Recording vocals is often the trickiest but most important part of a session – here are five ways to improve your vox…
Recording sessions can be laden with difficult challenges. From microphone choice and positioning, to getting the best performances from the artists involved- it can be a pretty fraught process.
This is never truer than when recording vocals. So much depends on getting a great performance, but achieving it is a bit of a task…
Here are five tips to help you get the best results when recording a vocalist.
1. Make sure the performer is well rehearsed
The most important thing about any great recording is the quality of the performance. If you get this right, then the equipment, mic position and everything else becomes slightly less important.
As a listener, you’re more likely to forgive an imperfect recording of a great performance, than a great recording of a sub-par performance.
It is essential that the performer is well rehearsed. This will reduce the number of takes needed, and help to maintain the creative flow. Plus, it will prevent the vocalist from getting tired by repeatedly singing the same lines.
If the vocalist hasn’t committed the lyrics to memory and has them written down, then use a music stand to hold them- you don’t want any paper rustling sounds to ruin your recording (you might want to make sure they remove any ‘jangly’ bracelets or jewellery for the same reason…)
2. Use a pop shield
There are some things that are a question of taste when recording vocals, but using a pop shield is not one of these. It prevent’s plosive sounds (‘P’s, ‘B’s etc that send a jet of air out of the mouth when spoken or sung), from ruining a recording.
Essentially, it adds a barrier between the performer and the microphone that allows the sound to reach the mic, but prevents the air from reaching.
As another top tip, you can use the gooseneck to position the shield at the distance you’d like the performer to be from the microphone. Vocalists have a tendency to get close to the mic, but this isn’t always desirable.
If you’re using a cardioid mic, this can mean excessive bass frequencies. A pop shield can hold them away from the mic.
3. Don’t rule out any microphone
It’s easy to reach for the microphone that you’ve deemed your ‘vocal mic’, but every voice is different. As such, a mic that works for one performer might not work for another.
Set up a few different mics and experiment. Don’t be swayed by the fact that one microphone is more expensive than another- be guided by your ears, whether that means using an SM57 or a Rode NTK…
4. Get the best ‘room sound’ you can
The sound of your vocal recordings will be greatly affected by the ambient room sound (i.e. the reverberations caused by sound reflecting off the walls and other hard objects).
If you’ re lucky enough to have an acoustically treated room or vocal both, this will be less of a problem. As most will be recording in a room in their house, it’s important to take some measures to reduce ambience.
The most effective way of doing this is to use a shield like the SE Reflexion Filter or Essentials portable vocal booth. These prevent reflected sound reaching the sides and rear of the mic.
If you can add to this some dampening behind the performer (a duvet draped over a changing screen or something similar is effective), you’ll get a surprisingly dry recording.
Most vocalists like to record with a bit of reverb on their vocals in the foldback mix (the mix they will hear in their headphones). This sounds a bit more natural than a completely dry vocal, and allows the performer to judge pitch a bit more easily.
Compression is a more contentious issue- some producers like to record through it, some don’t. Ten years ago, recording with a compressor to take 1-2dB off peaks just allowed the engineer to reign-in any rogue peaks that threatened to cause clipping (16-bit recordings could be quite unforgiving…)
Nowadays, the dynamic range offered by most DAW software at 24-bit with high recording rates mean that this is less of an issue. Compression can always be added afterwards. Or, you can record a dry, and a compressed track simultaneously- take your pick…
Though these tips don’t take into account tantrums, ‘artistic differences’ or intoxication, they may help to keep a session running smoothly.
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Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.