We have written about vocals numerous times on our blog, discussing how to mix them like a pro and how to liven them up with interesting processing. But in an era when many producers are content to work with sampled vocals, the process of recording a great original vocal can sometimes get overlooked.
This is a skill that is well worth investing in – even in electronic genres where sampling is commonplace, many labels are shying away from signing tracks with sampled vocal parts. No label wants to be in a position where they release a track with a prominent vocal, only for another label to release a track featuring the same vocal just weeks or months later. Below we provide you with three tips that will help you to record polished vocal parts.
Recording a vocal isn't just a technical exercise. It is an artistic process and a 'man-management' process. It is vital that you get your singer into the correct frame of mind to record the best vocal they can. Think about the ways in which you can make them more comfortable in your studio – the environment should be as welcoming as possible. Is there a way that they prefer to work? Some singers like to sing the song from start to finish every time, whereas some like to go through section by section – recording verse one on a loop before moving to pre-chorus one and then chorus one etc. Talk to your singer about this and figure out how they will perform best.
Try to structure your session in a way that plays to your vocalist's strengths. Some singers perform their best takes at the start of a session – in this case start with the choruses, the most important part of any song. As they tire, move on to the verses. Conversely, some singers need time to warm up – getting better over time. In this case maybe you should start with the verses, before attacking the choruses when they are really hitting their stride. The better you know your singer, the easier it will be to figure all this out, so talk to them and try to gain an understanding of how they work and what makes them tick.
Perhaps you don't have access to a vocal isolation booth, but even at home, you can create an almost reflection-free environment in which to record your vocalists. Reducing the sound of the room in your vocal recordings is normally desirable, as you probably won't be recording in the best sounding room.
A recording that is free of room reflections will allow you to retain more control of your vocal sound when mixing. You can buy a mic reflection filter to clip on to your mic stand for as little as €50 and this will massively reduce reflections coming from behind the mic. To try and minimise reflections coming into the front of the mic, you can stand your singer in front of a non-reflective surface. A cheap, easy way to do this is to hang a duvet over a door and stand them in front of it. This simple setup can really step up your vocal recording quality.
If you have access to more than one microphone, a quick and easy way to change the texture of your backing vocals is to record them through a different mic. For example, if you have a nice condenser mic as your main vocal mic, but you also have access to an SM-58 or another relatively cheap dynamic mic, you can try using this for backing vocals. A vocal recorded through a different mic will possess a different frequency profile and will therefore naturally separate from your lead vocal.
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Audio Ear Training for Music Producers and Sound Engineers