The importance of a good quality vocal recording is paramount to getting a great-sounding mix. There are a number of ways of ensure that you result in a good vocal recording at home, with limited equipment. The most common mistakes made when recording vocals are recording them either too softly or too loudly. If your recording is too soft, you will end up boosting noise and room ambience in the mix. If it is too loud, you will end up recording distorted audio that is irreparable in the mix. The secret to overcoming this? Record vocals with a compressor. This will help to control the dynamics of the human voice.
The recording location is something that needs to be addressed. This area should be as isolated from unwanted sound sources as possible (kid sisters, Oprah on the TV, manic dogs). The mic should be placed away from any walls to avoid unwanted reflections reaching the microphone. The area directly behind the vocalist should be non-reflective. In the absence of foam tiling, a duvet (doesn’t matter how old) can be used to provide adequate absorption. This type of absorption tends to only be effective above 300Hz, so frequencies below this can still be a problem. However, this can be overcome by adding some reflective scattering surfaces, to balance out the low-end frequency response. It’s generally best to record in an ordinary room at home with a carpet on the floor and a duvet hung behind the vocalist. So your bedroom should do; or the lounge if there’s no book club happening. If necessary, more absorption can be hung to either side of the vocalist, but it’s rare that you would have to go further than that to ensure a nice sounding vocal room. It is very important to do a preliminary vocal test take, to hear if your set-up is sounding good – and if necessary you will need to move the mic around relative to the walls of the room; until you get the right feel.
The next important choice is what microphone to use. A vital thing to remember is that each person’s voice has a different fundamental frequency, so a mic that sounds good on one person’s voice might not work at all for someone else. With this in mind, the best choice for a vocal mic is a large diaphragm condenser mic, as they are more sensitive than dynamic mics and have a better high frequency response, so you will get a much brighter sound.
It is always best to use a shock mount with these microphones, to avoid any structural noise entering your recording. A pop shield is also essential, as it will prevent those explosive sounds like “B” and “P”, as the air released by these sounds hits the diaphragm. The pop shield should be placed about 5cm from the mic and the singer should be around 15 to 20 cm away from the pop shield.
A good quality pre-amp is essential for decent vocal recordings, as it will boost the signal and retain the quality of sound that you are getting from the microphone.
Compression is very important in vocal recordings, as the voice is very dynamic; however one needs to be very careful with pre-tape compression, as it cannot be undone! A good guideline is to set a compression ratio of around 4:1 and then adjust the threshold to get no more than 6dB of gain reduction on the peaks. Set the attack and release to around a quarter of a second or so; you want them to respond fairly quickly. Too much compression at this stage can leave you with lifeless vocals that cannot be fixed in the mix, so discretion is advisable. A point to remember is that compression will bring up the room ambience in quieter sections, so if your room is a little noisy you might push up that noise with compression.
So, with these guidelines in mind, there is no reason why you can’t get a very decent quality vocal recording at home. Just bear in mind that you need to take some time to ensure your levels and all your settings are to your satisfaction. This is important, because the human voice is so unpredictable, and when a vocalist moves around in relation to the microphone, you will probably have to take some time to re-set your compressor and pre-amp. And always remember; be wary of nearby noise sources that could interfere (like that damned cat).
Article by Johnathan Pike – Lecturer : Cape Audio College.
Originality featured in MUSE magazine June/July 2008Share