Vocals

I’m not going to make any vocal examples as no singer am I, but we can briefly speak about some clichés attached to the shoegaze style. Vocals tend to be delivered “unconfidently”. I put this in quotation marks because that’s how it comes across, it’s not an assertion about specific vocalists.

As with ambient music part of what makes up shoegaze is the absence of the melody being the most dominant feature. In lots of pop music the vocals are supposed to be what’s pushed the furthest forward in the mix – it’s the bit designed to make you hum it for the rest of the day.

With shoegaze there are countless examples of the voice being used more like an instrument, contributing to a wider picture, an almost wall-of-sound texture dripping in artificial spacious effects. A good start would be recording a dB or two quieter than you might ordinarily. The use of slapback echo and reverse (or other nonlinear reverbs) helps, too.

Of course, the size of the genre means there’ll be countless examples that don’t conform to what I’ve just said but the genesis of the sound has roots in Cocteau Twins, Sonic Youth, Galaxie 500 and Spacemen 3:

Recently, Reddit user aLoneSideline reached out to me, siting a Tape Op interview with Kevin Shields about Loveless.

They used an entire second mixing desk just for vocals, sometimes doubling the vocals up to 24 tracks – using a whispered voice and layering many times, the subtle nuances and slight pitch variations of each take would create that lovely phasey & bending vocal effect. They stated that they would pick the best vocal and have that slightly louder in the mix and give it some top end. The other layers would be quieter with a little top rolled off. The whole lot would be compressed to glue and voila. I’ve tried it and with the correct technique it sounds incredible.

More can be read about what Kevin had to say here and a Gear Slutz thread about it here.

Bass

There’s not much to be said here: all bass players have different setups but what’s important is to keep it tight and relatively clean. Distortion can be used but I would avoid any modulation, especially anything that messes with the stereo image. Alan Moulder talks about recording the bass on Loveless:

The bass went into a vintage Ampeg SVT amp, which was a pretty standard bass amp in those days. It was a big valve one with an 8×10 cabinet… to capture the sound, Alan remembers positioning a Neumann U87 about three inches from the Ampeg and also believes that there was DI recording taken at the same time. “He also had a Vox Tone Bender distortion pedal and used that on the bass pretty much all the time. There are lots of different models but he had a great one.

Electric bass is hard to emulate but Native Instruments’ Kontakt Player does a pretty good job. Load the Classic Bass preset. I’ve added in some Noise and disabled the Instrument FX (we’ll be using a separate plugin for this). Disable the Reverb and Cabinet, too.

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Also from Native Instruments, Guitar Rig 5 has pretty much everything we need. Using the Bass Pro head with the Control Room Pro we can blend the 8×10 cab sound with a DI signal, allowing us further control over the sound. I’ve added an optional Demon Distortion in front for a fuzzier sound if you need this. Eventide’s UltraChannel has a nice O-pressor and EQ to stop any rogue dynamic notes poking though.

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