pitch in this preset, you may try setting one of the mode settings to 3 if you find your vocals sound too metallic.)
The next setting is “Pitch” this is the rough pitch of one of the four parts in this pitch shifter. Each one of the four needs to be set. In general, I will set this to -1. “Fine” is the third setting. The only reason I find to change this is again, if the vocals are a bit too metallic or just slightly inharmonious. Adjust to taste for your voice. The other settings are “PreDelay” and “Pan” Predelay can be zero, pan can be either 50/50 (L/R) or if you want, you can pan part 1 to 100% L, Part 2 to 100% R (ultimately you are putting in this case, part 1 and 3 all the way L, part 2 and 4 all the way R)
Now, all of those settings, are going to need to be set 4 times. There are again, 4 parts to this pitch shifter.
Setting will vary by band, and by style, but… if you want a starting point:
Set all four “Mode” Settings to 1.
Set all four “Pan” Settings to 50/50.
Set all four “Fine” Settings to 0.
Set “Pitch 1” to -1. Set “Pitch 2” to +1. Set “Pitch 3” to -1. Set “Pitch 4” to 0.
Go listen to “Our New World” those are the exact settings I use for that song on stage. Myself, a microphone, a Boss SE-50. Go to YouTube and look for “nolongerhuman live Our New World” that effect, what you are hearing… is precisely what I described above. No more, no less.
Q: Is that the only processor that can do that?
A: No. There are a few plug in’s (Waves has a 4x pitch shifter, there are pedals that do it, there is a purple digitech processor that can do a variation, there are reactor patches that are close. The Boss is simply common, rugged, inexpensive, and easy to change on the fly.
Q: “So and so band said they hate that processor”
A: I am not that band. Maybe they do hate it. It’s also entirely possible they are lying.
Q: “What about preamps, “vocal chains”, Tubes, Neuman Mic’s, what about plug in’s, what about this guy that told me about this tube distortion?
A: Gear is as unique as your voice is. I will say that you can use, literally any combination of FX and mic’s and preamps ranging from $30 to $5000, and you will of course get varied results.
Now, with all of that said.
There are a handful of bands off the top of my head that do not use a Boss SE-50, as I said it is by far the most common, but that alone presents a problem. No one really wants to sound like everyone else, even if they actually kind of do, no one is going to come out and admit it. There are also some bands that never did make use of it, but again, we are talking about “that” sound. The sound you are asking me about because I would assume you heard it on my music. If you are asking me what you heard on another bands music, you might want to ask them, not me.
Another thing, which is described in detail below, is that your actual singing style into a microphone is going to have a large effect on this. If you are playing live, be prepared for the worst, always. Too many bands don’t.
An example from shows I have had… where feedback simply cannot be eliminated, you get a sound guy who flat out hates electronic music (most of them do, in my experience) or the M/C of the show leaves a fucking live mic on stage (happened to me) or… your ex girlfriend/boyfriend hates you and pulls the plug at a show… if it can happen, it does. You will need to get your voice to the point where you can sound at least passable even without effects. This means, you need to practice, practice, practice.
I have played a number of shows with NO EFFECTS. None. Nothing. It was the only way to make the show go on so to speak. A good performance is your job, it’s why you are there, and you owe it to the people who listen to your music.
So because live and studio work are totally different creatures, and because I literally just detailed precisely what I use live, it must be said that the studio is a bit different.
The first two albums, my vocal chain looked like this: Microphone – Boss SE-50 – Lexicon MX400 – Soundcard – Compression plug in set with very hard compression, an EQ plug in (Roll off everything under 130hz) Chorus Plug in (It’s called Betabug Chorus, it’s free) and often a delay plug in that was included with MOTU Digital Performer. again, adjust settings, set to your taste.
