SM-57 Vocal Neurosis

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Suntower
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SM-57 Vocal Neurosis

Post by Suntower » Sun Mar 22, 2015 12:31 am

A cry for help. :D

I made my first 'home' recordings of my own singing, 34 years ago with an SM-57 and a Mackie board. Every so often, I happen upon some old tapes and ADATs of my younger self and I always come back to a truth that I have been unable to face. Seriously

I have always, deep down, preferred the sound of my vocals through an SM-57. There, I said it. And I have never been willing to admit it.

I have spent thousands of dollars on pres and mics because I just -refused- to believe that a $100 beer-smelling stage mic could be the best choice.

And yes, I've seen engineers -choose- the 57 over the U67 or C12 so I -know- it's a go-to vocal mic for certain big shot artists.

I -like- to consider myself a practical person, but in this one regard, I have been completely irrational... I've never taken it to the point of buying a $5,000 Neumann, but if I -had- $5,000? I probably would do it.

I am constantly telling my guitar students to NOT give in to GAS. For my own work, I generally play 'cheap' guitars... and with pride.

But I put the '57 on a mic stand and I feel -bad-... like I'm doing something 'wrong'... even though I have decades of taped proof that it's -right-.

How does one get over that feeling? It's a sincere question. I feel like it's some audio version of 'anorexia'... I can't see 'reality' in this regard.

I'll grant you that this is probably not weird enough to get me on Jerry Springer, but it seriously does bug me.

OK, I'm done.

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Post by Gregg Juke » Sun Mar 22, 2015 1:39 am

Important disclaimer/back-story/full disclosure:

*I have at least three (maybe more) SM57's, and use them fairly frequently (esp. electric gtrs. and utility) with pride, despite whatever stigma is attached in some circles...

*With that (see above) established, I must confess that I absolutely hate the sound of the 57 on vocals; any vocals. Just doesn't make it for me.

So while I think the 57's are good and useful (a rabidly debatable subject here at the TOMB), I could never use one on a vocal track while such a thing as a condenser (or any other brand and type, for that matter) exists.

Be that as it may, with giant grain-of-salt applied, the important thing to remember is that you as the artist and engineer have to be pleased with the sound first, before anyone else. If you like it, and the way it represents your voice, than it's a good sound. The Joe Meek Maxim (TM) applies-- "If it sounds good, it is good."

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Post by jhharvest » Sun Mar 22, 2015 2:36 am

Because:
-If your recordings sound better with an SM57, then why have you wasted all that money on those expensive mics and preamps? What's wrong with you? Are you stupid?

That's why.

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Post by Jarvis » Sun Mar 22, 2015 5:37 am

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Post by ubertar » Sun Mar 22, 2015 5:39 am

Maybe sell one of your expensive mics and get an SM7?
I haven't used one myself, but they're related to the SM57. So presumably you'd still get the sound you like but feel better about it. Or something.
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Post by vvv » Sun Mar 22, 2015 7:48 am

For me, a Picasso drawing in pencil can be as interesting as a Picasso painting in oil - somethings he did, pencil was perfect.

A '57 is not like a cheap guitar with bad action and intonation and scratchy pots and intermittent connections - it's like a Melody Maker, simple, limited and functional.

A '57 is not like a clock radio speaker what is barely suited for hearing the weather - it's like a Auratone.

A '57 is not even like a hotdog for dinner - it's like a decent Italian sausage.

OK, I'm done. :twisted:
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SpencerMartin
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Post by SpencerMartin » Sun Mar 22, 2015 8:44 am

vvv wrote:For me, a Picasso drawing in pencil can be as interesting as a Picasso painting in oil - somethings he did, pencil was perfect.

A '57 is not like a cheap guitar with bad action and intonation and scratchy pots and intermittent connections - it's like a Melody Maker, simple, limited and functional.
Amen, brother! Especially that first part. The requisite for expensive gear to make quality music that people will enjoy is a complete myth - on the other hand, gear obsession is the most serious, art-threatening sickness in the music community. Tons of bad music has been with good gear and tons of good music has been made with bad gear. The two variables are 100% independent.

If at any point, a person's options are to:

A. Use an SM57
B. Buy another mic and not record anything in the meantime

...then they had better choose option A every goddamn time, or else they are a terrible human being. Anyone that says a 57 isn't "good enough" for any given situation requiring a damn microphone is wrong and misguided - simple as that.

