Home Recording Tips #4

Home Recording Tips #4

Recording Vocals

I imagine a lot of you have probably caught on to the theme of my home recording tips. I am largely focusing on techniques that will not cost you a lot of money, and will open the doors to new and creative methods of recording. Often, a simple acoustical consideration, or a change of microphone positioning can be far more beneficial than some fancy API/NEVE/WHATEVER Gooderizer box. Here are some things to ponder before jumping into recording vocals at home:

Acoustical Space:

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE! Don’t build or buy a vocal booth. Unless you are a very experienced acoustical engineer, chances are your DIY vocal booth will probably sound horrible. They are very expensive to build or buy, and often major corners need to be cut to create this within an existing structure. A much better plan is to take some time to treat your existing recording space.

Don’t Kill The Room:
I find, for pop and rock vocals, it is often better to have control over the room sound, and be able to blend it into the end result of the vocal ambience. I often do this by moving room treatment around the vocalist and the microphone to taste. Sometimes this will be done with packing blankets hung over unused microphone stands. I can create a semicircle around the vocalist, so that less room reflections are getting into the vocal sound. There will still be some room ambience, but it can be adjusted to taste.

Keep It Open:
For very expressive and dynamic vocalists, I may suggest that they take a big step back from the mic, so that more preamp gain can be used and the compressor can grab the transients with a slower attack time. This can create more room ambience, but that might be just the ticket!

Stay Centered:

If possible, keep the vocalist in the center of the room, away from reflective walls. Even if you are in a space that you want to capture, it is better to give the room a distance to “breathe”

Room Mics:

If you choose to go with a very tight, close mic vocal sound, don’t be afraid to throw up another room mic in the corner of the room. In mix time, this mic may be just the thing to create a vocal ambience that is truly original and specific to your recording. This can also be very useful for a a bridge or prechorus section that needs to sound “lo-fi”. Consider using a trashy mic, through a mic pre that isn’t your “awesome” expensive preamp.

GEAR:

Vocals are the one area where I will admit that the recording gear really does matter. I can’t lie and tell you that the $100 MXL microphone comes close to a nice, refurbished neumann U47. The expensive stuff is expensive for a reason, and if that is the sound that you are after, this is the kind of thing where it will SAVE you money to rent out a facility with this type of gear.

Having said that, there are some mics that are reasonably affordable, which can give a great vocal sound for the right vocalist. I find that large diaphragm dynamic microphones are often far better than the cheaper condenser microphones within the same price range. The Shure SM7B is a wonderful vocal mic for husky male vocals, or the right female vocal (usually more gritty vocals). This microphone can often be found used for under $300.
A microphone preamp can have just as much affect on the vocal sound as the microphone itself. In the same manner as the vocal microphone, the really high end microphone preamps are expensive for a reason. Thankfully there are a few very nice DIY mic pre kits that will compare, and sometimes surpass the sound of a really nice Neve or API preamp. I suggest checking out Seventh Circle Audio as a starting point.

Production:

Before the vocal sound, the performance is the often the first thing that a listener will notice, at least in pop music. The inspiration of the performance cannot be canned in an expensive vocal microphone or mic preamp. An experienced vocal producer can really help to make the most of studio time in tracking vocals. The first time that I saw Matt Taheney produce vocals for The Click Five, I was sincerely impressed by the humor he used in getting into the nitty gritty of vocal punches. A great producer/ engineer will create a fun and exciting vibe around recording the same line 15 times. More importantly, an awesome engineer will make sure that the same line is recorded 15 times until it is right. I find that this type of detail is the sort of thing that gets bypassed in a home recording scenario.

U87 microphone set up for Daisy at The Moontower Recording Studio

U87 microphone set up for Daisy at The Moontower Recording Studio

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