The third and current albums, I have changed a bit. It’s been years now of me learning how to make the sound I want, and so, in addition to still having an SE-50, I am now using a TC Helicon Voicelive, and a Shure SM7B microphone. Why, if the SE-50 is so perfect, am I changing it up? Simply put, the rest of my studio has expanded, what was once a very functional computer based studio has become a larger creature with higher quality across the whole track. Does that make the SE-50 obsolete? You would be the deciding factor. You decide what works for you. I am only answering your question about what you are hearing when you are listening to nolongerhuman.
In the end, there is so much misinformation and posturing by bands who work out of their homes but desperately want it to sound like they hire an engineer for each track, so much jargon and meaningless crap out there… and all it does is make it seem like magic. I am just pulling back the curtain a little bit. Every band wants to have access to a massive mixing desk, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in preamps and mic’s. Almost none in this genre do. It’s electronic punk music. We make do with what we have. We used to be proud of it, now, as I said there is a ton of people pretending a higher station than they actually have.
Lastly… i’ll answer this question before I get asked.
Q: “I bought the SE-50, and I have a mic, but, I sing through it and it doesn’t sound like how you said”
A: First, whisper. Pick something really angry to say, any phrase you like. Whisper it. Now, force more air up and force out a louder whisper, keep doing this until you are almost a volume of a yell, but still whispering. It sounds harsh, raspy and likely out of tune at first. Now, try that through the pitch shifter. Over enunciate the words, learn to control your breathing, learn to gather up the air from your stomach not your throat. Practice. That’s how it’s done. Don’t bother screaming, it will just sound like crap.
Finally, a couple of thoughts:
Don’t be afraid to sound like everyone else. Really, don’t. It’s the seemingly petrifying rebellious fear of sounding like “all those other bands” don’t be afraid of it. DO BE AFRAID IF THAT IS “GOOD ENOUGH” FOR YOU. There is no shame in attempting to emulate, but stopping at a copy of what you love is lazy. Find your sound. What sounds good to your ears, keep pushing. Don’t just do it with vocals, do it with everything. Never listen to your song and settle with good enough, keep learning, keep adapting, adding new influences, trying new things. Every musician out there sounds like something else. We all have the same scales, the same notes, same chords, it’s how we add ourselves to that equation that sets us apart. That’s your unique and non duplicatable influence, that’s your addition to the world of art. It’s you. It should be personal, and carefully crafted to best suit you.
Second, the vocal style described above will not at the moment win you any popularity contests. People are attached to it as much as they hate it. Most music listeners want to be able to sing along. If you push your vocals too far into the realm of unintelligibility, you risk making your vocals just another loud instrument.
People want to know what you are saying. If what you are saying isn’t worth a damn, back to the drawing board. If you have nothing to add to the pool, don’t get in, just to pee in it.
Large portions of bands have moved to a much less heavily effected style. Some pull it off with ease, and many don’t. You don’t have to be a good singer to be in an EBM band, but you do have to have an ear for tuning and timing. The problem is, many bands transition to cleaner vocals without learning how to sing. So, you end up with a worse end product. Again though, this is about how to achieve “harsh vocals” my opinions on other styles wouldn’t fit in this already novel length somewhat labyrinthine post.
So. That’s how it’s done. In gruesome detail. In the future people that ask me, will be directed to this post. I hope you found something in it useful.
nolongerhuman. over. out.
Public service announcement:
I don’t actually mind torrents that much for a number of reasons, but, honestly – buy a shirt, go to a show, or send your musician a tip or something if you want to torrent. It’s really important that you know in this genre especially, if you are torrenting the music, and not buying merchandise, or going to shows or requesting the music from your local DJ’s, or if nothing else spreading the word as much as you can, you are not screwing over some nameless faceless corporation or some huge record label.
This isn’t a matter of huge sales. No one in this genre is really trying to live on making music, that would be nice, but even self sustaining is fantastic in reality. Bringing shows to your town, producing albums, paying designers for artwork for merchandise, all the things that go into creating new music is all exceptionally expensive.
