Professional vocal recordings are – without a doubt – one of the most important elements of most songs… even in electronic dance music.
Today we have a guest post from Jennifer Webster from soundmaximum.com on her 5 tips to getting your vocal recordings sounding like they were recorded at a professional studio. Jennifer is a singer, so knows a thing or two about getting great vocal recordings.
Take it away, Jennifer!..
“One of the most important parts of any song is the vocals (except in purely instrumental music, of course).
It’s the centrepiece – and often the main focus – of the whole song, and it goes a long way in determining how great a song will be.
This makes vocal recording one of the most important aspects of the music production process.
With the tech advances over the years, we have so many plugins and tools that we use to treat vocals.
You can take a good vocal recording and make it sound better by applying some processing, and whilst this is very good, it can be counterproductive – especially if you use vocal processing tools to “repair” vocals or to try to make bad vocals sound good.
There’s nothing quite as good as having a great recording. This way, any processing would only make it mind-blowing.
Even with the advanced tools we have today, there are some things you cannot fix in the mixing stage, in particular…clipping, distortion, and background noise.
If you want to take your vocal recordings to the next level, here are 5 tips for you:
5 Tips to get your vocal recordings sounding like a pro:
1. Get good gear
To record vocals, of course, you need equipment. The kind of equipment you use goes a long way in determining the quality of your vocals.
When choosing the gear to buy, always remember that what you need is stuff that would ensure that you get an accurate representation of vocals coming from the singer or rapper into your DAW, and out into your speakers.
Of course, price is important as a factor to consider, but the gear that does the job does not necessarily have to be the most expensive.
If you’re on a tight budget, you may have to do a lot of research, reading plenty of reviews and product specs. For the same price, you may be surprised at how you can find both high quality and average quality gear.
As you already know, the first point of contact of the vocals from the singer or rapper is the microphone.
For studio vocal use, I would recommend cardioid condenser microphones. This can be a good starting point, especially if you’ve not fully mastered different recording techniques.
2. Control the environment
When recording vocals, you always want to make sure that what goes into the mic is the pure, undiluted vocals of the artist. The goal here is to make sure that what you intend to record is exactly what’s going into the mic. However, there are a few things that can easily mess this up. One such element is the immediate recording environment.
For most bedroom studio or even home studio producers, it’s possible that your space is not “ideal” for recording vocals, in terms of acoustic treatment.
In this case, the best you can do is to isolate the vocal recording area from the problems of the rest of the room. The goal here is to prevent reflection from the front and rear of the mic.
Nearfield absorbers can do a pretty good job of preventing your vocals from reflecting from the front of the artist.
However, to deal with reflections from behind the artist, you need to consider the mic’s placement. This is because unlike the nearfield absorbers, there is no specialized product for preventing rear reflections.
Place your mic such that the recording artist has an absorbing surface behind them, like a sofa, or a mattress leaned up against the wall. This way you would have prevented both front and rear reflections.
Also, you should be aware that we want to have dry vocals only because we are assuming your room is not “ideal” for recording.
In a commercial studio or professional studio, you may want the ambiance. As a matter of fact, some reverb plugins’ presets are modelled after some of these studio ambiances.
3. Artist monitoring
To get the best from your vocal recordings, your artist needs to give their best performance.
The first way to help encourage this is to spend a bit of time making sure they’re relaxed and comfortable; have a chat and a cup of tea!
The second is to give them good quality monitoring. The artist headphones should be of high quality and comfortable to wear.
You must use only closed-back headphones for the recording artist, as this prevents sound bleeding from the headphones being recorded into the mic. You can check out some quality recording headphones here and get the best pair.
To help the artiste even more, you can add a light sprinkle of effects into their headphone feed. A little reverb, some high pass filter and possibly very little delay effect can be a real push for the singer.
For some genres, you can even add a very little real-time pitch correction too. When the artist loves what they’re hearing, it encourages them to go all out.
4. Gain staging
Simply put, gain staging is how you ensure that the right levels of the vocals are recorded. If you record at high levels, you may have issues at the mixing stage; whoever is mixing the song will not have enough headroom to be expressive with volume or gain levels.
Make sure the levels are set such that the vocals are clearly heard. At the same time, be careful not to make recordings that are too hot. This means that the levels should not be too high. If your recordings are too hot, you’re inviting distortion and clipping.
Set your levels by getting the singer to sing the loudest point of the song, and make sure that your levels are just peaking below 0dB.
Then, turn it down 3 or 4 dB for safety, as sometimes a singer will give the real recording a bit more energy.
5. Record everything, and more
When recording, you may be tempted to stop when you have one good take. The best way is to have more good takes than you need.
There are things you may not notice while recording, that you may notice during the comping stage. If you have options, you can easily switch or remove unwanted parts.
Additionally, you should record more than just the main takes. There are some nuances and added stuff that may end up as a major part of the recording.
Even when you’re done recording song, run it one or two more times from the beginning to the end, and ask the artist to do anything that comes to mind. From experience, these moments can bring a special level of creativity.
Remember that you’re trying to get the best your singer can offer in terms of performance, and accurately transport this vocal performance into your DAW, in as high quality as possible, and as dry as possible.
This way, any processing you do in the music production and mixing stages will be using a really good quality source.
Any questions, let us know in the comments!