Recording Vocals in a Music Production
Today we will focus on the process of recording vocals in a music production. I will use a theme created by former Fernando Curiel, the Músico Pro Magazine Editor, to provide a "real world" example. Also, we will go over the necessary equipment required to capture the voice in the best possible way in a home studio.
Fernando recorded himself using a large-diaphragm condenser microphone (of which there are many on the market, across the spectrum of quality and price), and only recorded two or three takes. He used the Playlist technique to comp his vocal recordings; that is, he built a final take of the different clips he recorded of himself. Fernando adds: "I listened to the three recordings and chose the best takes I sang to build the main vocals and harmonies. I am not a professional singer, so, I considered it beneficial to use a tuning program such as Melodyne (see picture on the right) to improve my performance."
The purpose of this article is to present how to create a demo using different techniques and practice different production methods.
Recording the Voice in a Home Studio
Some of you who are just starting to produce your music at home will ask, "What will I need to record my voice in the best possible way?"
First, you need to choose a good microphone that best suits your voice. I recommend you use a condenser microphone over a dynamic one, since it produces a more "open" sound, especially at high frequencies. Nowadays, there is an excellent variety of affordable condenser microphones in the market. It is only a matter of researching, which is the best microphone suitable for your budget.
On the song ("Vuelve a Mí"), Fernando used a microphone from sE Electronics. This particular condenser and large-diaphragm microphone have a Low-Class A noise FET circuit and a balanced transformer at the output stage. It is excellent for recording vocals and acoustic instruments, with full frequency response. I particularly like these microphones because of the warm sound they generate for vocals and acoustic guitars. They are sensitive and capture every detail of the music and voices being recorded. In addition to the excellent sound they produce, these microphones are much more affordable than other more recognized ones in the professional audio industry. There is a plethora of microphones to choose from the market today that range anywhere from $50 to $5,000. How do we know which one to buy? It all depends on the type of music and singer that is going to be recorded.
Now, to capture the voice with a right level of clarity, warmth, and isolation, you have to take into consideration other elements that I will mention below.
Is your studio located in your bedroom, living room, or garage? Then, consider using the right insulation, so you do not need to build new walls.
Previously, I have used acoustic material from Auralex. This company launched a "good, beautiful, and cheap" solution to the market, to create a more controlled acoustic environment at home. Acoustic treatment allows the voice to be recorded as directly as possible from the singer to the microphone, with no reflections from the room that would otherwise affect the original sound. Problems that can occur from recording with poor acoustic treatment include phase cancellation and unwanted noise. In the picture on the left, you can see how this temporary enclosure works. Note that the acoustic walls are mounted on music stands and can be removed at any time after the recording is finished. Also, note that it has a "window" so that the artist can see the engineer for better visual communication during the recording.
Now, let's continue with the elements needed to capture an excellent vocal recording; it is also advisable to use a good microphone preamp. Of course, you can use the mic preamps already included in your audio interface. However, if you have the opportunity to buy a good preamp, the ones I mention below may be a suitable option for you.
Generally, the preamps of this level have the same or similar characteristics necessary for any recording situation. Which means they have a + 48V power supply known as phantom power for the use of condenser microphones. They also have a function called "Pad" "attenuate" the high levels of signals from the signal source through the microphone. They also have a button with the "ø" icon that is used for the phase inversion in case there are phase-related problems. These types of preamps are designed as tube mic pres which typically provide a warm sound. Or they can include transistors (solid-state) and transformers.
Another element necessary for a clean and clear voice recording is a plosive noise filter (pop filter). The plosive noise filter prevents "P," "B," and or "pop" noises from being too plosive (see picture on the left). These type of filters are needed to avoid these noises from being recorded too loudly. Removing plosive sounds in the editing stage is an otherwise tedious and challenging process., unless you have the RX plug-in from Izotope. It is advisable to position these filters three inches from the microphone and the singer six inches from the screen. Sometimes it may be beneficial for the singer to be closer to capture the proximity effect of the microphone (a technique used to boost the low end and body of the singer's voice).
Another device necessary for a vocal recording is a Shockmount (see picture on the right). How many times does one tell the singer to please not touch the microphone while recording, so that bump noises are not recorded in the voice track? Sometimes removing these low-frequency rumbles can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. It can take hours and hours to remove these sounds. However, if you get paid by the hour, there is no problem [laughs].
It is also advisable to use headphones with excellent fidelity so that the singer feels more comfortable and immersed in the music. Try to use Closed-Back headphones (see picture on the left). Remember that the Closed-Back headphones cover both ears so that the music does not leak into the microphone while recording. Also, the Closed-Back headphones are especially essential if the singer likes to record at a high monitoring level.
By following these guidelines, when recording vocals in your studio, I guarantee you will have better results.
About the Author
José "Chilitos" Valenzuela is a recording and mixing engineer based in Santa Monica, California. He is the founder and director of AudioGraph International, an Avid Professional School where the Official Avid Pro Tools Certification for Users, Operators and Experts in Music and Post-Production is offered since 1993, in both, English or Spanish.