As artists, we wear so many different hats. Often, you will be asked to be more than just a vocalist. You may need to pick up some skills in everything from engineering, production, song writing, marketing and more to have a successful career consisting of multiple income streams. Being able to record yourself at home is a very useful skill that can land you jobs from across the world. We have some great tips to share on how to record vocals at home and get the best quality sound on a budget, in any room.
Consider Your Environment
Before even starting on recording gear, let’s talk about your environment. The sound in your room has a huge impact on the finished recording, and it is not to be underestimated. Recording studios are usually acoustically treated, which means they provide the optimal environment for a recording. In your home, however, you will likely be in an untreated room, which will produce unwanted reverb, echo and otherwise affect the quality of your recording, making it almost impossible to fix later on.
You can purchase a reflexion filter or acoustic foam that goes around the back of your microphone. The problem is that your mic will predominantly pick up sound from the front, especially if it has a cardioid polar pattern. This means, the reflection filter won’t have quite as much of an impact on your sound as treating the area behind and either side of you. There are many videos and guides on how to build a dedicated vocal booth, but you don’t have to go that far. Blankets work brilliantly for dampening. You could stand with your back facing an open wardrobe, for example, and hang blankets behind you and to the sides on the open doors of a wardrobe.
A laptop that is in good working order will be needed for your recording. You can get free recording software such as Garage Band or Reaper, which are great for getting started. Other popular choices are costly, but they are worth it if you want to explore music production further. Logic Pro X, Ableton and Pro Tools are all great options used by professionals around the world.
Of course, you will need a microphone to record with. We would recommend a condenser microphone for the most accurate representation of your sound. On stage, you’ll most likely use a dynamic mic such as a Shure SM58. These are resilient and great for live performances, but they’re not as sensitive as condenser microphones. A good, affordable condenser such as a Rode NT1A will capture all the details in your voice. Cardioid microphones are a great option for a home setup. Due to their directionality, they won’t pick up too much of the rest of your room. Add a pop shield to eliminate plosive sounds, which produce bursts of air that can ruin your recording. You will of course need a mic stand and an XLR cable, too.
Next, you’ll need a way to record your performance into your computer. Condenser microphones are phantom-powered, so they need 48V to operate, which will be included on most audio interfaces. An audio interface like Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is perfect for beginners and it has two inputs, so you could record an instrument and vocals at the same time. The interface will also alleviate some processing power from your computer.
Lastly, you’ll need a pair of headphones. If you’re not producing or mixing the track, pretty much any decent pair will do. Just make sure they are closed back rather than open back so the backing track doesn’t get picked up by the mic.
Getting a Good Signal
So, you have all your gear and you’re ready to go. How do you get the best sounding signal out of your equipment? Let’s start by setting the levels. Once you have connected your mic to your software, otherwise known as DAW (digital audio workstation), you need to get a good signal. Stand in front of your mic and sing the loudest part of the song, to determine the highest volume or peak level. Adjust the gain knob, which controls the input level of the mic. Ideally, you want to aim for your peak level to be around -10dB to -14dB on the channel strip. If your signal is too strong, you risk distorting your sound and a faint signal will pick up too much ambient noise and the noise from the equipment itself.
How far away from the mic should you be while doing this? Place your pop shield around 2-6 inches away from the mic to keep you from getting too close. Then, you can sing almost directly into the pop shield or move a few inches away. Overall, you should aim to be around 6-12 inches away from the mic itself. This way, you’ll get a clear and healthy signal. Leaning in too close will emphasise the bass frequencies and create a muddy recording, whereas standing too far away will create a fainter and thinner sound.
Once you have found that sweet spot, mark the position of your feet on the floor with some tape. This way, you’ll keep coming back to it in between takes for a consistent recording.
Your miking technique is a key part of how to record vocals at home. A qualified vocal coach can show you the best miking techniques. Essentially, if your vocal is very dynamic, it helps to control and even out the signal. The basics of it is that you would lean in on the quieter parts of the song and pull slightly back on the louder parts, but it can take time to get used to.
You should also ensure you are singing directly into the microphone and avoid moving around too much or creating any additional noise. These little details are so important for getting the best possible recording.
Your headphone mix has an important part to play to make you comfortable during your recording! Some singers like to have both headphones on, while others prefer to keep one of them off so they can hear their voice. Try a few different approaches and see what works for you. Always make sure you can hear the backing track and the metronome, without feeling overpowered by them. It might be that you need to make some adjustments to the individual instrument levels that’ll make recording easier and that is absolutely fine.
Hearing your ‘dry’, unprocessed vocal through your headphones against the backing track can feel a bit jarring. Put some reverb on it during the recording, just make sure it isn’t actually going on the finished material, in case you want to change these effects later. Depending on your DAW, there are plenty of tutorials on how to do this.
Exporting Your Files
Now you’ve recorded all those amazing vocals for your track, how do you export the files and send them to your client? A crucial part of how to record vocals at home is to get a good quality audio file at the end of it. Sending a session from your DAW will be ineffective since the client might be using a different software or even an incompatible version of your own.
Firstly, before you even start recording, ensure your session records in 48kHz and 24 bit. There is a lot to cover in technical terms here, however, it essentially represents the resolution of your audio and will ensure it is at a high standard. Your recording should be in mono, not stereo and you should also export the individual tracks as mono files. It can be helpful to send a guide track with your vocals and backing track as well as the vocal tracks individually.
There are so many interesting techniques to try in audio engineering and production, however, we hope this article gives you a good starting point to know what information to look for and builds your understanding of how to record vocals at home. All our vocal coaches are skilled professionals that can help you develop the tools you need to become a successful, all-round singer. We focus on singing lessons for adults and provide an encouraging and supportive environment for you to thrive as an artist. Contact us today to find out more about our singing courses!
Tags: Singing Tips
, Singing advice