tips for recording vocals at home
These are my tips for recording vocals at home.
There are a lot of ways you can optimize your recordings. I work with artists who record at studios and also others who record at home. Recording at home is tricky, but you can get very good quality recordings if you are focused and know the workarounds.
Apart from objective information, I also give my personal opinion based on my 10+ year experience. If you are working with me, all of this applies.
You’ll want the room to be as dead as possible. You’ll want to avoid rooms with lots of hard surfaces or windows. So the ideal choice is a bedroom, or even a living room. This is very important to avoid reverb, the most common cause of a bad recording. Getting rid of recording reverb is impossible without sacrificing other elements in the mix.
Next, the position of the microphone. You want to avoid positioning it in the centre of the room because it will build up standing waves. You also want to avoid it placing it next to walls. Where do you put it then? Halfway between the centre of the room and the wall! Duh!
Last thing would be treating the room. However, we are in your house, we don’t want to make a mess do we? You’ll need to create a temporary booth around you. Try mattresses, duvets, anything else that can absorb sound. Heavy curtains are the best for this. If you got em you’re sorted.
If you can’t surround yourself by any of these materials, place treatment behind you (specially your head). That’s the area that will affect the sound most if using a cardioid microphone.
I’ve read a lot of tips for recording vocals on the internet. One aspect that is often overlooked: how close should you record? Well, there isn’t an exact distance you should use, it depends on the track. You could be shouting or whispering. The best method is to use your eyes. Load the software, record a test verse while getting gradually closer to the mic. Pay attention to the waveform. It shouldn’t distort (red volumes) and it shouldn’t be too quiet, so aim to have your waveform somewhere in the middle. That’s your distance. If you’re unsure, here’s a tip I’ve always used and it has always worked. Put your hand with your thumb and little (pinky) finger extended, making a traditional phone-like shape. That distance should work in most cases.
The height doesn’t matter a lot, the difference is small. But a few tips: if you’re looking for a bassier recording put it at chest level. If you’re looking to reduce highs and have nice warm mids, put it at eye level pointing slightly downwards.
Now you’ve decided where to record, but what do you use?
I think most microphones will work. The cheapest and most used ones would be the Shure SM57/58, the MXL990, or the AKG P220, one that I particularly like.
Your mic should be a condenser cardioid microphone. Condenser mics capture much more detail than the dynamic ones. They record the high frequencies very smoothly. Cardioid tells us where the mic is most sensitive to sound. Cardioids will mostly pick up sound from where you are standing, and not behind them.
About the preamp, you can stick with the standard Focusrite 2i2 if you’re on a budget.
Apart from a mic and a preamp, you’ll need a mic stand and a pop filter. If you don’t have a pop filter you can make your own.
Reflection panels can be useful. However, a duvet behind you is much more useful, if using a cardioid mic. It makes sense if you look at the cardioid graph above. The reflection panel is protecting areas where the mic isn’t gettin audio from!
These are random tips for recording vocals based on my experience.
- The volume of the beat in your headphones shouldn’t be too loud, or get headphones that isolate more.
- Record with a metronome all the time. It shouldn’t be the built-in metronome in the software because they are usually loud and too clicky. They get in the recordings easily. I recommend using a snare in its place, so you can adjust the volume. It’s very common to go offbeat, especially when there are no drums playing.
Record dry, no effects.
- If there are people in the room make them be quiet. I know it sounds obvious and no tips for recording vocals guide will tellyou this, but I’ve gotten so many recordings with people chatting in the back
- Unplug every device that you won’t be using.
- Your lyrics might be written on a sheet of paper. If so, don’t move papers while recording. Calculate beforehand how far you’ll go in that take and leave everything ready.
- Use a different mic technique for your adlibs! For example, take a step back or sing slightly to the left. Get creative.
- Record at a constant distance from the mic throughout takes. You can record the hook at 15cm to give it emphasis, and the verse at 20cm. That’s alright. But don’t get gradually closer. Your room is probably acoustically untreated and it will be a mess.
- Keep hydrated, take care of your instrument
- I can sometimes tell when the rapper is on drugs (specially coke), so don’t overdo drugs.
- A healthy recording has curves. A recording shouldn’t be too loud or too quiet. This is a setting that should be adjusted in your soundcard.
- Don’t be afraid to re-do takes. Do it as many times as necessary
- Engineers love extra takes, it lets us get creative
If you have any tips that you use and you want to share with the rest of the world, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.