Vocals are undoubtedly the bedrock of most popular music. For as long as humans were capable of communicating at all, the voice itself has been one of the greatest tools we have at our disposal. So, it’s imperative that we record vocals with the utmost respect and due diligence we can muster.
Whether you’re a musician just starting out, a podcaster, or just someone who wants to capture their voice for fun, this article will hopefully grant you the tools necessary to achieve professional-grade vocals in the comfort of your own home.
Why you should trust this guide?
What do I need for recording vocals?
To get started, you’ll need most of the following:
- a good-quality microphone (as a general rule of thumb, condenser mics are usually a solid starting point, although, dynamics can be good for slightly more aggressive vocals, and ribbons are ideal for more intimate styles),
- pop filter,
- microphone stand,
- XLR cable,
- audio interface,
- recording software (DAW),
- a room (a quiet room with acoustic treatment is ideal, but there are ways around this).
Now, let’s dive into the steps for recording vocals in your home studio.
Here is how to record vocals in a home studio setting:
- Find the right environment
- Connect your microphone
- Make sure everything is routed correctly
- Position your microphone
- Perform and record
Step 1: Find the right environment
If you have access to a quiet and insulated room, this will help reduce any possible background noise that can get in the way of recording.
If you lack acoustic treatment, making use of curtains, rugs, blankets, towels, pillows, egg cartons, or even cardboard can help deaden the sound of the room and get rid of unwanted reflections.
Back when I was first starting out, I would construct a tent made out of additional mic stands and makeshift structures to cover with duvets and moving blankets that I could sing within, while stuffing pillows into the corner of the room.
I think at one point I went as far as to staple pillows to the wall. I’ve also heard of people singing in their closets. Again, it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you can get the vocals to be as dry and dead as possible.
Step 2: Connect your microphone
Connect the microphone to the audio interface using an XLR cable. Plug the interface into your computer and open your recording software.
Step 3: Make sure everything is routed correctly
Iif you have any preamps or external hardware, now is the time to make sure everything is routed correctly. Make sure your DAW is configured to your desired settings (recording at 24-bit depth with a 44.1 kHz sample rate is generally considered studio standard).
Once this is done, quickly gain stage. Generally speaking, this is done by singing into the microphone at the loudest level you intend on reaching within your performance, and adjust the gain until you can reach this volume without clipping while also allowing for headroom.
Usually, people aim to hit anywhere from -18 dB to -10 dB at most.
Step 4: Position your microphone
Take some time to experiment with the position of your mic. A cardioid pattern microphone is normally placed around 6-12 inches from your mouth for vocals, 6 inches to start.
Record a test take to ensure the sound is clear and free from plosives. If you find that the sound is off, you can try a number of different techniques:
- Aiming the mic upwards towards the singer will accentuate the high end in their voice while aiming in downwards will inversely accentuate the low end.
- Singing closer to the microphone will make the vocals sound warmer and more intimate, although you’ll risk clipping or nasty proximity effect depending on the mic.
- Singing further away will add more air and potential width to the performance at the risk of losing some clarity and definition.
- Turning the mic slightly off-axis can help minimize plosives.
- If all else fails, consider trying a different microphone.
Don’t forget to readjust your levels as you do this! A slight change in the position can impact the effectiveness of your gain settings.
Step 5: Perform and record
After you’ve found the sound and settings that best suit the song as well as your stylistic preferences, simply hit record and give it your all.
Monitor yourself through headphones to make sure everything sounds correct. Take your time, relax, and focus on getting the best take.
Here are some tips to follow:
Try to come to the session well-rehearsed and warmed up. Nothing slows down the recording process like forgetting your lines, not knowing the structure of the song, or not being warmed up enough to feel relaxed as you sing.
2. Check your mic technique
Make sure to be aware of the distance you give between yourself and the microphone. At a certain point as a singer, you’ll begin to realize that the microphone itself can be used as a secondary instrument.
Simple techniques that can be beneficial to get comfortable with are:
- Back away from the microphone (1-3 inches) when you’re increasing in volume.
- Get closer (1-3 inches) when you begin to sing more quietly.
- Turning away (off-axis) from the mic to give yourself to take a deep breath is an effective way of not letting your breath become a distraction to the song.
While there is no “best way” to record vocals, the information shared in this article are the most basic requirements of knowledge to ensure that you have the highest chance of getting the best sound out of your recording.
Many engineers have different approaches, and with time, experience, and experimentation, you’re sure to find the technique that best serves you and your artistic preferences.
Don’t beat yourself up if your first attempts don’t sound as great as how you imagined them to be in your head, it just takes time and practice to get there.