Five tips for recording vocals at home

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Vocals are a critical element of most any recording. Here are five easy tips to help you improve the workflow in your home studio when recording vocals.

Headphones for Monitoring Vocals

This post on recording vocals in your home studio originally appeared on Cakewalk’s blog. Reprinted with permission.

Building your home studio can be a tricky task – especially when you feel that the quality of the space that you record vocals in barely contends with what professional engineers would use. Fear not, there are solutions for making your home studio (or for some of you, your spare bedroom) a comfortable place in which you can produce high-quality recordings. Here are five easy ways to improve your home studio’s vocal recordings right away.

1. Studio headphones
This goes without saying. Make sure you can supply your clients with a decent pair of headphones so they can properly monitor the mix and record their vocals over backing tracks. Get at least two pairs in case the band’s producer or guitarist wants to follow along to the recording. Keep in mind, you don’t need a pair of $400 headphones to get the client what they need to record, but stay away from consumer headphones that boost bass and color the playback.

Summing and Monitoring System

Vocal Shield to Eliminate Plosives

Pro-level Microphone Preamp

Vocal Recording Booth

2. Talk-back functionality
Talk-back is a term used to describe a dedicated microphone that is activated when an engineer wants to speak to a performer in another room between takes. The talk-back microphone is typically routed directly into the headphone mix so that you can easily activate it and deactivate it without any real patching involved. Having this type of functionality in your home studio can improve the flow of the recording session and make the communication between you and the singer a seamless task.

3. Pop filter/vocal shield
In the audio world there are different terms for just about everything. An important term to know is “plosive.” This is the sound a vocalist makes when they pronounce the letter “P.” This sound causes microphones to pop due to a high stream of controlled air that leaves the singer’s mouth. These pops are typically full of a low-end and can cause irregularities in the fidelity of the vocal track. Pop filters and vocal shields can be used to break up that air and protect the quality of the signal so that your vocal is clean and even throughout.

4. Pre-amp
Nice pre-amps can come at a high cost, but if you’re only recording vocals at your home-studio then it’s worth the investment. Pro-sumer all-in-one devices are built to give the buyer as much bang for their buck as possible. This typically means cramming as many inputs and outputs into a signal rack unit. This is great until you realize that the pre-amps are noisy and barely have any character. Do yourself a favor and try out a nice pre-amp to understand the difference in quality. If you can demo one, then do it, or ask a friend to borrow their quality gear for a test run. It will go a long way toward improving the quality of your vocal recordings.

5. Portable vocal recording booth
The room in which you record in will be as much a part of the recording as the singers voice. This can work in your favor and can also work against you. If you’re recording vocals in a room surrounded by untreated drywall then you may not produce the quality sound you expected. Untreated rooms reflect sound back and fourth and even back into the microphone. These artifacts can be detrimental to the sound and cause the vocal recording degrade in quality. A great way to avoid this issue is to get yourself a portable vocal booth that will help isolate the singer’s voice from reflecting off neighboring walls and back into the microphone. These are inexpensive and can go a long way.

Cakewalk is the leading developer of powerful and thoughtfully designed products for the modern musician. These products include award-winning digital audio workstations and innovative virtual instruments. Millions of musicians worldwide – including Grammy® and Emmy® – winning producers, composers, sound designers, and engineers – use Cakewalk products daily to produce audio for the professional music, film, broadcast, and video game industries. The Cakewalk blog offers technical tips, tutorials, and news relating to their products and audio recording.

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Learn How to Maintain Your Voice

Read More
Isolation headphones and your home recording
How To Record A Great Vocal Take
Choosing the right audio interface for your home studio
Limit your takes and make better recordings
Singing tips for vocalists in any genre
Creating a Home Recording Studio

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19 thoughts on “Five tips for recording vocals at home

  1. Great read and comments. At some point it becomes imperative to have a professional review your work. Sure you can make great recordings at home, but that’s when we fall in love with our work. Let someone, that knows industry standards, review it first. Allow them the freedom to give you constructive criticism so that you’ll know what to improve on. They may hear some things that may need to be corrected that your ears may have become used to hearing. It happens. Do that. Make adjustments. Then release great music and a great production.

  2. These are among the good tips for recording vocals at home….And yes we can really do that with these tips…wherever we are making will be having some of the best sound equipment with us so we can have the best recording at home…Thanks for sharing the useful article…!!!!!

