Top Secret Vocal Recording Techniques
Have you ever wanted to get a glimpse inside the studio sessions of some of your favorite vocal recordings to see what they’re doing that you’re not? Sometimes, even with the best singer you know, getting an incredible vocal recording capable of topping the charts just seems out of reach.
And no, we’re not talking about the marketing dollars that go into chart-topping success… We’re talking about the quality and clarity of the vocal recording itself
Well with a bit of sleuth work (and a lot of years of experience), I’ve been able to see and hear what other vocal producers and engineers are doing to get the results we all want AND I’ve been able to apply them to my own sessions.
With these top-secret vocal recording techniques, you’re guaranteed to get vocals you can take pride in with each and every session you do!
The Right Microphone Matters
Matching a microphone to a singer might seem obvious to some, but to others, it seems like the most expensive microphone would be the best option. This isn’t always true though…
There are plenty of examples where a lower-priced dynamic microphone beat out a high-end tube condenser in the studio, especially when it comes to modern metal music where vocals are meant to be raw and aggressive. Other times, a singer’s voice might just fit particularly well with a different option.
There is no one-size-fits-all microphone that’s going to give you the best results every time on every voice. If you’re working with your own vocals or the same singer consistently, consider booking some studio time to find the right mic within your budget for their voice. Or, if you’re working with a whole roster of artists, consider building up your mic locker with various vocal options so you can match the right voice to the right mics.
It’s not an inexpensive collection, but it’s one that’s going to go quite a long way to getting you a professional vocal sound. Modeling options like the Slate ML-1 and Townsend Labs Sphere L22 are also a great way to get some exposure to different style microphones without having to buy a bunch of expensive microphones upfront!
Eliminating The Room
There’s a reason nearly all major studios track vocals in a booth – it eliminates most of the reflections around the singer.
Vocal booths are designed to minimize the impact the space that a singer is recording in has on the final vocal recording. Without hard, reflective surfaces, engineers are able to capture a take that truly isolates the singer and the mic from their environment.
In a home studio, you should be doing everything you can to apply those same concepts to your recordings. Lots of people think they can just record vocals in a small room or closet to get the same results, but it doesn’t quite work that way.
You need to cut down on the reflections in your environment, which means padding the walls with thick sheets or packing blankets if you can’t afford to invest in actual acoustic treatments.
Many home recording engineers who can’t make permanent modifications to their space choose to use a reflection filter to help isolate their vocals from the room. These portable solutions are great at minimizing first reflections and add a touch of professionalism to the whole recording process.
With vocal performances, your singer needs to feel comfortable to sing their best. A small booth or reflection filter goes a long way to create that comfortable environment in addition to the recording benefits.
Pros Process Their Vocals A LOT!
Even the most natural sounding artists today see a lot of processing being done to their voices. That’s not to say every artist is loaded up with auto-tune or reverb, but a good vocal channel strip is a surefire way of ensuring you’ll have everything you ever need to treat a vocal right.
So what does a good channel strip look like?
A channel strip should have everything you need to process the dynamics of your vocals, specifically compression and EQ. A great outboard channel strip will usually consist of those two elements and your preamp, but things start to get really fun when you take your vocal chain in the box
Working with vocal chain plugins is a great way to simplify your sessions and maximize your results. Engineers and producers are able to do all kinds of time-based effect processing, vocal doubling & more with vocal mixing plugins. These kinds of features get extremely expensive with outboard equipment, but in-the-box options are readily available and can give you everything you need to achieve the vocal sound of a pro in no time at all.
Vocal Recording or Vocal Production?
At the end of the day, no amount of vocal recording chops are going to cut it if you don’t have a solid vocal production strategy in place.
Today, producers need to be ready with ad libs, harmonies & other common techniques used in modern vocal production. If you’re looking for a place to start, check out our eBook, The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Handbook, for dozens of tips and tricks to give your mixes the vocals they deserve!