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I'm in an upstart metal band and, currently, we have little recording equipment. Because I work in video production, I have some audio software on my computer for the occasions that I need it (Cakewalk Sonar & Reason), so I am the one who will be recording and processing our demos.

I really don't know what kind of mic, pre-amp, or software effects lend to the classic heavy metal sound (think metallica, judas priest, testament) in a recording environment. This is only for demos, so it doesn't need to sound pro... but I want to do the best I can for under $2k.

Any suggestions?

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3 Answers

I would like to offer a counter argument. Overdriving a preamp or adding distortion to the vocal does not make a vocal sound like Metallica or Judas Priest. Those vocals are warm and clear as a bell. Even Brian Johnson's vocals are recorded as clean as possible (Mutt Lang influence).

If I have only two grand to spend for my vocal chain, I would get a decent mic, a great pre and eq, and an awesome compressor. You are going to want to get as strong and consistent of a signal onto your track as possible, and a compressor is vital for that. Your mic is going to need some serious headroom. The pre will add warmth and the eq will let you notch out any clashing frequencies. I would add any overdrive or blatant effect after the fact so you can control its strength. Distortion on vocals sounds cool until it starts to cancel out your guitar's distortion.

If you want specific brand and model recommendations, message me. And as always, this is just my 2 cents.

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The simplest way to get that sound is actually not to buy plugins or expensive gear, but to overload some of the components you have, as that is how a lot of the classic metal bands did it.

For example, singing/screaming at high volume into cheap microphones distorts like crazy, or if that doesn't get you the right sound (maybe you have a modern mic which copes well with high volume) crank up the gain on the mic amplifier so that it begins to distort and clip.

Of course you can add a distortion box into the mix if you want something extreme, try with a normal guitar distortion first - you might find it is too much.

For a couple of our songs we use a distortion plugin in Cubase on the vocals - but that is to make it sound more like a radio/megaphone.

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Classic Heavy Metal vocals from the era after the initial period of scuzzier Doom are often reverbed/delayed then selectively EQed and compressed. Of course depending on the subgenre (power, thrash etc) your mileage may very - but I wouldn't necessarily go and simply overdrive all of your gear to achieve the sound, it won't sound as good.

Some engineers use the trick of saturating the vocal on the way into the desk by driving the preamp and then just applying FX and compression to the resulting recording, this adds harmonics and has a distinctly different sound. You can achieve similar results today by using a quality amp and driving it hard, or taking the raw vocal through something like a Tubescreamer, Culture Vulture or a Distressor and being judicious with its use. Don't overegg the pudding though. :-)

If you're not capable (or budgeted) for hardware, software has plenty of good offerings - the venerable Waves plugins are generally very good but very pricey; Voxengo stuff is great for the price (!) and PSP Audioware stuff is also very good quality (the Xenon limiter is awesome). If you can stretch to buying a UAD expansion card, you can get some bloody AMAZING quality software processing which is almost (even to veteran engineers) indistinguishable from the original hardware on which they're modelled.

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