One common mistake made by newbie producers when recording vocals is thinking it can be fixed in the mix.
More often than not, the first stage of production is done with little consideration for the sound. The truth is, repairing a poor recording in the post-production stage is hard.
Good vocals are created in the recording phase, and you should spend 80% of your time getting it right from the get-go. Editing and mixing should only be considered as fine-tuning of your high-quality recordings. In today’s post, you will learn how to record better vocals!
Make Sure Your Room Is Treated
Recording a vocalist in an untreated room, without acoustic treatments will make the audio recording sound cheap. You’ll end up capturing alot of unwanted “ugly” frequencies that occurs naturally. Sure, they can be removed with an equalizer, but that’s not the biggest issue. The biggest headache is the reverb that occurs naturally in every room. Reverb pulls the vocals back in the mix and removes intimacy. Great vocal recordings are “in the face” of the listener.
So how do you prevent this? Choose a room with very little reverb, or treat the room with some dampening materials like mattresses, duvets, or heavy curtains.
Reverb is extremely important, but it’s also easy to add in the mixing process with plugins. If your recordings have a lot of reverb from the get-go, all audio processing will be applied to the reverb as well. Pitch correction, compressors, limiters, and automation all work best on dry signals.
Choose The Correct Microphone
Choosing a great microphone is essential, and matching the mic with the singer is a must if you want slick recordings. So how do you know which microphone to choose? Unfortunately, you don’t. If you have access to different microphones I suggest you start testing them out on the vocalist you’re recording.
The most standard choice when it comes to recording vocals is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone. This means you also need phantom power, preferably from an audio interface. I also recommend using a cardioid microphone as they have a unidirectional pick-up pattern. They are most sensitive to on-axis sounds (where the mic “points”), which is where you position the singer. Since they reject sounds from the back and sides, cardioid microphones are a great choice if you record in a room with non-ideal acoustics.
Avoid Mic Positioning Errors
You can have all the high-end gear in the world, but you will get bad recordings if you mess up mic positioning. Mic positioning is the cornerstone of every great vocal recording, and it could be tricky if you don’t own a vocal booth. So where should you start?
Avoid positioning the microphone in the center of the room, as this could cause standing waves. Whenever sound waves occur in a room, they interact with the room boundaries. Standing waves occur when the reflected wave combines in phase with the original direct sound. This can cause unpleasant artifacts like flutter echoes and reinforced frequencies.
So what is the best mic position? Just off the center of your room e.g not in the center and not too close to any walls or reflective surfaces. The singer should be positioned 6 inches away from the microphone.
One important thing to remember: all singers are different. If you’re recording a new singer that you’ve never worked with before, you need to experiment with positioning to capture his/her golden frequencies.
Set Proper Levels
When you’re recording vocals, it’s important to record at correct decibel levels. Why? You need enough gain to work with when mixing. On the other hand, you want to leave some headroom for mixing and mastering.
There is no exact science when it comes to setting levels, it all comes down to the range of human voice and the range of sound recording equipment available. So where should you start? You should aim for an average of -18dB for a vocal recording to avoid both clipping and loud noise floor.
There are a lot of mistakes to be made when recording, and these tips will help you record better vocals in your home studio. Always remember to get the vocalist to warm up and play through the song a couple of times. Before leaving the recording session you should have at least 3 full song takes on different tracks.
Besides the tips in this post, remember that a recording session quickly can go sour if you’re recording a singer having a bad day. The psychological aspects of recording play a bigger role in capturing a great performance than you might think. You should never criticize a singer during a performance, and it’s your role as a producer to make them feel comfortable. A happy singer finds inspiration which is needed for a performance to reach its full potential.