Seems like it should be a given, right? You put a microphone on a stand, plug it in, and start singing…
Unfortunately, it’s not that straightforward if you’re looking for studio-quality, mix-ready vocals.
For many engineers, the vocal microphone setup process has been repeated so many times that they’re able to do it with their eyes closed. They know exactly the order everything goes up in, the perfect placement and positioning of everything, and they can tear it down just as quickly.
But for those that haven’t had as much experience in the studio, there are some subtleties of the vocal recording process that are essential if you want your singer to sound their best.
Today, we’re going to talk about some of the gear you need, how it all works together, and most importantly – how you set up a microphone for singing.
As with just about any instrument you record, the placement of your microphone is going to matter more than anything else on this list. How close your microphone is to your singer and where it’s positioned in the room are both contributing factors to how your recording is going to sound. By getting the placement right, you can actually account for most of the biggest issues plaguing vocal recording sessions today.
For starters, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got plenty of space around your microphone so you’re not picking up reflections of the singer bouncing off of the walls and back into the microphone. The worst thing you can possibly do is put your singer in a corner or facing a hard wall without acoustic treatment.
Beyond that, it’s all about isolating the microphone from the space around it. Shock mounts (also called “baskets”) come with many condenser microphones as a way to decouple the microphone from the floor. Doing so eliminates low-end rumble and environment noise from travelling up the microphone stand and into the capsule.
You should also be wary of the other sources of noise in your room. Sounds like the buzz of a light, the fan on your computer, or even central heating or air conditioning often make their way into recordings and they’re a nightmare to remove in a mix. Try to keep your microphone pointed away for these sources as much as possible to ensure you’re only getting your singer’s voice in the recording.
Adjust For Height
A common part of placing the microphone that many new engineers don’t consider is how high a microphone is placed in relation to their singer. Often, they think straight in front of the singer’s mouth is the perfect placement, but just a few inches in either direction can give you dramatically different results.
You may have seen some studio pictures of microphones hanging down from the ceiling or being placed upside down on large microphone boom stands. This technique is a lot more common than you might think – and it has its reasons.
By placing a microphone slightly higher than a singer’s mouth, you’re able to subtly nudge them to open up their airways by tilting their head back as they sing. This position tends to result in some of the clearest sounding vocals but will also capture more of their nose, which can make them sound nasally in some situations.
Inversely, placing a microphone slightly below a singer’s mouth can bring out more of their chest voice, especially in baritones where they’re “reaching” down to hit their lowest notes.
In either case, the placement of your microphone can really change the sound of your vocals. Experiment with your singer to find the position best suited for their voice and be consistent with it throughout their sessions!
Stop the Pop!
Pop filters are another essential and sometimes misunderstood part of the vocal recording setup. Unlike windscreens, which are designed to eliminate wind noise from your recordings, pop filters eliminate plosives – bursts of air from a singer’s mouth. These plosives are usually a result of hard consonants where strong, transient sounds are made.
The attack of these sounds can often hit the microphone of the capsule so hard that they clip the preamp and distort your signal – not something you want in a professional recording.
By placing a pop filter between your singer and the microphone, you can both space the two out and create a clearer, more consistent sounding vocal performance in the process!
How Are Your Vocal Production Chops?
Recording an amazing singer correctly is a great start, but have you given much thought to how their vocals are being produced.
Vocal producers are a highly sought after group of music industry professionals for their ability to pair vocalists with the right harmonies and backgrounds. They’re the ones responsible for crafting the voices that surround the lead. Take a look inside their process to see what it is that makes them approach vocals differently in our eBook, The Ultimate Vocal Producers’ Handbook.