Recording studio quality vocals on your home computer doesn’t have to be a complicated process, nor does it require a huge amount of money to get set up correctly. The music industry has reached an apex in technology, accessibility, and quality where the same (if not better) results can be achieved with a basic home setup, as you’d traditionally hear in a major studio.
What does this mean to people who are just getting started with recording themselves at home? Well two things really…
The first is that you don’t need to worry about seeming too “amateur” to those in the industry. The majority of the industry today is working on their personal computers out of bedrooms and home studios. The rest that are working in major studios likely receive tracks that have been recorded in bedroom/home studios and mix it without even second guessing the quality. “Professional” work is 100% achievable at home.
The second thing you need to keep in mind when you record vocals on your home computer is that the vocal performance is the most important thing you’re capturing. Software exists to help smooth out any inconsistencies or make the vocal fit better in a mix, but those can only go so far. With the right home recording setup and a great performance, you’ll be well equipped to showcase all that your singer has to offer.
Getting Vocals Into Your Computer
In order to get your singer’s vocals into the computer, you’re going to need a microphone and a recording interface at a minimum.
Some microphones will give you an all-in-one approach to this process by including the basic functionality of the interface in the microphone itself. These microphones are usually advertised as “USB” mics because they’ll connect directly to your PC via USB. For users on an extremely tight budget, there are some options like the Audio-Technica AT2020USB that will work, but for the most part we’d recommend keeping the microphone and the interface separate.
For your first home recording setup, nothing needs to be particularly expensive or flashy. A basic interface is going to have a few key features you’ll want to look out for: USB connectivity, Main/Headphone Outputs, and at least one input (usually mic/line combo). For around $100, there are options from brands like Focusrite and Presonus that will have all the connectivity you need to get started.
Once you’ve got your interface, picking the right microphone for your voice is essential. Most singers will prefer a large diaphragm condenser microphone for it’s clear upper frequencies and presence, but more aggressive singers sometimes lean toward dynamic microphones for recording. I’d recommend going to a Guitar Center, Sam Ash, or other major music store to try out a few different microphones before making a purchase, especially if this is your first one that you’re planning on using for quite some time.
For a more complete list of things you should be getting for your first studio, check out our blog on Essential Equipment for Recording Vocals at Home.
Recording a Studio Quality Vocal
After you’ve connected all of your gear, you’re about ready to start recording. You’ll need to open your digital audio workstation (DAW) and create/record-arm a new track. If you don’t already have software to use for this, check out Reaper – they offer a free trial and have tons of support online for those just getting started.
Once you’ve got a track to record to, it’s time to set your levels for recording. Unlike a volume knob on a car stereo, you can’t just turn up the gain knob on an interface until what you’re hearing is loud enough – there are several guides you should follow to get the proper level into your computer. This process is the first in a line of level-focused checks called “gain staging” where engineers make sure the right levels are passed from one part of the process to the next.
An average vocal recording should peak somewhere between -3 dB and -12 dB in your DAW while the singer is singing. This level provides a buffer for any noises that might accidentally go above that amount without risking clipping where the incoming signal is digitally cut off because it was too loud. This space between the peak of the vocal and the limit of the channel is called “headroom” and leaves us plenty of space for processing later on.
With levels set and sound coming in, simply hit record and you’re up and running!
Making Your Vocals Sound Better
Look – even the pros know that a raw vocal recording isn’t going to sound as good as a processed & mixed one. There are full-time audio engineers that spend all of their time producing vocals, comping them together & editing them so that they end up sounding like the final product you hear on the radio. Many are using the same all-in-one vocal mixing tools you could be using in your home.
If you’re looking to get the most out of each and every vocal session at home, check out our eBook, The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Handbook – available exclusively to JST VIP members for a limited time!