Recording Vocals In A Home Studio

It’s that time of year again when musicians’ thoughts turn to the RPM Challenge, and the task of recording an entire album in the month of February. If you’re laying down some vocal tracks, here are some tips to work with…

Microphone Selection

First up, you’ll need a microphone. If you have more than one microphone, then you’ll need to decide which to use – a topic that could take an entire book by itself. The bottom line is you should try to match your microphone to your singer, your room and the type of sound that you’re trying to achieve.

If you’re using a dynamic mic, then setup is relatively straightforward; if you’re using a condenser, then you’ll need a phantom power source (most soundcards will have at least one mic input that has a +48v phantom power switch for just this purpose). If you have a tube mic, you may need to turn it on and let it warm up for 20-30 mins before you use it – different tubes have different sounds, but recording on a tube mic straight after you turn it on may not produce optimal results.

Mic Setup and Placement

It’s always recommended to use a pop shield for vocals (to minimise unwanted plosives in the recording). Recording in a dedicated vocal booth is ideal, but it’s worth noting that home made vocal booths tend to lack bass absorption; so although you may eliminate excess echoes and room ambience, the overall balance of the vocal may become bass heavy as more high than low frequencies are absorbed. One way of working around this is to pin some CDs on the walls to reintroduce some high level reflections – see this comprehensive SOS article for more details.

In general, a good home recording hack would be to have the vocalist standing about a foot from the microphone (with shockmount and popshield) and a suspended heavy duvet a foot or two behind them. If you have sibilance issues, fixing a pencil vertically in front of the microphone grille (using an elastic band) can help reduce these.

Follow The Process

Generally it’s a good idea to get as clean a recording as possible into your DAW, and then work on applying any processing afterwards. Compression and reverb can really bring a vocal together, but it’s easy to overdo – just a hint of reverb is usually enough. EQ will always depend on the specific recording, but vocal tracks almost always benefit from a high-pass filter – in most cases, you can probably remove anything below 80Hz without any impact on the sound quality (this is something you can actually do at the preamp stage, if your preamp has this feature).

If you’re strapped for cash, there are plenty of free plugins that can deliver great results – check out this post to find some excellent vocal processing freebies


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