When it comes to learning how to record vocals, the best way to approach it is to keep things as simple as possible. A good vocal take is one that captures the vibrant energy and powerful emotion of the performer and the song.
When someone hears a song, whether it’s on their radio, on their home stereo, or through their MP3 player, their focus will fall onto the hook, the melody, and the feeling of the music – the vocals.
Recording vocals well can be difficult. But to make it easier I’m going to give you the tools and supplies you need and the exact step-by-step process that you can follow to discover how to record vocals in your home studio. And the best news? It’s actually pretty simple, and with a bit of practice, will become second nature to you.
6 Essential Tools
- Mic Stand / Pop Filter
- Acoustic Enclosure
- Closed-back Headphones
- Audio Interface / DAW Computer
- A ‘dead’ room and a duvet/sleeping bag
How to Record Vocals at Home – The 10 Steps
1 – The first step to take is to set up the vocalist’s position in the room. Never record from the room’s center as this can cause problems – the best place is nearer a wall, and as far away from other noise sources as possible, like a computer or a window.
The goal is to minimize reflections and make the room as acoustically dead as possible. Some ways to do this are:
- Record in a carpeted room
- Close the curtains to stop reflections from the windows
- Have soft furnishings like a sofa in the room
- Hang a duvet or a sleeping bag up behind the singer’s head
If you want to find out more about acoustically treating your home studio on a budget, check out the link here.
2 – Choose your microphone. Most vocals are recorded with large-diaphragm condenser mics like the AT2020 or the sE2200a II C, but if it’s a rockier song then a classic dynamic mic, like the SM58, would be perfect. All of these choices have a cardioid pickup pattern as well.
3 – Set up the mic stand and place it onto some carpet – this will help reduce vibrations and bass rumbles being passed into the mic. Set up the mic position so it’s comfortable for the vocalist, and then fix the pop filter and the acoustic enclosure onto the stand.
Position the pop filter to be around 3 inches from the mic, and get the vocalist to sing at a distance of around 9 inches from the pop filter, to help minimize the proximity effect.
4 – Connect the mic to your audio interface with a good-quality XLR cable. If you have the time and you have a good mic selection, explore a few different models to see if any of them sound better – some voices work well with certain mics, and often you don’t know what will sound best until you’ve experimented.
5 – Get the singer to put on their monitoring headphones so you can run through the track a couple of times, for two main reasons:
- To set the gain level on the interface’s preamp
- To create the monitor mix so the vocalist is happy and comfortable
It’s worth taking your time on both of these tasks. Keep in mind that the gain level may need to be adjusted as the session progresses – singers tend to get more confident as more takes are recorded, which means they’ll probably get louder as well.
To start with, aim for around the -12dB mark on the meter – you want to leave yourself some headroom above this.
6 – Listen out for any loud sections in the vocal. You might need to use some gentle compression on the recording track just to catch these loud peaks and to stop them overloading and distorting the preamp (which will ruin any take). Aim for 3-4dB of gain reduction on these loudest parts. Don’t record the vocal through anything else though – you want to record as clean a signal as possible.
7 – You want to make sure the singer is happy with the monitor mix they’re hearing in their headphones. The vocalist will be listening to a submix of the tracks that have already been recorded, and you’ll want to get their thoughts on what they want in this mix. You’ll usually find they want the bare minimum – drums, bass, and a melodic instrument like the guitar or piano will normally be enough to keep them in time and in key.
A little reverb and some gentle compression can also be used on the vocal signal in this monitor mix – the voice will be sweetened just enough so that it sounds better inside the headphones.
Always make sure the singer is comfortable with the setup, what they’re hearing in the headphones, the song, etc. A happy singer leads to better performances, better recordings, and better productions.
Gaining experience in how to create a relaxed studio environment is a big part of learning how to record vocals.
8 – Before starting, you might need to minimise or reduce what’s going on in your DAW – deactivate tracks/plugins you don’t need at the time to help your DAW computer cope better with the demands of recording.
9 – Set up a few identical mono audio tracks in your DAW, to make it quick and easy to record different takes. If you have the option and the hard drive space, record at 24-bit instead of 16-bit for that extra bit of quality.
10 – Run through the song a few times and record a few takes on different audio channels – you can comp together the best bits later on. Record the whole song each time, or split performances up into verses and choruses to help the singer concentrate on particular passages. Aim for 4-5 whole takes if you can – that’ll give you a good cross-section of all the parts to pick the good takes from.
Discovering how to record vocals is only the first step towards capturing the best vocal takes you can get in your home studio. You can accelerate this learning curve and master the process with a bit of practice and time spent getting used to the steps and techniques.
You can then focus on learning how to mix vocals with the rest of the track, where you can be more creative and add your own unique flavor as a music producer.
Before I forget, there’s a free PDF checklist for you about all of this, too, in the link below: