September 18, 2020

More than ever, home studios are doing the work that was previously only possible in expensive facilities. Recording vocals is one of those things which is especially doable at home, even if your setup is modest. Here are six of our top tips for getting a great vocal recording at home.

1 – Get the Acoustics Right

The acoustics in the room play a huge role in how your vocal sounds on tape. Not only can an untreated room create reverb havoc, coloration from interacting reflections can do a number on the timbre of the recording. The easiest solution is to create as dead a space as possible.

Here’s a tried and true method: use a few boom mic stands and a moving blanket to create a temporary “booth.” Surround the vocalist with this pseudo booth on all sides if possible.

Even better than that: a small closet with plenty of hanging clothes and soft material – the more the better. A closet “booth” also offers the advantage of better isolation from equipment noise.

2 – Use the Right Microphone

Once you get the space right, you’ll find that you can capture a great vocal even if you don’t have an expensive studio mic. In the right space, even a mic built for live performance like Carvin Audio’s M68 can do a great job.

That said, to optimize a vocal recording, choose the right mic for the job. Generally large diaphragm condensers are the go-to for vocal recording, but which one? The real answer is the one you can afford that works with your voice.

Ask around for some recommendations and read some specs to narrow down choices and if you can, conduct a shootout to determine the best choice.

3 – Get the Vibe Right

The vibe in the room matters with a vocal performance. But this doesn’t mean you should always dim the lights and throw up some lava lamps.

Set up the room based on what the vocalist (you?) needs, what the song calls for, and what the mood is that day. Maybe you want a nighttime vibe and an intimate, private setting. Maybe you want a lot of light and some people watching. Maybe you want everything to feel frantic and loud, so the vocal performance is angry and frenetic.

The vibe may change from song to song or session to session, but the point is, be purposeful about it.

Pro tip: Frantic and loud works less often than relaxed and intimate. In either case, make sure there’s plenty of water at least, if not tea and other creature comforts.

4 – Use Good Mic Technique

Make sure you or your vocalist has some familiarity with mic technique. Stand too far away and you’ll deal with more room tone and a hollow sound. Smash your face too close to the mic and you could clip the signal, cause proximity effect, or create a lot of pops and sibilance.

A good rule of thumb is to be anywhere from 6 inches to a foot away from the mic. A good way to ensure this is to use a pop filter, placed around that distance away. Many vocalists instinctually press their mouth up to whatever’s in front of them, so when they do this to a pop filter, they’ll be in the right spot.

You may also want to sing just a little off axis of the mic, rather than directly into the capsule. This will help minimize sibilance and some pops that the pop filter doesn’t catch – and is especially helpful if you don’t have a pop filter.

5- Minimize Noise

Noise can enter a vocal recording in a number of ways.

Headphone bleed is the most common and can be solved partly by turning the cans down a bit. More important than that, use a set of closed back headphones if at all possible.

Second to headphone bleed in the noise department is foot noise and mic stand bumping. To minimize this kind of noise, decouple the mic stand from the floor with rubber feet and/or rugs, and decouple the mic from the stand with a shock mount.

Next, minimize noise from equipment such as computer fans and outboard gear. Isolate the vocal mic in a closet or booth if possible, and if not, try to set up your pseudo booth as far from this gear as possible.

Finally, scan the environment for any other noise sources such as AC or heating units, street noise, barking dogs, televisions, crying babies, and so on. Turn off overhead fans to eliminate whooshing. You may even have to turn off the AC and tough it out in a hot room for a few takes.

Timing is also your friend when it comes to noise. Since you’re unlikely to be able to isolate your room entirely, you may have to work at times when there’s less noise. Nighttime is generally quieter but pay attention – one home studio we know of was prone to major cricket noise at night!

6 – Rehearse

Finally, practice! It’s common for home studio enthusiasts to want to lay down vocals the second they’re written, to capture that magical moment. While this may sometimes work, it seldom yields the best performance, and it’s usually inefficient, as an unrehearsed vocal tends to need take after take after take to get right. Not to mention, lyric sheets are often heard rustling around on newly written takes.

Better to write, memorize, practice, and come into your vocal session ready to rock.

Keep Singing

This list is by no means a comprehensive treatise on vocal recording, but if you pay attention to these six things, you’ll be a lot closer to quality vocal recording, regardless what your studio situation is.

We’ll leave you with this bonus tip: keep doing it! Vocal recording is a subtle art, and you’ll find yourself mysteriously mastering it with enough practice.

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