Get the best out of recording your vocals

(The original version of this article was first published on the Mp3 Backing Trax website circa 2006 – 2012)

If you are recording an album or even just a demo disc, the most important sound you’ll record is the vocal.

Annoying as it is to die-hard musicians like myself to swallow, the fact remains that no matter how good the music is on any recording, the average listener, the proverbial Joe Public, only listens to the singers voice.

This makes sense because on all but instrumental recordings, the singing is always forefront in the mix.

What this means to you as a singer, is that the quality of the vocal on anything you record can make or break you. You could be the best singer in the world, but if your vocal doesn’t shine through on that recording, the reviews will be less than favourable.

To make matters worse, the human singing voice contains so many constantly changing dynamics, recording engineers all agree that this makes it one of the most difficult things to record. However, here are a few tips and tricks you can use to help ensure you capture the purest vocal quality possible on your recordings every time.

The Microphone
One of the most important things in capturing vocals is the quality of the microphone. If you are just starting out and using a free audio editor and recorder like Audacity, then a standard computer/PC microphone might be ok just to get you started, but later on, as you become more and more adept at recording, you really should consider investing in a good quality professional microphone.

Good quality microphones are not expensive and have many uses. As well as improving the quality of your vocal recording, a good microphone will also improve other audio programs running on your computer like MSN messenger plus you can also use it to sing at your live gigs too.

Basic Rules
No matter which type of microphone you use, there are some basic rules you should follow to achieve that perfect vocal sound:

  1. Keeping a good distance from the microphone is essential. Too close and it’ll distort. Too far away and it’ll pick up noise from your surroundings. Keep your mouth about 6 inches away from the microphone. At louder parts of the song where you are singing loudly, ease yourself back another 1 or 2 inches from the microphone and at quieter parts, move closer to the microphone by 1 or 2 inches.
  2. Always keep an eye on the input level meter of your recorder while you’re singing to make sure it never goes too high – if it does, this will cause distortion to be introduced in to your recording and you don’t want that. Digital distortion is the worst type of distortion there is. It grates on the listeners ears and is an immediate turn-off. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!
  3. Once you’ve captured and recorded a nice, undistorted, clean and well balanced vocal sound, it’s time to bring that vocal further to life by adding some reverb effect. Try not to use echo – not only is echo a very old-fashioned type of vocal effect which is only used nowadays for specific purposes, it’s also synonymous with bad karaoke singers so you don’t really want this type of label attached to you. Reverb is a much smoother, less obtrusive vocal effect and will subtly lift up your vocal recording as long as you don’t overdo it. A little reverb is good – a lot of reverb is bad. You don’t want it to sound as if you are singing in an empty aircraft hanger or a cathedral. A little reverb is just enough to give the vocal some ambience and is all that’s required. Use your ears and trust what you hear. No-one knows your “sound” as well as you do.

If you follow these few tips, your vocals will sparkle and you’ll end up with a professional quality vocal sound that will be just as good as any expensive recording studio.