How to Professionally Record Vocals at Home
I wouldn’t be qualified to write this article if it wasn't for the infinite mistakes, blunders and thousands of studio hours that eventually added up to a comprehensive guide to further improve your vocal recordings at home. Reading this article, I guess you are already comfortable setting up a mic and running your vocal through a reverb. For more advanced users, even experts, this guide is a worthy tool to establish the knowledge.
With the rise of bedroom-produced music, more and more people are turning their setups into advanced home-studios, intended to record, mix and master records. Even without a deluxe home studio, plug your mics in and get ready to master the art of recording vocals at home.
Fact: Your equipment does not define the quality of your work.
To improve the overall recording quality, one must be patient and observant. Every recording session is a valuable lesson and each error becomes your next future skill. I've split the process into four sections:
- Room acoustics
- Microphone placement
- Outboard Gear
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a well-adjusted room sound. The key element to raise your recording quality is the room response captured by the mic along with the direct signal. To understand the notion of reflected sound, think of sound waves as thousands of little balls shooting omnidirectionally from the sound source. Some balls hit the microphone straight, while others bounce off the walls and other surfaces before striking the mic; thus, resulting in time difference with the direct signal. When intended, this delay can flatter the sound making it fuller and richer. In untreated recording conditions, the same delay results in “echoey” sound, or is simply unmusical.
Fact: A cube-shaped space is bad recording space.
There are rules to setting up an acoustically balanced recording space, but every room requires an individual strategy to reach its full potential. Before diving into details and purchasing supplies, try using the things you already own. A carpet on the floor and a few large picture frames on the walls will serve as diffusers and immediately improve the response. A loaded bookshelf is another great idea that helps reduce undesirable reflections; use furniture to your advantage.
While these improvements are a huge portion of the room's treatment, commercial products will also make a big difference. Use acoustic panels that help absorb specific frequencies if you struggle with a prominent tone.
Tip: Avoid symmetry. Never record in the center of your space, instead, try a 2/3 distance.
To understand the importance of microphone placement you must understand the microphone anatomy, and how to use it to your benefit. Briefly, a microphone catches sound waves in the air and converts them into an electrical current. The mic's sensitivity to air pressure is a key factor to consider when picking a mic.
Fact: Recording with a well-placed cheap microphone, is better than recording with misplaced expensive ones.
Tip: Set yourself up for a pro recording by placing the microphone at an inward 45-degree angle, capsule facing down and 20 cm away from the singer.
Tip 2: Pay attention to the sound source and be consistent throughout a recording session. Find and stick to the sweet spot.
The ugly truth of studio gear is hidden in the price tag. Good, reliable outboard gear is costly and often a quest to obtain. Stop thinking about pricey pre-amps, microphones, equalizers and compressors. Instead focus on:
- low noise, durable cables
- mic stands
- shock mounts
- mic shields
These will go a long way towards improving the quality of your recordings and delivering great value for money.
Fact: $1,000 mics are only deserving of $1,000 interfaces. Keep your gear leveled.
Tip: Avoid tracking with effects such as reverb and delay. Maintaining control of your recording is best.
Software is a powerful polishing tool and should not be a solution for damaged recordings unless specified. Here is a list of five stages that helped me progress in digital processing:
A dirty recording with noise and harsh plosives is no longer trashed and can be restored to a great extend using any of the available restoration tools.
Once you clean up the vocal, it is time for balancing. Generally, cheap mics tend to be hard at the 4kHz area and lack precision. Make sure you brought your recording up to standard before progressing.
Next comes the loved and hated step, editing. At this stage, the vocal tuning can be perfected and any slip-ups such as missing a beat can be corrected. Autotune is an industry standard used for pitch correction purposes and extreme "T-Pain like" settings.
Coloring and mixing the vocal track are the two final steps that strongly relate to each other. While a compressor (software or hardware) is used to control dynamics and make mixing effortless, it also adds color and character. A punchy, upfront vocal is present in 90% of the records released today. Similarly, reverb, chorus, and delay carve space for the vocal to breathe, yet coloring the sound, attaching a luscious tail and improving the harmonic content of the stem.
Tip: Anything below 80 Hz for male and 120 Hz for female vocals is unwanted.
Tip 2: Avoid stretching the vocal and warping to the beat, instead chop it in tinier pieces and move them individually to stop phasing issues.
Clearly a good mic with character can save you a great deal of post-production work; pristine preamps and the heavy-weight champions of compressors are pieces of gear surely worth the money. However, while the distinct sound of many legendary mics may remain a luxury, now that you know the science of getting the best out of your vocal recordings, a done-right home studio recording is capable of meeting big record label release standards.
Fact: Study the rules so you can break them.
In this section of the blog you will find recording advice, tips and tricks from fellow artists and music producers.
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