If you're like most singers, you want your vocals to sound their best when you record them. The problem is, there's a lot of things that go into getting a great vocal recording - things that singers often don't know about. So if you're looking to get the most out of your vocals during the recording process, read on! These 15 tips will help both singers and engineers get the best vocal recordings possible.
- 1. Get Comfortable
- 2. Choose the Right Microphone
- 3. Use Good Microphone Technique
- 4. The Headphone Issue
- 5. Know the Room
- 6. Know When to Add Effects
- 7. Use a Pop Shield
- 8. Record at a Good Time of Day
- 9. Limit Your Takes
- 10. Focus on Expression, Not Perfection
- 11. Practice Recording
- 12. Give and Receive Feedback Well
- 13. Be Prepared
- 14. For Singers: Rest and Warm-up
- 15. For Producers: Know When Your Singer is Ready to Record
1. Get Comfortable
You can't sing if you are tensed up. You need strong diaphragm support, of course, but that's not the same thing. If you are nervous, your posture is going to fall apart, and you will be so busy thinking about doing it right that you won't think about expressing the song.
As a singer, you need to get good at finding the right headspace that encourages you to be relaxed. There are a few different techniques that you can use to do this:
- create a mental picture of your "happy place."
- position yourself in the studio in a way that reduces the mental pressure
- warm-up to a music track that encourages you to get out of your comfort zone
- do a take where you try to fail in order to take the edge off
Any one of these things can be enough to put you in the right place for singing.
The producer can also play a crucial role in getting singers comfortable. You can't necessarily get into their headspace for them, but you can do some things to make the overall vibe a little more laid back:
- turn down the lights
- engage singers in small talk
- use humor
- get them a favorite drink
As the one whose job it is to get the best performance out of the musicians, the producer's role in this area is critical.
It is also important to notice that this need to get comfortable becomes a need to stay comfortable. Many of the other tips depend on being loose and positive throughout the session.
2. Choose the Right Microphone
Producers know their equipment and often take pride in having top-of-the-line microphones for their singers. There are so many different mics the options can be dizzying. But choosing the right microphone doesn't come down only to the microphone itself. It comes down to the singer.
So microphone choice really is about knowing both your microphone and the singer who is using it. This means that you should pay attention to their timbre, amount of breathiness, overall power, and other factors.
A good producer doesn't just know the advantages and limitations of a mic, but how to match those to the singer in front of it.
3. Use Good Microphone Technique
Once the producer sets up the right microphone for the singer, it is up to the singer to "work it." In order to do this, you need to have the right mic technique.
Good mic technique involves using the microphone to maximize the emotion you are trying to express. Yes, a lot has to do with the microphone itself, but you can create different types of resonance by how you position yourself in relation to the mic.
For example, if you sing close to the microphone, you tend to create warmth, whereas if you sing further away, you create openness power. So good microphone technique can involve swooping in close for those intimate parts of a phrase and singing farther away when you want to evoke power.
Other examples of good mic techniques include:
- sing down toward the mic to bring out the low end of your voice
- sing up toward the mic to bring out the high end
- adjust the direction of your voice slightly to the right or left to avoid popping or sibilances
4. The Headphone Issue
Yeah, it's a thing. Headphones are the source of transmission of both the track and the singer's voice, so two things about headphones really matter:
- the headphones themselves
- the mix in the headphones
Both of these things are critical to getting the best vocal performance.
Notice we did not say the quality of the headphones. If you are a producer/engineer working in your own studio, it is pretty much a given that you are going to want quality headphones. But there is a range of expressions under the general category of quality headphones. That is what you want to pay attention to.
It is best to keep at least two different types of noise cancellation headphones around. Your singer may be used to hearing themselves through very bright headphones. Some singers may want those that express more of a brass timbre. Older singers may need headphones to accentuate the high end that they may be losing in their hearing.
The one thing that should be a constant through the different types of headphones is that they are noise cancellation headphones. They need to eliminate as many distractions as possible.
The Headphone Mix
After you have the right pair of headphones, you need to dial in the right headphone mix. This will take a lot of communication and cooperation between the producer and the singer.
The singer needs to be comfortable but also needs to work with suggestions from the producer, even if it means getting out of a comfort zone for the sake of a good performance.
Here are a few suggestions that can help both producers and singers work through this process:
- schedule time to work on the mix, so you don't feel rushed
- give each other the chance to fully explain what you what
- try a suggestion before you shoot it down
- take turns listening to the mix in the same pair of headphones
Headphones and the headphone mix are really important. That's why these things are right up there with microphone choice and getting comfortable.
5. Know the Room
Both producers and singers should be aware of the room they are working in and how the singer's voice will interact with it.
If it is a live room, one that is very reactive acoustically, it will accentuate any breathiness that a singer's voice may have. In that case, the producer may need to put up baffles or move to an isolation room depending on what you want for the recording.
In a room that is dead, singers need to be aware of the positive qualities of their voice so they can play those up. It is also an easier room for the producer to manipulate from the control room side of things.
6. Know When to Add Effects
When it comes to recording vocal tracks, it is an open question as to when the producer should add effects. Some like to record the track dry and add effects later, and others like to add effects for the recording itself.
There is no right or wrong way to do this, but you should be aware that when you record a voice with effects, they are difficult to remove and edit.
That said, some singers prefer recording with some light effects on their voice because it helps them get into the performance. For example, adding a little bit of reverb to the voice can give it more life and, in turn, call out more emotion from the singer.
7. Use a Pop Shield
A pop shield is a circular shield that is porous and transparent and can be placed in between the vocalist's mouth and the microphone. The purpose of a pop shield is to shield the mic from unwanted explosions of air that occur when a vocalist enunciates "p" or "b" or similar sounds.
