Brendan on Recording Vocal

Brendan on Recording Vocal


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When it comes to vocals, the first thing to address is obviously the vocalist. Although it goes without saying that there's no point in finding the best microphone, preamp, polar pattern, room and position unless you have a vocalist that will live up to that, it cannot be stressed enough! While a professional standard recording, mix and master will make even the worst of vocal performances sound better, it's still not quite worth all the time, money and effort for a mediocre result. The phrase 'to polish a turd' comes to mind.. Having said that, a vocalist's comfort and current mental state can heavily impact on their performance, therefore ensuring they are stress-free and in a warm, welcoming environment can help a lot. Following that topic, microphone selection is probably the next key step to approach. Many musicians, including myself, make the mistake of not doing enough research when choosing the right mic. Although you can find cheap, excellent quality mics like the Røde NT1a for pretty cheap, you may not have thought about your options in depth.
For the sake of example, the NT1a is brilliant at emphasising the brightness in a vocal recording. However depending on the style you're going for, you might prefer something that shines light towards the mid-range frequencies rather than the high end. Furthermore, you could even consider a dynamic microphone rather than a condenser, such as the Shure SM58.
This mic is a great all-rounder and is exceptionally robust, hence why it's chosen widely for live vocal performances. So if your vocalist happens to vary in timbre or texture throughout their performance, this should probably be a strong contender! Make sure you know what style you're going for and what mics will be best at allowing you to achieve this. Tying in nicely with the microphone selection, you also want to ensure the best positioning for your microphone and performer. This will also depend on what you're going for, as we all know that different artists from different genres use different techniques to achieve very different results – which all sound great, musically!A few rules that should fit universally are:

Allow a good distance from your performers and any walls or large surfaces, and use some sort of absorption on the wall behind the performer to reduce reflections (even a mattress or duvet can suffice).

Avoid small rooms that have been treated for high end but not low end, as this will often give a boxy, dull result. Don't jump to the conclusion that your mic is rubbish just because your recording doesn't sound as professional as artists you hear to on the radio.

Try adjusting the position of the mic and/or absorbers in the room – or even changing room entirely – before deciding you need to pay an extra £1000 on a mic upgrade! Using a popshield is never overkill, even if your several feet from the microphone.

Consonants such as 'p's and 'b's cause such a strong flow of air, they can easily cause peaks even from a distance. Foam windshields will be considerably ineffective against this, but DIY popshields are easily constructed and more-or-less as effective as a commercial one, so it shouldn't cost more than a few quid!
Once your microphone selection, positioning and protection is done, set the levels. Before you go, though, make sure you're not too close to the mic, as that will cause a wide dynamic range in the recording as a result of strong consonants and the performer's movement, while making sure you're not too far away either, as that will cause reflections to interfere with the recording more. A general go-to distance is around 6-9 inches (around the same size as your hand span).
Okay, so now you're in the right place with the right mic and the levels are set. Next is something that's often executed without much thought and should be planned out well: the headphone mix. It's commonly chucked together willy-nilly because it's “only the headphone mix” and “not the real thing”. This can often affect the vocalist's loudness or softness, or even texture, in certain areas of the track where they wouldn't have had they had the right headphone mix. Ask your vocalist and other members of the team if it's correct before hitting record.

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