Vocals are an essential part of any recording process and are always the core of a DJ track. You can remix them any way you want or edit your beats in a different way but at the end of the day what the singer recorded is going to stay there and the quality of the said recording can’t be changed a lot after it has been done.
Most singers go to special studios to record their vocals but this can be costly and take too much of your time. I wanted to give you some advice on how to record vocals at home whether you are a DJ, a singer, or any other type of musician who wants to finish his song.
A great way to start your home-studio vocal recordings is by treating your room properly sound-wise. Make sure there are no big windows or mirrors inside and it is isolated properly. Condenser mics with larger diaphragms work like charm for home vocal recordings and are great at capturing greater detail. Experiment with your mic placement and tune the EQ to your liking once you are done recording the raw vocal tracks.
It really doesn’t matter what sort of gear you have, as most of the tips and tricks I am about to give you are all happening in the editing (post-production) process.
You will learn how to use the EQ of your DAW, which mics to use and how to position them, and most importantly – understand what sort of role does your room plays into all of this.
We will dive into each of these sections individually and see which are the main home-recording aspects vocalists should keep in mind.
What many people don’t get right from the get-go is not paying much attention to the room in which they are recording. In fact, forget the microphone. The room is the single and most important aspect of home-studio vocal recording. Even if you get an expensive microphone and preamp your sound can still sound bad if you didn’t pay enough attention to your room.
Sound waves travel through air and reflect when they meet a boundary. Smaller rooms (like closets) make the reflections interact more with each other which leads to an effect called comb filtering. That makes the sound thinner and ruins the texture on which you worked on so hard.
The conclusion is to simply get out of the closet and isolate your room properly.
Even if you haven’t properly treated your room acoustically, you can find a spot without many sound reflections, as long as there aren’t any windows or huge mirrors in the room.
Pro Tip: Get a pop shield to reduce those Ps and Fs sounds in your recordings.
I’ve already covered the basics of recording in my article on the topic but when it comes to recording with a microphone only there are a few specifics on which I want to pay a little further attention.
Choosing And Positioning Your Mic
We both know that there are countless of microphones out there and each of them is equally good (or bad) in its own way. There are several types of mics:
- USB Mics
- Dynamic Mics
The price and quality ratios are all over the place for any kind of mic. In general, try not to get too carried away with fancy microphone reviews. Sometimes a 200 dollar mic works better than a 2000 dollar one for your specific scenario.
For lead vocals, I will recommend a condenser mic with a large diaphragm. This creates a more clear and sensitive result than the dynamic mics. That is a good combination for adding some extra detail to your final mix.
Consider it as a rule of thumb that condenser mics with larger diaphragms are ideal mics for home recording.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that dynamic microphones are bad. I would stick to using them predominantly for live occasions.
If I had to recommend a model for a normal home studio, I’d go for a Rode NT1. It is priced well and brings a lot of clarity and detail to the table. Now, let’s talk to the other important aspect when it comes to mics…
A whole book won’t be able to fit this topic properly without leaving things behind so I will just tell you to experiment. Each voice has a unique blend and power and every microphone is good at capturing different aspects of that.
Therefore, there is no set placement distance for all mics. I’d say that anywhere between 7 and 11 inches is a good starting point for you to experiment. My advice is to literally try everything and see what works the best for you.
An 8-inch distance isn’t too far so you won’t catch too many room reflections but at the same time isn’t too close to your mouth either. That will prevent the bassy tones to emerge in the final mix.
Speaking of the final mix, there are a few tips I want to share with you when it comes to the post-production process.
You will be able to hear your recordings very well with a pair of fully closed studio headphones. Check out the ultimate guide to some of the best studio headphones of this year.
The Final Mix
The recording process isn’t your last job when doing vocals. After they are recorded there is a whole other kind of job to be done – mixing and processing.
The first thing to take care for is the EQ (Equalizer). Using two EQs is a great idea. Use the first one to clean up anything that is bothering you in the mix and take out rumbles and hisses that you missed hearing when recording. The second EQ can be used with a plugin that gives a character to your vocals.
The second thing I want to talk about is compression. It is used to level off peaks and/or to bring breaths or nuances higher in the mix if you want to add a little sparkle to your mix.
Pro Tip: Use volume automation to make sure your levels are consistent throughout the recording.
The next things are distortion and warmth. Even a little distortion added to your vocals will make them pop a lot more in the overall mix. The opposite is smoothing or adding warmth to your vocals. Use each to your own liking.
Last but not least are the delay and reverb effects. Both of them add depth and width to the final mix but you can easily get carried away so be careful with how much you add. My ultimate advice to you will be to make the vocals sound good to you.
After all, you are the creator and it should sound good to you, and then if your taste is good your audience will love it as well. Making something that isn’t by your taste will ultimately lead to your music sounding different from song to song as you won’t be able to get the exact sound every time as it will be foreign to your ears and taste.
More experienced DJs like DJ Khaled can emulate a sound they think will be approved by the specific audience but that takes a lot of training and professional experience.
Double Tracks And Backing Tracks
Recording your vocals again and again and again will add thickness to them and help them stand out easier in the final mix. If you do this throughout the whole song, though, you will leave the impact effect out of the mix and it will all seem similar. The key is to do it in specific parts of the song only.
Another great tip is to double-track your backing vocals. That will give them sort of a chorus effect. If you cut their high frequencies you will make them seem further back in the mix and will create a better sense of depth.
The final thing I want to say on this topic is to time everything perfectly otherwise it will all mismatch and sound messy throughout the song. Now, I will try to answer some of the related questions people often have when it comes to the topic of vocal recordings.
What Do You Need To Record Vocals At Home?
The main thing, of course, is a laptop or a computer. I have a great article on the topic of DJing with a laptop only if you are interested in that. The next thing you need is a DAW and an external sound card for your microphones.
Speaking of those, you can get either one mic or more depending on what type of recordings you want to do (and home many people will be involved). Pop filters are also a must.
Which DAW Is Best For Recording Vocals?
My definite favorite is the Presonus Studio One DAW. Other great programs for vocal recording, mixing, and mastering are Logic Pro, FL Studio, Ableton, Cubase, Pro Tools, etc. It all depends on what software you have running on your machine.
Mac machines work great with Logic Pro and Pro Tools, while Windows handle Cubase and Presonus Studio One the best.
Learning how to record vocals at home won’t be easy but if you follow some simple steps you will find the whole process quite logical and straightforward. Always make sure you keep the environment in which are recording in mind.
It is all about acoustics when it comes to sound and microphones don’t affect your room’s acoustics, so they are secondary when it comes to a good recording session.