Whether you are the singer or just trying to record someone else’s vocals there are a few steps that are essential when you are recording vocals at home.
Assuming you have the essentials to record vocals such as; a laptop, an audio interface and a DAW, and in order to record good vocals, you also need a microphone, though not necessarily an expensive one, you are ready.
Microphone price ranges go from affordable to ridiculously expensive, so finding the right microphone is important however, there are ways around the cons a cheap microphone might have, with microphone techniques and plug-ins on your DAW. My suggestion is finding a condenser microphone, with a large diaphragm, without going out of your budget.
Once you have your microphone the next purchase should be a pop filter to smooth out your “P” and “T”. The pop filter is a very useful tool, but if you are on a tight budget and can’t afford one, you can easily make one out of a coat hanger and sock or stocking.
With a pop filter you can prevent:
- Popping – “P” and “B”, increase of punchy low frequency
- Proximity effect – if your singer is singing to close to the diaphragm of your microphone it causes a low end boost whilst recording, all with a pop filter
You should never over use the plug-ins at your disposal, nevertheless there are some helpful things you can get out of them. You have to be careful to not record something you don’t want, for example if you record extra delay to your track you can’t undo it however you can put delay on the track after you have recorded it.
If you’re having issues with sibilance where your “S” and “F” is causing high frequency blasts you can avoid it by using a de-esser or a multiband compressor on your DAW.
If you have good pre-amps on your audio interface then you don’t necessarily need to EQ your vocals whilst you are recording, subsequently you have to pay attention to your mic levels.
The levels on your mic gain should never be too high, usually there are indicators for when a sound will start clipping or peaking, if it goes red you should turn it down. If you do not have indicators on your audio interface, you should be able to see it from your DAW, however I find it ideal to have your mic gain in a range from -14dB to -7dB, you can always equalize it alter on.
When you’re recording from your room there are usually things that absorb frequencies such as your bed, your closet and so on, even so you might have a table, a TV or a mirror that causes the frequencies to reflect. This is not always what you want so you should ideally have a dry neutral room, but not empty as that will scatter the frequencies. Considering the low budget aspect, some reflection filters at least would be more than helpful, there are however some DIY tricks that can be used out there, at least as a temporary solution. Unfortunately, room acoustics are extremely critical so it is important to avoid reflections and echoes in your room.
An equally important aspect is the placement and positioning of your microphone and its stand. You want to try out different spots in your room and choose the one sounds best to you, and, if you don’t have a pop filter to mark the distance the singer has to stay form the microphone, usually you want be from 6 to 10 inches away from the microphone. There are microphone techniques that a singer should know about that can be helpful as well. A singer should be able to control the volume he is monitoring on his headphones just by controlling the distance from the microphone, you can play around with the dynamics of a song that way. Try to sing and avoid popping and sibilance as much as you can straight away when you’re singing, other than using the techniques mentioned before. Learn how to use the proximity effect to highlight more intimate moments in the song and control your breath sounds by breathing to the side when you need to instead of breathing into the microphone, unless intended.
Not to be forgotten is to work with the singer as much as you can, record multiple takes to get him or her to warm up and consider the headphone level to be just right, and always try to create a relaxing environment and make your singer feel comfortable.
If you are able to look after all these aspects and steps, you’ll definitely get out a good recording form your home with what you have.