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  • Writer's pictureTina Van

How To Record Vocals

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

Hey there, this is Tina and today I want to talk about recording vocals. I want to walk you through everything you need to know to get a great vocal recording starting with picking out the right microphone, setting up to record, and then finally capturing the perfect take.

Let’s get started…



STEP 1: PICKING THE RIGHT MICROPHONE


Getting a great vocal recording starts with picking the right microphone for the job. With so many different microphones on the market it can be hard to decide what you need to record vocals with.


There are three common microphones you will find on the market: condenser microphones, dynamic microphones, and the less common ribbon microphone. What do these different types mean?

CONDENSER MICROPHONES


When in doubt, I always recommend recording with a condenser microphone. They offer a clear and upfront sound (which is what you want for vocals) and are very responsive to transients and the frequency responses of everything (meaning, these microphones will capture anything and everything because they are more sensitive to the sounds they pick up). Keep in mind that condenser microphones need phantom power “48v” to work so be sure to check that your audio interface has that option.

Audio-Technica AT2020 Condenser Mic


DYNAMIC MICROPHONES


Moving on to the dynamic microphone, these microphones are great all around microphones.

Though not as sensitive as condenser mics, dynamic microphones are especially great for louder sources such as aggressive vocals, drums, guitar and amps.

Shure SM57 Dynamic Mic

RIBBON MICROPHONES


Next, there are ribbon microphones. These microphones are not as common due to how expensive they are and are usually fragile by design. However, there are some ribbon mics on the cheaper end if you want to get your hands on one. These microphones sound amazing on vocals, acoustic guitar, and even drum overheads due to their smooth and mellow tone. Oh, and one very important thing to note with these microphones is to be sure NOT to use phantom power “48v” as it can easily ruin the microphone.

AEA R44C Ribbon Mic


Polar Patterns


Moving on to the next feature of microphones: the polar patterns. Every microphone has their own polar pattern and what this tells you is where the microphone is able to capture sound from.


When starting out with recording, I recommend using a microphone that is labeled as a “cardioid” microphone. This will give you the best option when recording, and is especially great for home studios.

Cardioid microphones capture the sound directly in front of them and avoid sounds directly behind them, making them perfect for vocals and capturing a more direct sound. I won’t be covering every microphone in this post today but I will be sure to make a new post solely dedicated to microphones.


STEP 2: SETTING UP TO RECORD


Once you have the microphone picked out, it’s time to set it up…


A boom stand is the best option for recording if you have one or are able to get one but if not any microphone stand will do. Once the microphone is on the stand, set up a pop filter so that it sits in front of the microphone and about 3 inches away. Then plug the female end of an XLR cable into the microphone, and the male end into an open input on your audio interface.

In your DAW, you will need to create an audio track with the input as the same one the microphone was plugged into. So for example, if you plugged into channel 2 of your audio interface, the audio input needs to be number 2 on the audio track within your DAW.



STEP 3: CAPTURING THE PERFECT TAKE

Last step in recording vocals is getting a great take.


Once you have audio going into your DAW channel input, go ahead and adjust the gain on your audio interface so that the loudest peaks of the audio stay around -12 and -18 dB.


This will give you plenty of headroom to adjust later if you need to.


THE PROXIMITY EFFECT


Before hitting record another good thing to keep in mind with vocals is something called proximity effect.

Proximity effect basically means, the closer you are to the microphone, the more bass you will hear in a source, the farther away you are from the microphone, the less bass you will hear in a source.


This affects vocals because you want to stand at a distance that is a good middle ground. For example, if your are capturing an intimate vocal for soft ballad, you may want to stand a little bit closer to the microphone so that the vocals stays clear and upfront but on the other hand, if you were recording an energetic pop song, you might want to stand a little bit farther to avoid having too much bass in the vocal while keeping the energy of the take intact.



RECAP


So that’s it! Those are the three steps to keep in mind to capture great vocals. It all starts with picking the right microphone for the job, properly setting up the microphone with good overall levels, and then keeping proximity effect in mind when recording. All of this will ensure you capture great vocals every time.


If you need help on deciding what to use or buy to build your very own home studio, then feel free to download my home studio gear guide below. In that guide, it will show you all of my best recommendations on every budget. It is completely free and completely yours for the taking. I just hope that it helps you on your journey towards making great music!


Thanks for stopping by the blog! Have fun recording – cheers!




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