In this post, I shall explain the necessary steps needed to record vocals of the highest quality. I shall also discuss common mistakes that people tend to make without the proper knowledge.
When recording a vocalist, it’s imperative that you use basic psychology to get the best performance out of them as you can. For this, you’er going to make him/her feel welcome and relaxed in the studio environment. Many musicians and vocalists might have trouble adapting to a recording studio and so it’s always best to clearly and regularly converse with them and get them involved on the situation. Even if you’re merely setting up, explain the steps that are going to follow so that there are no sudden jumps or pressure for the vocalist. Get him/her involved by standing in their singing position and measure the mic stand accordingly, always checking in with the vocalist ensuring everything is to their liking. Know the limits of the performer, if you know the person you are recording then you need to be aware of their needs and limitations and make decisions based on their ability.
You shouldn’t push the vocalist too hard for too long as it can tire and wear out their voice. Ensure they have a drink and take regular breaks to ensure a natural performance is captured. All vocalists are different, some may be from a rock background and like a husky/gritty tone to their voice, others may come from a classical background and aim for a clear and precise recording so pay attention. With that said, let’s begin.
Ensuring that the vocalist is warmed up and ready to go, lets begin with the microphone and any necessary equipment that will be needed. I would begin with the microphone and would either use a large diaphragm cardioid condenser or a ribbon mic for their interesting tone. For my particular recording session, I was lucky enough to use the Neumann U87, a specialised condenser mic well exceeding £1,500. ‘The readers of the SOUND ON SOUND magazine have voted: U 87 Ai – the BEST MICROPHONE’ (Neumann, N.D.) This is typically a professional microphone used in the work of television, radio and film, yet also produces clear, precise and natural vocals with its large dual-diaphragm capsule with three directional patterns: omnidirectional, cardioid and figure-8 for optimum versatility.
Budget is always an issue so try but try and use a high quality condenser and fix a pop shield and travel vocal booth to stop any unwanted frequencies from being captured. Vocal takes have been ruined due to poor soundproofing before so don’t fall victim to such an easy mistake. If you don’t own a portable vocal booth that fits on a mic stand, I would improvise, do what you can to isolate the vocalist from any sounds that could corrupt the recording.
The pop shield is always worth using to stop any plosive sounds ‘P’ ‘B’. Failing that, ensure that the vocalist isn’t standing to close to the mic. The closer you are to the mic when singing, the more bass there will be in the recording, this is known as the proximity effect.
Below is a an example of a U87 that didn’t have a pop shield and vocal booth on it. I am deliberately trying to create plosives so you can understand proper distance and set up of vocal microphones.
Newmann.com, ‘N.D, ‘U87 AI‘ [online] Available from: https://www.neumann.com/?lang=en&id=current_microphones&cid=u87_description