🎙️ How to Get the Best Vocal Take From Home 🎙️
Photo credit : Geneviève Cayer
Here at LOF Audio, we often work with self-produced artists who record their own performances and send them over to have them mixed and mastered.
This way of working has become a common practice in the industry, since self-produced artists like Billie Eilish are becoming part of the mainstream music business.
In light of this, here’s a few tips on how to record the most recognisable part of your song, right from the comfort of your home!
Step One: Where to Record
Before you even start thinking about pressing the record button, you have to make sure your surroundings are adequate.
The Infamous Closet
Despite what ANYONE tells you, it’s never a good idea to record your vocals inside of your closet! The reason behind this is that sound has the annoying habit of bouncing around parallel surfaces. This is especially obvious when said surfaces are really close to each other.
Can you tell where this is heading..?
A closet is usually made up of parallel surfaces that are really close together, which will cause the sound of your voice to bounce around and create a messy recording, especially in the middle and low frequencies
Ever sang in the shower and thought to yourself “wow I really sound amazing”. That’s actually because bathrooms tend to have a lot of parallel walls and some ventilation systems that cause a lot of reverberation. Reverberation usually gives you a sense of “grandeur” and professionalism.
However, don’t be fooled by all these feelings, they are all but illusions. When making a professional recording, the sound has to be as pure as possible when it is captured, and the effects are added in the post-processing steps to allow for more control. If the reverb is recorded with the original voice, that makes the engineer’s job a lot harder when mixing.
Are you noticing a pattern here? We’re about to remind you that sound bounces around on the walls, and that you need to be careful about it!
When recording your voice, make sure that you aren’t standing directly in front of a wall, that way sound won’t bounce around and mess with the spectral content of your voice (for the audio nerds out there, we don’t want any comb filtering or accumulation of frequencies happening before the mixing process).
Lastly, make sure that the room where the recording is taking place has a good isolation from outside noises. After all, you don’t want to hear the highway outside your window in your vocal track (unless you do, but then you’d add the sound effect later on, wouldn’t you?).
A good way to soundproof your room is to use acoustic caulk to seal your windows, using thick curtains to absorb certain frequencies (and keep the sound from bouncing on the glass) and also using absorbing foam and diffusers on your walls to control the resonance of your recording space.
Step Two: Equipment
Here are a few basic pieces of equipment that can help you record good quality vocals from home.
A Word on USB Microphones
USB microphones are a budget-efficient and convenient option for home recording, since they accomplish two roles at once:
Capturing the audio from your voice and transforming it into an electrical current ;
Transforming the electric current into a bunch of digital 1 and 0 that your computer can understand.
However, it’s important to remember that the USB microphone is capturing the audio and also transforming it into a digital signal; the latter is a job that is usually done by an audio converter.
Therefore, since the USB microphone has both a converter and a capsule inside the same enclosure, both components might be of lesser quality than the ones found in a separate microphone and audio interface.
Most of the time, people who want to record vocals at home will opt for a microphone that only captures the audio without converting it to a digital signal. That means that the quality of the components is significantly higher, and the microphone can be used in a lot of other contexts.
When it comes to the type of microphone, people usually opt for a specific kind called Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones.
This type of mic is desirable because of his high sensitivity; it allows for a clear and precise sound that picks up the small details in your voice. However, these microphones are usually sensitive enough to capture outside noise if the room isn’t isolated enough.
When you buy a standard, non-USB microphone, you need a device that converts the audio of your voice into a digital signal that your computer can understand.
That’s why we buy audio interfaces; usually they have one or two inputs for microphones and instruments that allow you to set the sensitivity (or input volume) of the device with a knob labeled “gain”. We’ll talk more about what this knob does later on, but at least for now you know it’s there.
Having an audio interface that isn’t integrated in your microphone means that, yet again, the components of the interface and the analog-to-digital conversion is going to be of a significantly higher quality.
Those interfaces also give you a lot more versatility in terms of what you can plug into them; for example, they allow you to plug in various instruments (like guitars or synthesizers) and also connect some external devices (like speakers and studio headphones).
Another important part of your recording setup will be the stand for the microphone.
Make sure to not go for the cheaper options on those, because they will make your recording session an absolute nightmare!
Make sure that each joint of your mic stand can be easily tightened and that it’s able to withstand the weight of your microphone (especially if it’s a boom stand).
Also, make sure you choose the right height, you wouldn’t want to buy a short mic stand when you’re trying to record vocals that are most likely going to be sung standing up.
In order to record your vocals, you’ll need an audio software. In the field of sound recording, we call them Digital Audio Workstations or DAWs in short.
There are a few simple and free DAWs you can use, just make sure you understand them well before you start recording. A few key words you should look up are the following:
Sample Rate and Buffer Size
Metronome and pre-roll
Step Three: Setting Up the Gain
Now that all of your equipment is setup and you’re ready to record, it’s time to make sure your interface and your DAW aren’t causing any unwanted distortion.
Role of the Interface
The interface has three major roles in the recording process :
Supply condenser microphones with the necessary voltage to make them work (48V phantom power) ;
Amplify the weak signal coming from the microphone ;
Convert the electric audio signal to digital computer data.
When amplifying the microphone signal, you MUST make sure to not overload the interface. Generally, you want the indicators on your interface to stay in the “green zone” (which is usually under -6dB).
