› Recording Vocals

How to Master the Art of Recording Vocals

Here’s a guide to the tools and steps you need for recording vocals in your home studio

Capturing great results when recording vocals is the key first step to producing voice-led tracks in your home studio. When vocals are used, they often become the focal point of the song, so it's vital that they're recorded, mixed, and produced to a high standard. 


The human voice is one of the most expressive and dynamic instruments around, and recording it can be made simple just by paying attention to a few key areas.


The environment and your choice of microphone can both have a huge effect on the qualities of the recording. Special attention must be paid to certain areas of the singing voice, such as sibilance, plosives, and the proximity effect. And most importantly, the singer must feel comfortable in the studio for you to capture a performance worth recording.




Microphones for Recording Vocals


Large-diaphragm condenser mics with a cardioid pickup pattern are your best option for recording vocals, and give the most natural-sounding results. Some of the reasons are:


  • Vocals contain lots of high frequency content - condensers have a wider frequency response and are able to capture frequencies up to 20 kHz
  • Condensers usually have slight presence peaks around 15-18 kHz, which can help to give the vocals more 'air'
  • Condensers have high sensitivity, meaning they can pick up softer volumes more naturally


Dynamic mics do have their uses, too. Recording vocals in a heavier rock style isn't always suited to a condenser mic - dynamics are better for the louder volumes, and can help give the vocals a more rugged quality.


So if you're looking to get a microphone or two for your own studio and to build up your arsenal, you can't go wrong with some of the following:


Condenser Microphones

Audio-Technica AT2020

The Audio-Technica AT2020 is a great condenser mic for vocal recording

Rode NT1-A

Another condenser mic to record vocals with is the Rode NT1-A

 


 

Dynamic Microphones

Shure SM57

The Shure SM57 dynamic mic

Shure SM58

The Shure SM58 dynamic mic

Condenser Microphones

Audio-Technica AT2020

The Audio-Technica AT2020 is a great condenser mic for vocal recording

Rode NT1-A

Another condenser mic to record vocals with is the Rode NT1-A

 


 

Dynamic Microphones

Shure SM57

Shure's SM57 dynamic mic

Shure SM58

Shure's SM58 dynamic mic

 



The Recording Room


Like any instrument, the sound and tone of the vocal can be affected by the studio's acoustics and environment. A commercial studio will have it's own dedicated vocal booth, an acoustically dead compartment designed to capture vocals.


It's very unlikely you'll have a booth of your own in your home studio - they can be expensive and can also take up a lot of room. But there are other alternatives available, like these smaller devices:


CAD Acousti-Shield 32 (AS32)


sE Electronics Project Studio Reflexion Filter

CAD Acousti-Shield 32 (AS32)

The CAD AS32 Acousti-Shield 32 Acoustic Enclosure

sE Project Studio Reflexion Filter

The sE Project Studio Reflexion Filter


If you're unable to get hold of any of these, you can still create an environment that reduces any acoustic reflections as much as possible. Here are a few key tips to follow to make the most out of your room:


  • Set the mic up away from the middle of the room, but not too close to a wall
  • Cover any reflective surfaces with material that can absorb sound frequencies, like a duvet. Try hanging or suspending duvets in front and to the sides of the singer and around the microphone
  • Computer noise is one of the biggest problems in a small studio. Try moving it into another room (you might have to get some longer cables first), or cover it with a duvet for a short period of time (beware of overheating it, which can damage the computer itself)




Vocal Features


The human voice has a few characteristics that you need to look out for when you're recording vocals. These include:


  • Sibilance

Sibilance is the sound you hear when the letters 's' and 't' are spoken or sung. These sounds contain a lot of high frequency content - the presence peak of a condenser mic can sometimes highlight these letters a little too much, causing the 's' and 't' to sound unpleasant, perhaps even causing distortion.


The effect can be reduced and even eliminated by a de-esser, or a finely-tuned equalizer.


  • Popping

Popping is the effect of plosives being picked up by the microphone. Small bursts of air leave the mouth when certain letters are used - b, d, g, k, p, and t are the biggest culprits. The best defense comes from using a pop filter, which stops these bursts of air reaching the microphone.


Another option is to use an omnidirectional pickup pattern - they don't suffer from the issue as much as directional mics (like the cardioid pattern).


  • Proximity Effect

The proximity effect is another issue related to directional polar patterns. When a sound source (a vocal or any instrument) gets closer to the microphone, the lower frequencies are boosted and rise in volume. It usually starts when the source gets to within 6 inches of the mic.


Most microphones will also have a high-pass filter switch, which is another way to minimize the proximity effect when recording vocals.



 

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