What to watch while recording vocals

Set up microphone

Microphone with shock mount, pop filter and portable vocal booth to help isolate vocals

Last update: April 5th 2019

Get The Acoustics Right

A good vocal recording starts with a good mic and, ideally, with a space that doesn’t give you any feedback or any echoes.

The goal of a good vocal recording is to get a nice clean vocal on the track. This means you don’t hear anything else on the recording than the vocals. So, especially when you’re recording at home, be aware of the noise around you. You might not hear the birds outside or that train that comes by, but it will be recorded! Use blankets, mattresses, anything you can find to damp the acoustics of the room and isolate the vocal.

Check Your Settings

Before you start recording, you always have to do a check of your settings. I’ve led various recording sessions with other singers and it’s important to adjust the audio interface to each vocal. You can never assume it’s a one-size-fits-all solution.

Some singers are real powerful singers, others aren’t. You can help those who aren’t, by opening up the levels of your mic’s input channel on your audio interface. You want to record the vocals as best as you can get them. This is something that you need to monitor and sometimes adjust throughout the whole session. Especially when a song has low and high parts. Singers tend to lose volume when singing in a low region and gain volume when they sing higher.

Avoid Off The Chart Peaks

The powerful singers provide a nice little challenge. Personally, I try to avoid getting vocal recordings that peak the 100db mark. I find it important for the full recording to stay neatly within the lines. Yes, I’m such a goody goody, haha! However, it’s because I know that if a recording doesn’t peak, I can adjust anything on the vocals during mixing without causing any distortion. Mostly peaked recordings cause a distortion anyway. You hear it right away. This is something you can’t fix afterwards.

You can also see a peak immediately on the timeline and you can double click the recording (in Logic and GarageBand) to get a closer look. You’ll get a screen looking like the one below. You don’t want any of the lines to hit the top or bottom nor go beyond (which means it’s peaking). The singer can usually hear static coming through on their head phones, when this happens, but I’ve noticed most don’t pay attention to this at all.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 21.10.41

A vocal recording that isn’t peaking

Vocals Are Dynamic

Understand that vocals are very dynamic. No singer will be consistent in volume throughout the whole recording. That’s not the intention either. Experienced studio singers will know when to put some distance between themselves and the mic, especially when they increase volume. This will help you get the best recording. If you’re recording yourself, it really helps when you can keep an eye on your Logic session to see the soundwaves you generate.

Make sure you get the right volume on the singer’s headphone too. This could also make all the difference.

Clean Vocal Takes Sound Strange

Now, because it’s your intention to get a clean vocal recording – and assuming you’ve prevented the vocals from bouncing back to your recording through the walls of the room – the recording itself will always sound strange. It’s because it’s completely unnatural to us to hear a voice without some sort of echo or reverb.

We’re surrounded by objects around us that will bounce the sound back, so you never really hear vocals this way. A vocal track without reverb will sound harsh compared to the music underneath. For recording and mixing, this is exactly what you want. You will be able to fix all of this in the mix.

While recording, you could turn on the reverb of the vocal track. Singers love that, because it makes them sound better. You may need a powerful computer to do this though.

Last, but not least, keep in mind that singers are human and they get a little tired after a while. I usually don’t plan sessions longer than 2 to 3 hours, if the desired time frame allows it. It seems to keep everybody as sharp within their skills and focused on the job that needs to get done. Happy recording!

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