Your contribution by purchasing CD’s, Shirts, tickets, is how it happens that I can play shows, have shirts to sell, and make music. Your willingness to buy a ticket to a show is why a promoter is willing to cover the costs of travel expenses. If they think they will lose money, they won’t bring a show to your town. Your willingness to buy a CD, or an MP3, or a shirt is why I am able to bring out an actual album in physical format with quality booklets with lyrics, it’s why I am able to afford to take days off to come to your town and play a show, and hang out.
If you care about the music, the continued ability of artists to make the music, the continuation of nolongerhuman (these albums are telling a story and that story isn’t even halfway through) the ability to see bands live, to have better sound at better venues, to have better quality production on the CD’s and MP3’s, you, and me, are kind of in this together in all honesty.
In this genre unlike almost any other, you have a direct ability to help. People ask me all the time why I don’t play certain cities or countries. The reality is, you have as much to do with that as anyone. If you want a band to play in your city – I need you to get involved in order to make that happen. Bands have been dropping the genre, have been quitting music, have stopped touring, and it’s almost completely because there is no demand for it, no one has time or money to support it. Without you getting involved, no one has promoters willing to risk thousands of their own dollars to put on a show. Labels aren’t willing to invest in the risk of producing CD’s that no one will buy, and bands well, as I said, I don’t expect to live on this, but no one can hemorrhage money forever, no matter how much they love what they do.
This is not me blaming, nor me saying that anyone here is anything but the utmost in supportive. nolongerhuman fans have always been some of the most loyal of any band – and I thank every single one of you for that. I only hope I can repay your loyalty by never compromising the integrity of the music, never watering it down, and never being anything but honest. Each and every person who sends me a message, I contact directly, and try to answer questions or help in whatever way I can. Some of you are now close personal friends of mine for that very reason.
This is instead – a call to action and a reminder: You make a huge difference in the continued ability of bands to tour, to write music, to create music. The quality and availability of music, and this genre as a whole. You guys are as much a part of it as I am. It doesn’t matter if you have money, it doesn’t matter if you have time. If you have enough time to read this, you have enough time to help. Here’s some simple things you can do:
1) Request songs from your DJ’s, do some research on your favorite bands, so that you have unique requests. Keep requesting them.
2) Go out to the local club nights, bring your friends. Request bands from your local promoters, CD stores, and again, DJ’s.
3) Buy CD’s, or MP3’s if you can. If not, buy a shirt, even a sticker helps.
4) Talk to your friends, your co-workers, anyone about your favorite bands, get the word out there to anyone who will listen.
5) Share posts, pictures, updates, on social media. Social media is one of the *only* ways many bands have to spread music, information, news.
6) If a band you love has a show in your town, GO. Honestly. Don’t treat it as though they will just come back again. They may not.
7) Request stickers or promo material from your favorite bands, put them all over your town.
8) Put into the music what you get from it. Support it. Please. Not just me, but the genre as a whole. Support it. It’s a passion of mine, and I see it suffering, and we can – together, shake off this apathy and make a force to be reckoned with.
Once again. Thank you. To each and every person reading this.
If you are going to consistently and only use Facebook to complain about the banality of life, at least inject some humor into your post, otherwise you sound like a whiny entitled shithead, not a witty, world weary intellectual as you may think. Trust me, you do.
Secondly, if you are going to quote a poet, author, or song lyric, cite your source. It’s tacky otherwise, and half the comments will be asking you how you managed to write something so deep. Also, quit quoting things you haven’t read and just like the quote without knowing the context. It makes you sound stupid. Really, really, stupid. More of you have quoted historical people that I know for a fact you hate without knowing it based on lack of research than you can imagine. Think first. Type second.
Thirdly, the fastest way to look like a blithering idiot is to attempt something deep and meaningful and then spell it wrong, completely misuse the words, or otherwise mangle the English language, you don’t really need to attempt to be deep on Facebook anyway. This isn’t a college literary arts class, no one thinks you are profound, and if they do, they are less profound than you, which would make them a terrible judge of profundity.
Just a daily note because sadly, with all the eye rolling over here as I scroll through my feed, I fear for my vision as much as my sanity.
