The toughest part of the audio-recording is, recording vocals in a right way. Especially when you have a home studio as well as a newbie recordist, it’s very obvious to get stuck with some compromised vocal tracks due to the lack of knowledge of how to record perfect vocals. Well, don’t worry I’m here today with some vocal recording techniques secrets.
This is a step by step guide from perfect mic placement techniques to recording vocals like a pro. In the next 7 minutes, you will be a master of vocal recording techniques secrets.
Vocal Recording Techniques and secrets for home studios
There are several tips and techniques, pro recordists use to record vocals. In this guide, you will go through all those techniques which makes a vocal like a Hollywood mix. And of course, you don’t need any costly equipment to record that kind of vocals.
Although, there are some necessary equipment which you should buy if you wanna a great vocal track. Don’t worry these accessories don’t cost you much. But if you add these to your recording accessories, and take care of some secret vocal recording tips which I’m going to provide you in this article, definitely you will end up with a great vocal track.
Now its time to jump into the business.
Use large diaphragm microphones
First things first.
If not, then you need one. Especially a large diaphragm condenser microphone.
So, why I suggest you have a large diaphragm microphone?
Because large diaphragm condenser mics are more sensitive to sound source. They have more dynamic range, more frequency range, and more proximity effect.
There are many advantages to having a good condenser microphone with a large diaphragm so the 1st step it to buy a perfect condenser microphone. You can refer to my article – 10 Best Condenser Microphones Under 200 to choose the best microphones under your pocket range.
There are no minimum size recommendations for condenser mic diaphragms. Just keep in mind the more size diaphragm your condenser mic has, the more sensitive it is.
One more thing you should keep in mind – As large diaphragm condensers are more sensitive to sound source, you should have a more soundproof room with large diaphragm condenser mics
Mic placement for vocals
The 2nd thing you should aware of is proper mic placement. As you know, condenser microphones are too sensitive to the sound source. If the mic is so close to the mouth of the singer, probably you will end up with an over optimize voice.
The positioning angle of a condenser mic also affects a lot to the input. If the angle and the polarity are not perfect to the vocal, the force in the vocal can be compromised. Let’s see the image.
Here you can see the vocalist is 10-15 centimeter away from the condenser mic so that he is falling under the cardioid pattern field of the mic. You can refer to the datasheet of your condenser mic to know the exact distance. You have to read carefully the cardioid pattern of your mic to address the correct distance of your vocalist recommended by your mic manufacturer.
As well as make sure your singer is straight to the mic and there is no inclination to the angle so that the mic could capture the maximum amount of the sound.
A condenser mic is very sensitive to the polarity. If the singer turns his face left-right, up-down then it affects a lot on the dynamics of the vocal. So instruct your singer to keep his face straight to the mic for wide dynamics.
Set up mic settings
Some condenser microphones feature pad and low cut switches. Some high-end condenser mics have also polar pattern changing switches. You have to be aware of the functions of these tiny switches. Let’s have a look at these switches.
Polar pattern switch
Solo vocals are captured mostly in Cardioid polar pattern. If your mic has polar pattern switch then set it to the cardioid pattern. In other patterns, it could capture background vocals also.
Low cut switch
A low-cut switch is used to cut the low end in the frequency range. See the image below.
Here the green line shows the low cut switch applied and the red line is without low-cut. A low-cut switch is very important for home studios. Low-frequency sound carries more energy hence it can not diffuse by normal soundproof techniques. Especially in home studios which are not properly soundproofed, these low frequency sounds also record down to your condenser microphone during the session.
As a result, you get a background noise in your audio. If your mic has the low cut filter then you can use it to cut down the low-frequency background noise. But keep in mind that cutting down the low end can also affect the vocals. If your vocalist is male then he has the voice down to the frequency which cut out by the filter.
The end goal is to own a properly soundproof room to get a good sound without applying this filter.
Pad switch is used to cut down the intensity to a certain level. Some mics have this feature to capture loud sound sources. Although, for vocals, I suggest not to apply pad. Its used for high volume sound sources like drums etc to save your mics’ diaphragm from high SPL volumes.
The importance of Mic stand
Mic stand plays an important role in vocals. don’t use crappy and noisy mic stands. A condenser mic is very sensitive to noise and could capture your mic stand’s noise if shaken by your singer accidentally. Another one thing you should keep in mind that only choose a mic stand with a shock mount as it will absorb the shock if the singer accidentally shakes the mic during the session.
If you want to buy best condenser mic stands you can refer to Amazon’s mic stand listings.
Use soundproofing accessories
Using condenser microphones for vocals without proper soundproofing is like throwing a stone in the sky straight above your head. When the stone come back, it would give you an injury. But soundproofing is actually very costly process and it’s an important factor which differs professional studios from home studios.
