5 Hot Tips for Vocal Recordings in Your Home Studio
In an ideal environment, to take great sounding vocal recordings, you would need a studio built for that purpose and state of the art equipment, worth several thousand dollars at least.
The thing is, it’s not the same with home studios. If you record from your home studio, the room you use is probably a bedroom or study room. And I would bet that your equipment is most likely not the most expensive ones.
As a home studio owner, how do you then get the best out of your vocal recordings? Here are five tips to get better sounding vocals from your home studio.
1. Your Microphone Selection Matters!
Professional recording studio owners use different microphones for different types of vocals. This is, of course, too much for the home studio owner.
There are various vocal microphones available in the market today. As a start, if you can only buy one microphone – go for a large-diaphragm condenser microphone. These are the types of microphone that can capture a full-bodied recording as compared to dynamic microphones, which usually have a narrower frequency capture range.
Big brands like Neumann microphones have a selection of affordable large-diaphragm microphones that you can choose from.
With a condenser microphone on hand, the next thing is to start looking at ways to avoid vocal recording issues. Here are some simple methods you can try today:
Use A Pop Filter (When Needed)
This is important because it reduces the effect of plosive sounds when “P” and “B” are pronounced, where there is a short burst of air which, if allowed directly into the microphone, would clip the recording and make the overall performance sound unpleasant.
Another way to avoid plosives if you don’t have a pop filter is to have the vocalist’s mouth directed a little above or sideways of the mic.
Avoid sibilance by singing off-axis to the microphone
Another issue you may have while recording vocals is sibilance. Sibilance refers to the “ess” and “esh” sounds made during the vocal performance. With some singers, this can be a really big issue; the sibilant sounds can be all over the place.
You may choose to address this during the mixing process by using de-essers or through equalization; but it is always better to get the vocal recording right rather than relying on tools to fix it: “Prevent it during recording, and you don’t have to risk degrading your audio recordings during editing.”
Recommended de-esser plugins (if your DAW doesn’t come with it):
- ERA De-Esser – Remove sibilance without killing the quality of your recordings.
- Izotope Nectar Elements – Nectar is a vocal suite that includes all the effects you need to edit and put effects on vocals. Good thing it comes with a de-esser tool too!
There are two simple ways to solve the sibilance problem. The singer can be made to sing off-axis from the center of the mic. The other popular method, as recommended by many recording engineers is to place a pencil vertically along the length of the microphone at the center, then hold it in place with an elastic band.
2. Improve Your Room Acoustics
Regardless of your microphone quality, room acoustics is going to make or break a vocal recording. I understand, your room is not designed to be a vocal recording studio.
But fret not – there are ways to improve what you have. Let’s talk about the size of your room.
Recording in a Small Room
Most of us who record and produce from home, usually have a small room to work with. In a small space, the vocals being recorded would reflect off the walls, the floor, and ceiling. And because of the room size, the vocals recorded will tend to have a boxed-in sound.
You’ll even hear this ‘boxed-in’ sound, even after adding delay, reverb and other effects.
Recording in a Large Room
In a larger room, you would also have reflections all over. The difference is in this case, you’ll get lots of reverb in your recordings, due to the bigger space.
The problem with this is that your vocals will have a different sounding reverb compared to the other instruments that form your music arrangement.
There are two ways you can use to fix up room acoustics.
- Fix the immediate recording environment, .i.e around the microphone.
- Fix the acoustics for the whole room. (pricier and takes more effort)
A quick fix is to hang a duvet in front of the microphone to absorb the sound waves moving from the singer, past the microphone. For a better result, make sure there is some space between the duvet and the wall.
You could also invest in a reflection filter that helps shield the microphone from picking surrounding sound reflection and bounces. Just remember to position the vocalist against a wall with some acoustic foam, because sound will bounce behind the vocalist too.
Recommended value-for-money sound reflection filters:
- Porta-Booth Pro – Great for portable studios, because of its easy to carry feature once broken down.
- sE Electronics Reflexion Filter PRO – Contains the voice in front a vocalist. You can even block off noise from noisy A/C or computer fans.
It’s better to fix acoustics of a room as you build it. However, if you’re looking to improve the acoustics of your room, you could look into adding acoustic panels in your home studio.
3. Ensure A Good Vocal Performance
Believe it or not, the 80% of a good vocal recording is dependent on the performer. However, it’s the producer or recording engineer’s duty to set the performer up to have great takes.
You need to be aware that different vocalists have different working styles. Good recording engineers are usually very sensitive to the needs of the recording artiste. Here are some tips to ensure good vocal performance from the recording artiste you work with.
Some vocalists prefer listening to their voice with some effects when they sing. If that’s the case, you can add a little reverb to their vocals as they record & track – as this helps their confidence to some extent. That being said, never overdo the effects in the artiste’s headphone mix. Remember you are not at the mixing stage yet; all you’re trying to do is give the performer some confidence boost.
Overdoing this may cause them to have a lazy approach to the performance. This can be an easy pitfall especially if you use pitch correction during tracking. It is better to leave pitch correction out altogether and use it when mixing.
Another crucial aspect is the actual recording process. As the producer or recording engineer, you need to pay attention during the takes. Some producers rely so much on comping and believe with many mediocre takes; they can then cut and join the vocal track as they see fit. Don’t do that. Never spend time comping if you manage a good vocal recording take. Listen attentively to the artiste while recording; give positive feedback and encourage the vocalist to make corrections on the spot. No amount of processing can beat well-taken vocals.
4. Understand The Style of Music You Are Recording
Will a classical vocalist perform the same way as a hip-hop artist? Of course not.
As a producer, you should think and prepare ahead before the recording artiste arrives at your studio. It pays to be well informed about the style of music the singer or rapper is doing. This is even so more important if the artist is a rookie or a first timer. Different genres and styles of music might require you to use various equipment and set up the recording stage differently.
As an example, if you are recording a rapper, you might want to prepare a few dynamic microphones in advance. If you are recording a vocalist for a music track from a film, it might help to have a screen to playback the film while the vocalists sing, so that he or she, will be able to bring out the emotions for the track.
Always be ready for every recording session. And make sure you have backup plans when things go awry. Understand the style of music that you are recording and sometimes even understand the recording artiste that you will be working with.
It would be hard for you to believe. But even I had an experienced having a recording artiste who broke down during a recording session because she couldn’t hit some high pitch phrases. I was shocked when that happened, and we had to spend time consoling and giving her encouragement before she was ready to record again.
5. The 80/20 Rule in Recording & Editing
I have mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth repeating it. The 80/20 rule when it comes to recording and editing, is that 80% of a good music track comes during the recording session and the other 20% comes in editing & mixing.
Sadly many recording engineers brush by the importance of getting good takes in recording sessions, hoping they could fix it during editing. This habit is brought about because of the number of audio corrective plugins that we have at our disposal these days, such as pitch correction, transient editing and time correction.
Read more about the 80/20 rule here: The 80/20 rule, Pareto’s principle
Have good takes; keep make the artiste retake bad or average deliveries. Do not rely too much on your mixing abilities (no matter how good they are).
As a producer or recording engineer, you need a lot of patience to bring the best out of some performers. You cannot afford to get easily frustrated. This is because if you’re just starting out, either from your home studio or not – most of your clients would be rookies who need a lot of work if you would get good recordings.
These are some tips that will help you record better sounding vocal recordings whether in your studio or on the road.
Remember that despite everything you can add to your recording gear, the most important element in a vocal recording is the performance and attitude.
What are some other tips for vocal recording that I’ve not listed here? Let me know in the comments section, and I’ll add them up here.