British producer Warren Huart describes an additional technique with a pop screen that involves taping a pencil across the middle of the screen. The idea is to further displace air coming from the vocalist's mouth, though Huart admits the idea is in contention.
Regardless, even with the normal use of a pop screen, you can imagine that it will get prayed with spit and germs over a period of time. Be sure to clean it regularly with alcohol.
8. Record at a Good Time of Day
There are certain periods of the day when you are going to feel "up" and ready to conquer the world and other periods when you are going to feel like the world is conquering you.
As a rule of thumb, you want to record when you are feeling strong and able to be in the moment of the song. However, sometimes that may mean recording when you are on the tired side of the day if you want to maximize the emotional expression of certain material.
9. Limit Your Takes
The tendency for singers and some producers is to keep recording takes of the song in a vain attempt to get the perfect one. Set the expectation that perfect is not going to happen and limit your takes accordingly.
Don't wear yourself out with 20 or thirty takes. Give yourself a limit of 8 to 12 and work with that. For the singer, make each take count by getting comfortable and focusing on the emotional expression (more on that later).
For the producer, work on keeping the singer comfortable, encouraging him or her with balanced feedback (more on that later), and commit yourself to work with a limited number of takes.
10. Focus on Expression, Not Perfection
Singers, this is going to sound odd: the recording session is not the time or the place to focus on technique and correcting mistakes. There is a time for that, but you need to enter the studio with those things already dialed in.
The recording session is the time to be in the moment of the material and focus on putting weight behind the emotion that the song is expressing. Vocalist Chris Liepe has a saying: "Perfect is the enemy of good."
When you strain for perfection in the studio, you often end up stifling the emotion of the track because you don't feel free to express yourself. Just think of all the vocals on songs you love that have little imperfections and yet are emotional knockouts that have stood the test of time.
11. Practice Recording
One way to not be seized up with anxiety over getting the perfect take is to practice recording. Sit yourself down with some basic recording equipment at home and start doing takes of the song.
This process will get you used to the material and the recording experience. It will also help you strategize how you want to do your vocal take when the date of the session arrives.
By recording multiple takes at your leisure, you can strategize at your leisure how you want certain phrases to go and then practice whole takes based on what you have planned.
In other words, go into the studio with all your practicing and strategizing behind you. That way, when you get behind the mic, it is all about the emotion of the moment and fine-tuning what you have.
12. Give and Receive Feedback Well
This is for singers and producers since, as the heading suggests, it is a give and take relationship.
After each take, The producer and singer should be interacting about what went well and what didn't. Naturally, there may be some feedback from the singer about things like the headphone mix. Also, there will likely be some feedback from the producer about the singer's performance.
Be good at both giving feedback and receiving it. You have to work together because you need each other to make the song as good as it can be. This means being comfortable with the bad news and working hard to also emphasize the good news.
13. Be Prepared
Sounds simple, right? You'd be surprised. Sometimes it is easy to think, yeah, I've got this, when you actually only know about half the lyrics.
SIngers and producers both need to take the time to be prepared.
For the singer this means:
- know the lyrics
- know the arrangement (be ready for all the key changes, etc.)
- know what you want out of the performance (as what was discussed under "Practice Recording")
Those same three things apply to the producer. In addition, the producer should:
- have the correct song up and ready to go
- have the tracks and bus groups labeled correctly
- be sure your equipment is working properly
- check your mic levels
- clean your studio and have everything ready (appearances matter, and clutter creates stress!)
14. For Singers: Rest and Warm-up
If you are a singer, nothing is more important than taking care of your voice. This is so basic it can be easy to overlook. If you are on the eve of a recording session:
- don't drink alcohol
- go to bed early
- stay away from coffee in the morning
If you are looking at a week of recording dates, be sure that you are giving yourself lots of rest. No partying! Keep that voice in shape and ready to go.
Along with that, take the time to warm your voice up before you start doing takes. Whatever your warm-up routine is, don't let it slide. Maybe even work it into the "get comfortable" warm-up to shake out the nerves.
15. For Producers: Know When Your Singer is Ready to Record
And know when they aren't ready. Signs of readiness (or the lack thereof) may revolve around:
- knowledge of the material
It's a balance of knowing which sign to react to. Your singer may be a little rough around the edges in terms of technique, but be full of energy and excitement for the song.
In that case, press record and see what happens. Sometimes having the right energy can boost an overall performance, and the mistakes can be fixed with succeeding takes.
If your singer is really struggling with intonation and nerves then press pause. Take a break or tell a couple of jokes and come back to the recording in a few minutes.
With the right attitude on a foundation of skill, you can do just about anything. Even sing. Recording can be intimidating, but it is not impossible. Put these tips into practice and you'll be a recording pro in no time.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments, did we miss any good tips? What are your tips for getting the best vocal recording?
How can I make my voice sound better when recording?
Focus on what you can control as a singer. This is going to involve:
- keeping your voice in shape
- a good warm-up routine
- good mic technique
Other than these things, which you can review above, don't wear out your voice when recording. Focus on keeping your voice within your range and not pushing it beyond that.
And if the producer keeps calling for more takes, know when to call a halt to it.
How do Beginners record vocals?
The best thing you can do as someone new to the recording process (or maybe even new to singing) is to keep calm. Nerves can provide a jolt of energy, but they can also be detrimental if you tend to be overly critical of yourself when you get nervous.
Find a way to get into a relaxed headspace. this may include:
- drinking a soothing beverage
- breathing exercises
- adjusting the lighting in the studio
If you can get into a calm and loose state, your vocal performance will improve by leaps and bounds.