Getting your vocal recording right is a really important thing when recording a song.
Firstly it’s important that the listener can hear the lyrics, which will get across the feeling and meaning of the song, but also because we as humans are used to hearing voices every day, so it’s easy for us to tell when something doesn’t sound quite right with a voice.
As with any recording, there is no right or wrong way to record vocals, it depends completely on what you are trying to achieve. But in this article, we’ll go through a standard way you can record vocals, which will give you a nice clear result, which will be a good starting point to experiment with the sound further if you want.
Firstly you need to pick a microphone. The two main microphone types for recording vocals are dynamic and condenser mics.
Condenser mics typically capture more detail, especially in the higher frequencies, which means that the vocal can be captured in a more clear way. However dynamic mics are often a favourite for slightly louder and often shoutier vocals which might be a little too much for a condenser.
If you haven’t picked a mic out yet then getting a large-diaphragm condenser is probably the best bet for flexibility, however, if you already have something like the trusty Shure SM58 or anything else, just give it a go and see what sounds you can make out of it.
Positioning your Vocalist
To start, we can try for a “standard” close vocal sound. For this, we’ll place the mic about 6 inches in front of the singer’s mouth.
Now if we were to record them singing right now, we run the risk of plosives ruining the recording, or in other words, the P’s and B’s causing rushes of air into the microphone and making a horrible wind-like sound. So to fix that we put a pop filter in front. These can be picked up relatively cheap and if you are in a quick pinch, you can always try and get hold of some tights (or pantyhose if you’re American) and sing through those.
This should give a nice balanced sound, and you can change the sound a bit by moving the mic closer or further away from the singer.
With most microphones used for Vocals, moving the vocalist closer to the microphone will give an increased amount of bass or low frequencies. This is known as the proximity effect. This can be useful to experiment with as it can give heft and power to a vocal.
Moving the microphone away from the vocalist means you pick up more of the rooms natural ambiance. If the room you’re tracking in sounds great, then perfect! Otherwise, if your room is not well soundproofed and you’re likely to pick up noise, maybe try to avoid this.
You can minimize this by using dampening material in the room. This could be acoustic panels on the walls, hanging up some rugs, or even making a pillow fort to track your vocals in. Changing the environment you record in will make a huge difference to the quality of the vocals so don’t be afraid to get creative.
Another thing to look out for here is sibilance, which is the sound that s’s and sh’s make. Depending on your positioning, these can come through very harsh and often quite piercing.
There are a couple of ways to fix this, firstly you can just record it and use a de-esser in software, however, if you want to fix it at the source, you can just angle the mic slightly away from the singer’s mouth so it isn’t direct.
The Finishing Touches
Finally, you can’t record good vocals without a good vocalist! Make sure the singer is warmed up and well-practiced in what they are singing, and also keep in mind that it takes skill and practice to use a microphone properly.
A vocalist who understands the effect that distance from the mic, angle of the mic to their mouth, and even how their breathing affects the recording will only be beneficial to your recordings.
This method is by no means the best way to record vocals, it honestly depends on what you want to achieve. Have a play with mic types if you have access to different mics, put them in strange places and angles, record in unconventional rooms like a tiled bathroom, and just have fun with it!