If you’re an aspiring audio engineer or producer, it’s key to have a home recording setup where you can track vocals – even if they’re just scratch takes before you go to a bigger studio with a more expansive equipment list to record the mix-ready session. For vocalists, the same pressure is there to have a space at home where you can capture quick melodies, whether something you’ve just written, something that’s been provided by a bandmate, or a quick guest vocal on another band’s track. Or maybe you are the bandmate who is expected to handle the recording of your music – don’t you think you should be able to record the vocals in a way that appeals to those listening?
There are dozens of reasons for why you might want to record vocals at home. Whatever yours is, make sure you have these essential elements for recording vocals in your home studio:
Your recording interface is the heart of your entire recording setup. It pumps audio from one device to another, allowing you to adjust levels as you go. Smaller setups may only do one or two tracks at a time, but that’s really all you need when working with vocals (unless you’re taking a multi-mic approach).
Interfaces are loaded with other elements that don’t need to be standalone, but can be upgraded later on if you choose. Things like preamps are a key part of your sound, but the ones in most interfaces will absolutely suffice if you’re working on a budget. Think of preamps in a “per channel” mentality. If your interface costs $100 and offers 1 channel of recording (which equates to one preamp), that’s essentially putting a $100 value on that preamp. Now take that same $100 and buy an 8-channel interface. Suddenly your “per channel” value drops to $12.50. Which one do you think is going to sound better?
Don’t break the bank on your first interface – focus on quality over quantity. A lot of interfaces love to use buzzwords as part of their marketing, but so long as you have enough channels going in, a headphone & main output, and compatibility with your device (don’t buy Thunderbolt if you only have USB ports), you’re good.
Finding The Best Vocal Microphone
What good would any of your other gear be without a microphone to record with?
At risk of making this sound like an obvious inclusion on the list, I won’t focus as much on why you need a microphone, as I will on the best ways to go about selecting one. There are literally thousands of options out there to choose from, so getting the right one from the start can save you tons of time and effort.
For most vocalists, I would recommend starting with a large diaphragm condenser microphone as your first mic. Mics like the Audio-Technica AT2020 & Rode NT1-A are not as smooth and creamy as some of their more expensive counterparts, but they tend to work well in less than ideal recording environments and take EQ pretty well. A condenser mic is a perfect option at picking up every fine detail of a vocal performance.
Now, if you’re someone that focuses on more aggressive vocals or you’re having issues finding a microphone that pairs well with your voice, higher-end dynamic microphones can also be an option. Mics like the Shure SM7-B have been around for years and are common for vocalists looking for a no-nonsense mic that tends to take out a little more of the room around the vocal. If you go this route, just be prepared to test that you’ve got enough gain in your interface to power the mic. They’re super power hungry!
A lot of people tend to overlook this essential part of their vocal recording setup, but it’s every bit as important as the interface and microphone. Your computer is where all of your recordings are stored, edited & mixed, so it only makes sense that you should be using a machine that’s up for the task.
Your computer also includes all of the software needed to make things happen. Whether you’re running FL Studio, Cubase, Studio One, Logic, Pro Tools, Reaper, or any other digital audio workstation (DAW), the computer needs to live up to their specs for everything to come out correctly.
Your computer also stores and accesses all of the vocal processing tools we use on sessions to maximize the sonic impact of our vocals. Everything from pitch-editing tools like Auto-Tune to vocal mixing plugins like Howard Benson Vocals and bus processors like BG-Vocals all depend on your system resources: CPU, RAM & storage.
Keep your studio system as clean as possible to ensure that your DAW & plugins can use as much of those system resources as they need and you’ll never have to worry about glitches or crashes derailing your vocal sessions.
What Else Goes Into a Great Vocal?
Once you’ve got your basic home setup down, it all boils down to technique. Understanding how to record vocals is just one element of a great song, but often it’s nowhere near as important as the production and mixing techniques used on it.
JST VIP members get full access to members-only courses and resources like The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Handbook. These resources explain how to write, record & mix vocals that get noticed by labels and fans alike. Don’t wait to get it – join today to get your copy.