When you plug in your microphone and turn on the phantom power (if necessary), start your gain knob at minimum and start singing your song the way that you’ll sing in the recording.
Then, slowly bring the gain up until it reaches an acceptable level, without causing distortion (or peaking).
As we’ve mentioned before, clipping can also happen in your DAW, so you need to be careful about your levels inside the software.
Here at LOF Audio, we usually record at -15 to -12 dB. This usually leaves us with enough headroom to work with in case you suddenly start yelling during the recording!
The most important thing to remember as far as audio levels go is to stay below 0dB, because otherwise digital distortion will occur, and it’s definitely considered to be an undesirable effect when trying to make a professional record.
Step Four: How to Avoid Pops and Impurities
A pop filter is a very useful tool that can reduce a lot of unwanted impurities in a vocal recording before the sound even reaches the microphone’s capsule!
Basically, it’s a piece of thin cloth or pierced metal that is placed between your mouth and the microphone to stop certain consonants from blowing too much air into the capsule at once.
It’s always recommended to have a pop filter in front of the microphone at all times during a vocal recording.
The position of the microphone is SUPER important during any recording, but in the case of a vocal recording, it can also help reduce the number of impurities in the recording.
First things first, make sure you know where the capsule of the microphone is pointing, that way you can point it the right way!
After you’ve figured that out, you can angle the microphone slightly upwards or down to avoid sending bursts of air directly into the capsule.
Also, being closer to the microphone generally means having more low frequencies in your voice, that’s usually a good thing when you’re trying to whisper or sing at a low volume. This proximity effect creates a more “personal” feel in your vocal recording, making it feel like you’re close to the ears of the listener.
As a vocal performer, you need to be attentive to the dynamics of your voice, which are the variations of volume that you do throughout your song.
For example, if you know you’re going to raise your voice or scream in a certain part of the song, try to tilt your head away from the capsule or back away from the microphone to avoid clipping.
Same thing goes for quieter parts of the song, you could use the proximity effect to your advantage and get closer to the microphone in order to make your vocal take feel more “personal”.
Step Five: The Curse of Bleeding
We know, the title sounds kinda hardcore. But don’t worry, it’s not as gruesome as it sounds!
In the field of audio, “bleeding” refers to any unwanted sound that is produced by another source than the one we want to record, and that is captured by our microphone.
Here are a few examples and common mistakes:
Outside Noises (again!)
The first example is actually a little comeback from our old friend: the outside noise.
Make sure that you do not hear the sound coming from the street outside your home in your recording, because it’s almost impossible to completely remove in post-production.
The first way to avoid this type of bleeding is to isolate your recording space from the outside world (acoustically, that is).
You can also make sure that your microphone is facing away from any source of noise; this technique works very well with microphones that have a cardioid polar pattern (see the specification of your microphone in the user manual for all the details on its polar pattern).
This is probably the most common type of bleeding that we hear in vocal recording.
Headphone noise refers to the sound of the rest of the instruments and the metronome that is playing through your headphones as you are recording.
This sound is often picked up by your microphone, and it can make the mixing job a lot harder. Sometimes, it even renders the recording completely useless if, for example, the metronome is just too loud.
There are two main ways to remedy this issue:
Buying in-ear monitors: in-ear monitors are sound-isolating earphones that are used by professionals for recording and live performance. The advantage of using these is that they will allow you to listen to your song as loud as you want without it being picked up by the microphone!
Lowering the volume of your headphones: this one may seem a little obvious, but it’s a simple, effective way to improve the bleeding situation. The downside of this is that you can’t crank up the volume as much as you want, so you’ll need to listen carefully if you want to stay on-pitch and on-time with the rest of the instruments.
The last, very important aspect of bleeding that you absolutely want to avoid is monitor feedback.
If you bought studio monitors (or studio speakers) to mix your songs and produce your beats, you’ll have to make sure that you turn their volume OFF during your recording and that you exclusively use your headphones.
There’s a simple reason behind this: when you’re recording, you don’t want to pick up the backing track at the same time as your voice. That causes problems during the mixing process, and it makes your recording messy.
Also, if you’ve got the input monitoring option turned on inside your interface or your DAW, whatever your microphone picks up during recording is going to be amplified through the speakers and then picked up again by your microphone.
This causes a loop of noise that progressively gets louder and louder until your ears start bleeding and your soul leaves your body to punish you for your sins.
Not really, but it does get pretty loud…
For those of you that made it to this point: congratulations!
You now know enough information to be able to record some vocals right from the comfort of your own home while also making your mix engineer happy!
All of the techniques discussed in this article are only scratching the surface in terms of what can be done to get a better quality recording. We encourage you to do your own research about it, or even shoot us a message! We’ll be happy to answer all your audio questions and tell you about how we record here at LOF Audio.
If, on the other hand, all of this seems WAAAY too complicated, don’t panic!
You can always book your next vocal recording session here at LOF Audio, and we’ll be happy to have you!
If you do so, you might want to have a look at our last article :
5 Steps to Be Fully Prepared for Your Next Studio Session
In any case, we hope to see or hear from you soon!
With much love,
Yaz and the LOF Audio team
Yazid is a Moroccan-born singer-songwriter, musician and record producer from Gatineau, QC.
He joined the LOF Audio team in the fall of 2022 after finishing his college studies in audio production at Recording Arts Canada. He has been writing music for more than five years and has been performing sinc