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How to remove background noise totally from vocals?


In an attempt I watched some Firewalk videos. One of the very first ones I came across has some absolutely horrible advice on cleaning up vocals. I wanted to share this and start a discussion, because so many people in this group ask about vocals and FL.

Here are the problems with every technique they used.

I'm going to put the video in this post instead of comments, just so it's easier to find.

1. The heavy gate.

The problem with this technique is that when the gate is engaged, the entire sound drops out and whenever the vocals come in, you can still hear a ton of noise and hiss. This didn't actually clean up the vocals in any way. All it did is make it so when the vocals are not heard, the noise goes away. In some ways this can actually be worse than not gating it at all, because the In and out noise becomes very distracting.


2. Edison noise print.

This should be obvious on listen, but just in case it's not, after the "cleanup" there are tons of digital artifacts that make the vocal sound like a poorly encoded mp3. A better option for this particular noise example, would probably just be a high pass filter to get rid of the obscene low hum.

But there is no excuse to have a ground loop noise in your vocal recording. This is malfunctioning equipment and a lazy engineer.


3. Cutting noises, leaving a gap

Similar to issue number 1, this creates a jarring bit of perfect silence, when there is a little noise before and after. In film, this noise is called "room tone" and editing into complete silence is the fastest way to get fired as a dialogue editor.

The proper technique here is to copy the quiet room tone from another part of the clip and paste it over the noise you wish to fix and then crossfade the edges.

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This is why it is so important to record in quality rooms with quality gear. Garbage in, garbage out.

I have a tuned room and good recording environment and gear and I use these denoise tools as well (I use rx8 advanced). But it's for the final layer of polish, not to fix a bad recording. My ribbon mics require more gain and are generally a little noisier when they are gained up, so I'll get a noise print and denoise them gently so they're just a little cleaner. This has no discernible artifacts like in the video sample 2 where the vocal sounds like it's underwater.


A couple times, I have forgotten to turn the air conditioner off (it's loud in my studio) and I needed to remove the AC noise and it worked well, but that's not an excuse to be lazy and leave the AC on all the time. Every bit of cleanup comes at a cost.


These tools and editing should be considered a last resort.


If you have noise this bad in your recordings here are some tips that could help it be better from the start:

1. Built in soundcards suck. Get an audio interface, even a cheap one will likely be better. I recommend a focusrite Scarlett solo or 2i2 if you can afford it.


2. Your microphone is damaged. Unfortunately, you'll need a new one. Try and borrow a different mic and see if the noise goes away. Then you'll know for sure.


3. Your cable is damaged. Swap cables.


4. You're using an imbalanced cable when you should be using a balanced cable. Xlr cables are balanced, so that's not likely a problem on vocals recording. Unless you're using one of those abomination mics that has a 1/4" out and maybe an adapter. This doesn't apply to USB mics. Any USB cable is the same since the signal is converted in the mic before going out the USB (ADC) but if you're getting noise on a keyboard or other instrument see if it has a balanced line out. Guitars do not use balanced outputs


5. Turn off things like air conditioners and move or block noisy things like computers with fans. It's always best to not get those things in the Recording to begin with.


6. Setup room tuning and sound panels to block outside noises. I don't have a vocal booth. What I do have is a generally good room (at least parts of the room) and I setup the mic and then put movable panels (called gobos) around the vocal mic and singer to absorb extra nose and reflections.



7. Your power may be really dirty. Try buying a power conditioner and / or UPS to power all your audio gear.


8. Cut vocals in a proper studio. There is nothing wrong with knowing that your studio has limitations. All of your samples and synths are perfect quality in your daw. If only vocals sound bad, use your crappy gear to write and built a demo with vocals, but when you're ready, bounce a "no vocal" version of your song and then go record vocals In a good studio. No shame in that.


My studio is great for what I do, but I don't have a good large live room, which means I can't record drums well. I could record them, but I know they won't be perfect. So I use drum samplers or a bad recording of drums to make the demo (called scratch tracks) and then go pay a real studio for a day or 2 to record the actual drums. When they're done, I get the raw studio tracks and put them in my daw and then we re-record the "real" version of the song.


I'd love to have a studio I can track drums in. I don't. No sense in lying to myself. You have to know your limitations. And you do what you gotta do. If you can't afford a proper studio recording, do it yourself, the best you can and over time strive to one day have the real deal.


This is all I wanted to share, since this topic comes up a lot.

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