Here's a mic shootout including a 57:

Vocal Mic Shoot-out (Neumann,Blue,Rode,Audio-Technica,ADK,Shure): https://youtu.be/xS18hqLV_NQ

Sure, there's an audible difference, but it's not like it's HUGE or anything. Hopefully I've made my stance clear :) Let your 57 flag fly!

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Post by kslight » Sun Mar 22, 2015 8:54 am

You don't really give any reference to what mics you have since auditioned on your voice, or what kind of music context? Difference voice/technique of course will factor in.

I go back and forth, between an old Silvertone harp mic, SM57 or ev 767, or KSM44...just depends on what vibe I'm going for. I have kind of an odd voice, and I like having vibe to play off of...so I might layer in vocals between different mics to have both vibe and clarity.

I personally don't think there's anything wrong with liking the SM57, however if you do, maybe providing context and audio samples could help you figure out why this is?

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Post by I'm Painting Again » Sun Mar 22, 2015 11:19 am

implicit biases are not accessible through introspection

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Post by Suntower » Sun Mar 22, 2015 1:46 pm

Thanks for the replies... well... aside from the name-calling...

I'm not shopping for mics. I'm surprised others have no experience with this feeling.

My best example is, as a bass player in the 80's one could purchase any number of Jazz or Precision basses for $250-$300. Nobody wanted them. Back then, I'd show up to sessions and one was kind of -expected- to have a Ken Smith or some other boutique instrument. I bought a (mostly) working Hammond B-3 for $650. In certain circles it took a small amount of courage to say that a Fender Jazz was a better fit than a $4k Fodera... or whatever.

That's all I was saying... I just haven't -psychologically- ever gotten past the idea that a $75 mic is the best fit... for -me-. Even though I know tons of great records have been done with it... and I've seen great singers who also prefer it.

Vocals are a weird thing. It's likely just general insecurity about singing... as many singers have, at every level of talent.

I have no problem using a cheap guitar if it sounds great, but the moment I see the SM-57 on the big stand, I can't help thinking... I wonder what -Brand-X- would sound like? As my kids would say: Personal problem!

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Post by Gregg Juke » Sun Mar 22, 2015 3:14 pm

If it's really a hang-up, I'd go with the earlier suggestion to use an SM7. Good mike, "looks better" on a boom arm or on a mike stand in the vocal booth/area, and has done well (at least for me) in shoot-outs with more expensive/non-dynamic microphones.

Something about the design of the 57 makes it a great all-purpose mike that somehow is far too nasal and honky on vocals (for me). People like to point out that it's the same element as the 58, etc., etc. so they're "really the same microphone." But if you hear them both together (let alone listen to a 57 side-by-side with an SM7 or any decent condenser), you will definitely hear a difference. As Spencer said, not enough to "not record with," but to me a deal-breaker on something as critical as a vocal take if I happen to have much better options available. Nothing to do with price, for me, it's the sound.

Just MHO though, of course.

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Post by vvv » Sun Mar 22, 2015 4:03 pm

Then there's the 545 - a fave for me on amps.
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Post by jhharvest » Sun Mar 22, 2015 4:14 pm

Suntower wrote:Thanks for the replies... well... aside from the name-calling...
Oh, I'm sorry man. I wasn't actually calling you stupid. It was a rhetorical device trying to illustrate the psychological mechanism why you think that SM57 is inferior.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmati ... ed_beliefs

Again, apologies if you thought I was name-calling.

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Post by honkyjonk » Sun Mar 22, 2015 5:00 pm

I like 57's okay for lots of stuff, but since they're the same price as 58's nowadays I don't see why a 58 isn't better. It sounds very close, but a little less harsh on vocals.
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Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Sun Mar 22, 2015 5:07 pm

Whatever works best for the job is the best tool. I've never been a big 57 fan but I know a few great sounding singers who use it as their stage and recording mic.
I have the same instinct to try something better when someone asks for a 57 for vocals. I sometimes wonder if they prefer the sound of dynamics to condensers but only have experience with 57s and 58s. I'll often try an m88 or 421 or re15 or 20 etc, etc before coming back to the 57.

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