Updated: Nov 24, 2020
There are a number of reasons you might decide to record your vocals at home: budget, convenience, and comfort are all great reasons to do so. However, it can present its own challenges. Read on for some tips on how to get the best takes possible!
So what makes a professional studio able to charge such a premium? Essentially it comes down to three things: room acoustics, proper equipment, and a knowledgeable recording engineer. There are countless ways you can improve your recording space, but for the sake of simplicity I'm just going to share a few tips for how to make the most of these things within your home and with minimal cost:
1. Record in a Room with Lots of Soft Stuff
Probably the most challenging part of recording at home is avoiding bad sound reflections. Professional studios invest a huge amount of money in the construction of their building for this very purpose. Luckily, you are bound to have at least one room in your house that is best to record in.
Often, this will be your bedroom. Your bed, pillows, and any other soft furniture all serve to absorb sound and keep if from reflecting back into the microphone. If you have carpet, even better. Your ultimate goal is to record the direct sound of your voice and not the reflections off the walls, floor, or ceiling.
In addition, it's possible to create a makeshift vocal booth out of common materials you can find at Home Depot, or already around your house. A common method is to build a frame with PVC pipe or something similar, and then drape thick blankets around it. It might get dark in there, so a quiet light might be something to consider as well!
2. Direction Matters
On the same topic of avoiding reflections, where in the room you choose to record matters, especially if you're not making a vocal booth.
Because most vocal mics record in a cardioid pattern, the rear of the mic captures the least amount of sound. Sound waves tend to build up in corners, so in theory you should have the rear of the mic facing a corner to avoid picking up all that mess.
The next thing to consider would be early reflections to the left and right of the mic. For this reason, you want to keep your distance from the walls as much as possible.
With both of these in mind, my best recommendation is to stand a little bit off the center of the room, and face towards a corner.
3. Use a Pop Filter and Shock Mount
In addition to your vocal mic, there are two very affordable pieces of equipment I highly recommend you use:
The first and most important is a pop filter. This serves to minimize plosives, which are hard consonants like p's and t's that cause a burst of air to be shot into the mic. It can also help you maintain a minimum distance from the mic if you have a tendency to move closer to it (more on that later).
The second is a shock mount. This is just a method of mounting your mic to your stand that essentially allows it to float, minimally connected to everything around it. This helps it avoid picking up vibrations from the floor or the stand, like if you tap your foot or hear rumbles around the house. Just make sure to buy one that's the right size for your mic!
4. Keep in Mind the Proximity Effect
When recording vocals with a large diaphragm condenser mic (most likely what you will be using), the proximity effect refers to the change in tone as you move closer to or further from the mic.
In close proximity to the mic, the low-mids tend to be strongly accentuated, yielding a warm, but possibly muffled tone. The further you are, the brighter and more airy the vocal tends to sound.
This mostly comes down to a matter of preference and is highly dependent on your voice. I recommend starting with 6-12 inches between you and the mic, but experiment with different distances and find one that works for you!
Your pop filter can be a great way to keep a consistent distance from your mic. Set it up at the distance you like, then you won't be tempted to move closer during your performance.
5. Gain Stage Correctly
Once you've got all your positioning set up, you'll want to set your gain properly. You'll do this by adjusting the gain or input knob on your preamp or audio interface, while watching the meter on your DAW. It may be helpful to have someone else watch the meter and adjust the gain, so you can focus on singing.
Sing as loud as you will be during the song, and watch the meter on your DAW. You should be aiming to peak around -12 dBFS, while hovering closer to -18 dBFS.
If you're hitting much higher or lower than that, adjust the gain knob on your audio interface or preamp accordingly.
Setting your gain properly will ensure that your mixing engineer has enough gain to work with, while still having plenty of headroom.
What are some of your favorite tips for recording vocals at home? Let me know in the comments!
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