Recording Vocals Like a Pro: A Comprehensive Guide

recording vocals

Recording vocals can be a daunting task for many singers and producers, but with the right techniques and equipment, you can capture a great performance that shines through your mix.

In this article, we explore a range of tips for recording vocals that will help you achieve a professional sound every single time.

Room selection

When it comes to recording vocals, the room in which you record can play a significant role in the quality of your recording. A poorly treated room can result in unwanted echoes, reflections, and resonances, while a well-treated room can help create a clean and clear recording with minimal interference.

There are several types of room acoustics to consider when selecting a room for vocal recording. The first is room size. The larger the room, the more likely it is to have unwanted reverberation and echoes. A smaller room with good acoustics can help create a tighter and more focused sound.

Another consideration is the shape of the room. A square room can result in standing waves and resonances, while a rectangular room can lead to uneven sound distribution. A well-shaped room can help create a more balanced and natural sound.

Room treatments can also make a significant difference to the quality of your recording. Acoustic treatment products, such as absorbers and diffusers, can help control the sound reflections and echoes in the room. Absorbers can be used to reduce the amount of sound energy in the room, while diffusers can help scatter sound reflections and create a more natural sound.

When treating a room, it’s important to consider the different types of frequencies that need to be addressed. For example, low frequencies tend to be more challenging to control and may require bass traps or other specialised acoustic treatments. High frequencies, on the other hand, can be addressed with absorptive panels or diffusers.

Selecting the right room and treating it properly is essential for achieving a high-quality vocal recording. Consider the size and shape of the room, as well as the different types of frequencies that need to be addressed, when selecting and treating a room for vocal recording. With the right room and treatment, you can create a recording that’s clean, clear, and professional-sounding.

Microphone Selection

Choosing the right recording microphone is an essential task that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Let’s look at some of the most important factors to consider before deciding on a microphone for your project.

Microphone Type

The two most common types of microphones used in vocal recording are dynamic and condenser microphones. Dynamic microphones are generally more robust and are better suited for loud vocals or live performances, whilst condenser microphones tend to be more sensitive and are generally preferred for studio recording, where a higher level of detail is required.

Polar Pattern

The polar pattern of a mic refers to its directional sensitivity or how it picks up sound from different angles. Cardioid microphones are the most commonly used polar pattern for vocal recording because they pick up sound mainly from the front of the microphone while reducing sound from the sides and rear. This helps to reduce unwanted room noise and produce a more focused recording.

Condenser mic for recording

Frequency Response

The frequency response of a microphone refers to how it responds to different frequencies of sound. The ideal microphone for vocal recording should have a fairly flat frequency response, meaning it picks up all frequencies equally without adding any unwanted colouration to the sound.

Sensitivity

The sensitivity of a microphone refers to how much electrical signal it generates for a given sound pressure level. A more sensitive microphone will pick up more detail in the vocal performance, but it can also be more susceptible to picking up unwanted noise.

Pop Filter Compatibility

Pop filters can help reduce the impact of plosive sounds such as ‘p’ and ‘b’ on your vocal recording. Some microphones have built-in pop filters, while others may require an external pop filter. It’s important to consider the compatibility of the microphone with a pop filter when selecting a microphone for vocal recording.

If you’re unsure about where to start, head over to our run-down of the best mics for home recording for some inspiration.

Microphone Placement Tips

Once you’ve found the right mic for the job, the next step is to place it in the correct position to capture the best possible sound. Proper microphone placement is critical for achieving a clean and clear recording without unwanted noise or distortion.

Here are some tips for nailing your microphone placement every time:

Distance from the Singer

The distance between the microphone and the singer can have a significant impact on the recorded sound. Generally, the mic should be placed about 6-12 inches away from the singer, but this can vary depending on the type of microphone being used and the style of singing. Closer placement will result in a more intimate sound, while further placement will result in a more spacious sound.

Angle of the Microphone

The angle at which the microphone is pointed towards the singer can also affect the quality of the recording. The microphone should be angled slightly downwards towards the singer’s mouth to capture the fullness and warmth of their voice.

mic with pop filter

Pop Filter Placement

If using a pop filter, it should be placed between the singer and the microphone to reduce plosive sounds like “p” and “b.” The pop filter should be positioned about 1-2 inches away from the microphone to be most effective.

Directional Placement

Depending on the polar pattern of the microphone, it may be necessary to position it in a specific direction to achieve the desired sound. For example, if using a cardioid microphone, the singer should sing directly into the front of the microphone to capture the best sound while minimising room noise.

Room Acoustics

Finally, it’s important to consider the acoustics of the room when placing the mic. If the room has excessive reverb or echoes, it may be necessary to adjust the placement of the microphone or use additional acoustic treatment to minimise these unwanted sounds.

Pop Filters

Pop filters are essential for vocal recording because they help reduce the impact of plosive sounds, such as ‘p’ and ‘b,’ that can cause distortion in your recording. A pop filter is a simple device that attaches to your microphone stand and sits between the vocalist and the microphone.

There are several types of pop filters available, including nylon mesh, metal mesh, foam, and fabric filters. Nylon mesh pop filters are the most common type and are generally affordable and effective at reducing plosive sounds. Metal mesh pop filters are more durable and have a slightly different sound profile, while foam filters are a more affordable option that can be effective at reducing plosives. Whatever type of pop filter you choose, ensure it’s positioned correctly between the vocalist and the microphone to achieve the best results.

producer monitoring in studio

Monitoring

Monitoring your recording is essential to ensure that you are capturing the best possible performance. Use headphones to listen to the take as it’s being recorded, so you can adjust the microphone placement, gain, and other settings as needed. To effectively monitor your recording, it’s important to use flat response studio quality headphones that accurately reproduce the sound of the recording.

High-quality monitoring also allows you to hear any other issues that may be present in the recording, such as unwanted background noise or room acoustics. If you hear any issues, you may need to adjust the microphone placement, gain, or other settings to address the problem.

Gain Staging

Gain staging is a crucial step in the recording process that can make or break the quality of your vocal recording. It refers to the process of setting the levels of your recording equipment to ensure that the signal coming into your recording device is strong enough to capture the performance, but not so strong that it causes distortion or clipping.

Distortion occurs when the input signal is too high, causing the waveform to become clipped or distorted, which can severely affect your recording. On the other hand, if the signal’s too weak, it can result in a low-quality recording that lacks clarity and detail.

To properly gain stage your vocal recording, start by setting the gain on your microphone preamp to the lowest possible setting. Then, perform a test recording while monitoring the levels on your recording device. Gradually increase the gain until the recording level is strong enough without causing any distortion.

Another important consideration when gain staging is the signal-to-noise ratio. This refers to the balance between the level of the recorded signal and the background noise present in the recording environment. To achieve the best signal-to-noise ratio, you should aim to have the recording level as high as possible while keeping the background noise to a minimum.

In addition to setting the gain on your microphone preamp, you may also need to adjust the gain settings on your interface or mixer. Most interfaces and mixers have a gain control for each input channel that allows you to adjust the level of the incoming signal.

Performance

Finally, it’s important to remember that a great vocal recording starts with a great performance. Encourage your vocalist to give their best performance and provide feedback and guidance as needed to help them achieve the best possible result. 

In conclusion, recording vocals is an art form that requires both technical expertise and a keen ear for detail. With the right equipment and techniques, you can capture a performance that is full of emotion and energy, and that fits perfectly in your mix. By following the tips outlined in this article, you should be well on your way to recording vocals that sound professional and polished.