If people put even 10% of the effort and time that they put into posting utterly pointless posts/polls/comments about politics, what Obama is doing, what atrocity some faceless political figure you will never meet has done, or will do, what war is being waged in a country you had never heard of before, or If even 10% of that effort and time spent debating, the snarky quasi intellectual banter… If that was ever applied to this scene, our electronic music scene, we could make this scene great.
We could support our musicians and our clubs, and promoters; see great tours; meet amazing musicians and people… We could make our scene as moving and as powerful and influential as it deserves to be.
I am sometimes told I need a blog, which I have always considered precarious ground. My opinions are not often the popular ones. In particular, a conversation this afternoon about the growing apathy of music listeners. Just in my 15 years in this genre, all 15 of which have been as a fan. Here is an excerpt, you tell me if I should start a blog and flesh this out:
“People are amazingly blah about new music. Somehow they expect that bands “have ways” to get popular, simply because they are bands and are already somewhat out there. In reality, bands need people to be excited and involved. Without that, popularity will fail.
People are more and more and more apathetic. Now, they are just sitting back and letting people tell them what to like; no one seeks it out anymore. They monitor Facebook, Vine, Twitter, Instagram… They see what is reposted, what people are talking about, and they themselves then go look into it. If they haven’t heard of it, they can’t be bothered to take a listen. It would be a waste of time, in part, because the music is often perceived as easy to make, but often even more so because so many, so many mediocre, barely competent bands churn out album after album of the same beat, the same lyrics, the same images, the same lack of any passion.
So, the popular bands, whether they have long since stopped caring, or were simply relying on an image that succeeded rather than music or not, get more popular simply by the momentum of their own preexisting popularity. It’s a self fulfilling cycle.
Thus, you end up with bands trying to to *shock* you to attention, since bribery doesn’t affect people in a world where half the musicians give the music away for free, and the other half is easily torrentable. And the adage is true – if something cost money, is hard to find, and you have to work for it, you tend to value it more. Hell, I know a dozen bands with thousands of fans, that do not have a full length CD out. This makes it pretty clear to me that these fans aren’t paying attention to the music. They are paying attention to whatever is thrown in their face; whatever is easily digestible and easy to find. This is a very big warning sign. The best things are not supposed to be easy, cheap, and readily available. This is why there are less than a 1,000 four star restaurants, and more than 100,000 McDonalds. Easy is popular. Thinking is not, even when someones health is concerned.
Hell, to me, MP3’s to me are disposable. If I buy them and lose them, I just buy them again. However, if I buy a CD and lose it, I am upset because I may never find it again. Music has, as everyone knows, become wildly devalued, and the worst part is that all this does is open the door for the bands that are popular to take advantage; to never expand or attempt to be more than they are, and for new bands to simply poorly imitate since people will likely listen to it as background noise if nothing else. Why not? It was free, and easy.
I remember the days, not terribly long ago, when I used to plow through used CD inventory, digging and sometimes coming up with a band I had never heard that changed my life. I found Wumpscut that way, I found Leaether Strip that way. Those bands led me to others, I found friends that liked those bands and they introduced me to more. It started a lifelong love of a music genre most have never even heard. It started my band. In a real way, it saved my life.
Now, those stores have closed. People consume one download after another, sometimes not even listening to the music, just “having” the MP3’s. Bands pass off a CD with 2 original tracks and 11 remixes to give you something new to consume. Bands have thousands of fans and no music. None. Bands release and re-release the same CD’s a dozen times. Bands have songs and albums so terrible and so trite that I shudder to hear them but, I do everytime I go out. Lyrics are so offensive to anyone who is thinking that they would not only stop listening, but be personally offended. They aren’t though. It simply doesn’t matter enough to be offended to most people.
You guys, the fans, are every bands judge and jury. You are the ones that can change it. It takes time and effort and work, and standing up to the masses of people who are mindlessly consuming.
This scene was something I loved, the depth of it, the honesty of it, the brutality of it from time to time. You guys can take it back if you want it. Or, you can do nothing.”