These 11 tips for recording vocals are designed to quickly give you some ideas of what to keep an eye on when it comes to capturing great vocal takes. Better home studio recordings naturally lead to higher quality mixes and sharpened productions, things I’m sure you’d like to see in your own music.
Think of these tips as a brief checklist to accelerate towards successful vocal recordings. Recording great vocals can be made a lot easier and stress-free when you have concrete steps to follow and practical tips to apply.
Top 11 Tips for Recording Vocals at Home
1. Make your recording room as ‘dead’ as possible. Use acoustic treatment where you can, but if you’re limited with what you can do to the room, always use a pop filter, an acoustic enclosure, and hang a duvet or sleeping bag behind the singer’s head.
2. Position your mic as far away from noise sources as possible, like computers and windows.
3. The singer should avoid drinks that may cause their throat to develop mucus. Ideally, they should drink water on the day that they’re recording. Avoid drinks like fizzy soda or coffee.
4. Avoid recording vocals in the morning, as it can take a bit of time for the voice to wake up and soften.
5. Don’t just stick a mic up and record – experiment with the microphones you have to see what suits the singer’s voice the best (you should have at least one condenser and one dynamic to begin with). Condensers usually work best, but a singer with a bright voice may be better suited to a dynamic like the SM58.
6. Generally, you want to sing around 6-12 inches from the mic (with the pop filter in between, of course). Moving closer creates a more intimate sound – more mouth and breath sounds are picked up, and you also get a little low-frequency boost from the proximity effect.
7. Set up a good headphone mix. Set instrument levels, vocal levels, and add a little reverbto the voice (a plate reverb preset should be fine). If it’s a software reverb inside your computer, then watch out for latency issues and timing problems.
8. A little bit of compression can also make the voice inside the headphones sound better, helping the singer to relax and be more comfortable.
9. You want to record as clean a signal as possible – no processors and no effects, just the voice by itself. But if the vocal part has any louder sections or parts that are causing the preamp to overloud and distort, then you may need to add a little compression.
Before you do, try a different microphone first – some are more sensitive than others. Also take a look to see if your mic (or your mixing desk if you’re using one) has a pad switch you can use that will reduce the signal level being recorded. And play around with the gain setting as well.
If these loud parts are still getting through, you could add some gentle compression to the recording. But it’s one of those vocal recording tricks you have to be careful with – once it’s there, you can’t remove it. Get the singer to sing these louder parts while you set up the compressor. Aim for 3-4dB gain reduction, and set your attack to around 10-25ms and your release to around 150ms. A ratio of 2:1 should be fine – you want to keep it as gentle as possible.
10. Record several takes of the song. It’s rare for one take to be perfect all the way through, so you can pick and choose sections that fit well together and ‘comp’ together a final track from the various takes. But don’t overdo the number of takes – 4 or 5 should be fine.
11. And finally, one of the most important tips for recording vocals to remember…
You’re not always after a performance that’s technically ‘perfect’ – these sorts of takes often sound sterile and flat. You want the vocals to carry feelings and energy, it’s a performance after all. Put yourself in the listener’s shoes – can you imagine them connecting with the vocals on an emotional level?
Capturing first-class vocal takes can be one of the hardest things to master in a home studio – practice and patience are the keys to developing your confidence in this area of recording.
But tried and tested techniques like the above 11 tips for recording vocals should help you to speed things up and get you to your musical destination a lot sooner.
There’s a free PDF download for you in relation to these 11 tips, and if you’re keen to discover more about home recording and music production, then sign up to the newsletter below for your free home studio guide.