  3. I have always believed that when making a recording of an artist/band’s music, it’s important to get the best sound you can with whatever equipment you have in whatever room you’re using. If all you can afford is a $25.00 desktop cassette recorder, so be it – just make sure the recorder has MANUAL recording level control so you’re not dependent on the dubious ALC; keep the recording level low enough so that the LEDs don’t read into the red but high enough that you’re getting a consistently hot signal and not a lot of background noise; and use the finest-quality cassette tape you can afford. Also, make sure you check the levels of the entire band unit before recording, so that everything will be properly balanced. If you’re using a more sophisticated setup, like a four-track unit, make sure to mic the vocals and instruments close enough that you’ll get real presence but not so close that you get that bassy “proximity effect” sound. Next, I really don’t believe you need an expensive microphone to make great recordings. Recently I made some home recordings with a $40.00 Radio Shack microphone, one which advertised itself as “The Perfect Choice for Vocal Use,” and believe it or not, it worked just fine for my singing. Finally, always be sure the artist/band is ready for recording; otherwise you will be spending a lot of time and money that you and the artist/band may not even have, on a product that may not go anywhere. Remember, it’s all about the music, not the money. Spending too much money on anything, including a recording, is a very expensive ego trip.

    1. They’re new, only available during Black Friday month.
      Makes everything you record sound like a young cat crying for its mother.

  4. Why are you folks even mentioning pro studios in a post that is about working in a HOME studio? If everyone could afford to go to a pro studio there wouldn’t be home studios and budding engineers and producers would have nowhere to learn! You certainly won’t learn anything about recording a good vocal track by paying someone else to do it for you!

    1. “Why are you folks … ?” Dear Mr. Anonymous, unless the time stamps have been changed, YOU are the first one to make mention. Is your anonymity due to a frequent case of “posting hypocrisy”?

  5. using the home studio for making professional recordings is one thing. But using the home studio to make demos before going into a professional studio is what I find it most useful for. I recorded my whole album on garageband before re-recording all the songs again in a professional studio. You will learn so many things the first time you record the songs and you can take your time. In the studio time is money, lots of money. knowing exactly what you are going to record before you go into the studio will save you lots of time. And being able to have the recording engineer hear your songs before you record them will help the whole process go smooth and get the results you are looking for. You can spend thousands of dollars on your home studio and still find that something is missing. I’d rather save that money for the real studio.

    1. Mmm, depends on the goal, I guess. I produced my first EP recently completely in my home studio. It’s not perfect, but it’s released, done, and sounds pretty good. It’s amazing what you can do in a home studio these days.

      But you’re right. Probably if I was doing music full-time, I would invest the money in using professional studio. Even just having another person engineering and mixing makes a huge difference. It means I wouldn’t have to do it all myself, and they would also supply their creative input to the process. That would almost certainly produce a better result than I ever could on my own.

  6. Expertise and experience is everything in anything. However, we all have to learn somewhere. Hence, the home studio is the sandbox by which all of us learn to move forward. Every top name producer and engineer has a slew of badly mixed, “could have done better” and “Oh my god what was I thinking” recordings that still haunt them. It’s all part of growing. Just remember that you can’t just add water and stir to expect to get it like momma made it.

  7. I would caution entry level recording artists not to think there is any one thing that will make their recordings “professional” grade. Each thing will help… some, but professional studios offer not only more and better equipment, but they usually have people who know how to use the equipment for the best results. While it’s true that great recordings can and have been made in simple home studios, occasionally even by artists who have never made a recording before, however that’s the exception, and not the rule.
    There’s a reason studio recordings sound good and it’s all the equipment and expertise in one place.

    1. Yes, I think people often turn to better or more expensive gear, thinking that is the path to professional recordings. In reality, it’s the humans doing the songwriting, arrangement, performance, recording, mixing, mastering, and production that make a recording professional. It’s the skills and abilities, primarily. Sure, high quality gear makes a big difference, but only if you have an engineer that can use it.

      That said, I think articles like this are important for people who *are* improving their skill, and want to take their studio to the next level. Every little thing helps. But I would say, focus on practicing and working on your skills before investing too much money in gear.

  8. Thanks for the tips. Hey Anonymous, that was about the stupidest comment I read online all day, and that says a lot. Why don’t you dump a couple $100,000.00 in my account to purchase that “real studio.”

  9. These are all very good recommendations. Having a quality microphone is also a very good investment. The Meumann TLM102 microphone ($699.99) is a great multi-purpose mic that handles vocals and acoustic instruments very well. Remember that the recording can only be as good as the source.

  10. Great article, Dan.

    I think posts like this are great. It’s totally possible to get great recordings from a decently treated room and decent gear. It’s easy to be fooled into thinking that you need the best room, the best microphone, and all the best gear in order to get a good recording. That’s just not true! The only thing you need to improve is your SKILL, and you can only improve it by practicing. So use the tips in this article, and get out there and record some vocals!

    Alex

    1. The people who write these articles must know what they’re talking about; it seems the person who wrote this one has done these things and has produced good recordings. So don’t knock it unless you try it yourself.

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