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A Little More Jesus

by Erica Campbell

While controlling sibilance is a constant battle for many who deal with mainstream vocal production, Christian productions have a particularly heavy cross to bear (so to speak) in that a number of crucial liturgical words incorporate ‘s’ sounds: ‘Jesus Christ’, ‘Spirit’, and ‘Saviour’, for instance. This barnstormer, from the singer’s recent Grammy–winning Gospel album Help, must have been purgatory (er…) in this respect, with six choruses each containing six iterations of “just a little more Jesus” (ie. well over 100 esses), with another couple of dozen sibilants in the verses. It doesn’t help that the lead vocal is so close–miked, bright, and compressed (as evidenced by the prominent lip noise at 0:09), because that can only have made the problem even trickier to deal with.

Although de–essing manually via fader or plug–in automation is my preferred solution on purely sonic grounds, you’d require the patience of a saint (sorry!) to attempt that here, and I suspect that an automatic de–esser has actually been employed in this case, not least because some of the ‘s’ sounds (for example “sir” at 1:09, “almost cussed” at 1:23, or “Jesus” at 2:45) verge on lisping — something of an occupational hazard when you have to set your processor to deal with average sibilants and then a non–standard one comes along. But, even disregarding these isolated lisps, I still don’t think the de–essing here has been handled as successfully as it might have been, because many of the esses have strong 10–12kHz spectral components that manage to sound harsh even when the consonant’s overall level has been reduced to within a whithker of lithping.

I reckon this is a situation where inserting a second split–band de–esser just for the upper spectral octave would likely have paid dividends, rounding off the sibilant timbre so that the first processor didn’t have to work so hard. As things stand, I think this production overall still remains just the right side of acceptable in terms of sibilance, and as such makes quite a good reference point if you’re agonising over ‘s’ levels and timbres in your own work.