Hopefully, there are many cheap soundproofing processes available to record vocals like a pro studio.
microphone isolation shield
This is the most affordable option to stop background noise and the reflections of vocal. Many successful home studio owners are using this to record the clean vocal. You can own this accessory within only $50. If you want to buy one you can refer to Amazon Mic Isolation shield.
Soundproofing foam panels
The second but costly option is using soundproofing foam panels. You can use them to soundproof your vocal booth. There are many sizes and shapes available for soundproofing foam panels. But I refer pyramid shape. There are 2 accessories in this category.
foam panels and bass trap. You have to use both to acquire the perfect soundproofing environment. See this image for more information.
You can also refer to Amazon for more acoustic options.
Use a pop filter to reduce microphone popping sound
Condenser mics are very sensitive to certain words. Whenever your singer used his lips to pronounce a word like Ph, Phh, or something like this, a pressure of air collides with the diaphragm of the mic. As the diaphragm of the condenser mic is very sensitive, it also records that puffling sound along with the vocal. This puffling sound has more intensity than other words and possesses that part of the vocal.
To avoid that puffling sound, a pop filter is used. It is made of circular double layered nets which scatter the extra air reaching to the condenser mic. Its a must have tool for your condenser mic. Without this accessory, you can’s expect a perfect vocal session.
Here it is.
Pop filters are available with as low as $5 on Amazon. You can check out the whole range of pop filter on Amazon here.
Add depth using Proximity effect
Proximity effect is an effect which adds depth to the vocal. If it’s used correctly, you will get more depth in vocal. This effect is especially found in condenser mics. Although some dynamic mics also have this effect. One of them is Shure SM58 a legendary dynamic microphone for vocals.
The level of proximity effect differs in all condenser mics.
The principle of work of proximity effect is – When the vocalist come close to the mic level of bass frequency increases and when he goes away from the mic the bass frequency level decreases. A professional singer uses this feature to add extra depth at some points of vocal by coming close to the mic.
Many new vocalists don’t know this feature of condenser microphone so guide them using this feature correctly to add depth to his vocal is extra beneficial for you.
Right mic levels to avoid clicking and distortion
A condenser mic is a very sensitive equipment and if you don’t properly adjust the input levels and pad switches to control the gain, you will end up with distorted sound with clipping.
First, come to the pad switch. Many condenser microphones have that switch to control the input gain for high SPL applications. Normally this switch is not used with vocals as vocal is considered as not much SPL sound source.
But in some genre of music like rock songs, the singer produces very high-intensity voice and if you record that voice without applying the pad switch, you will end up with clipped and distorted vocal. So I will advise you to use the pad switch to control gain when working in those genres.
The second most important control is input gain control of your audio interface and mixer. You have to properly adjust the input gain so that the input gain indicator shows somewhere between -3dB to -6dB in peak SPL. You should request your vocalist to sing as loud as he can so that you could adjust the input gain control between -3dB to -6dB.
Right DAW track setting
Today every studio converts into digital. There are many advantages of migrating to the digital recording. The main advantage is you can start your studio with just a computer, a DAW(digital audio workstation) and an audio interface.
But with the lack of knowledge of input, output and applying effects in a proper series, newbie recordists will end up with low-quality mixing. I would recommend you to gain some knowledge of tracking and effects as well as input and outputs.
I would recommend you to read Modern Recording Techniques by David Miles Huber for the better knowledge of tracking and applying effects
Bonus Tip – Use Pencil Method to reduce Sibilance in vocals
Very few people know this trick. In low-end condenser microphones, sibilance is a common problem in the recording. sibilance is an effect like the popping effect. The difference is the popping effect occurs when we use our lips to pronounce PF, PFF etc words and sibilance effect occurs when we pronounce SSHH, SH, THH or Zzz etc words.
These words add a harshness to the upper middle part of the frequency spectrum.
The popping effect can be stopped by using a pop filter but there is no way to stop the sibilance effect except this pencil method.
To use this effect you need a pencil and a rubber band. You have to tie the pencil against the middle portion of the diaphragm of your condenser microphone with the help of rubber band. When you tie the pencil like this and record vocals, the direct force due to the pronunciation of SSHH etc words scatters and doesn’t hit the diaphragm.
The result will is sibilance free sweet vocal.
Above you have read vocal recording techniques secrets to record vocal like a pro in your home studio without spending a lot of money. If you liked this article, share this to your social circle so that your fellow recordist could also take advantage of this article.
If you have any question regarding this article, comment below. I will try to answer your questions.
Gautam Roy is a professional Blogger and Freelance Mix Engineer from India. He loves leading looks, listening to music and travelling.