"How To Record Vocals at Home" Portrait of talented African-American man singing to microphone and playing guitar while recording music.

How To Record Vocals at Home

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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

When inspiration strikes, it’s not always feasible (or affordable) to book time at your nearest recording studio and lay down some gold-plated vocals. But if you’ve invested the time and effort into building a home studio, the equation is entirely different. Vocal production in your home isn’t dependent on the latest software and equipment, but there are ways to improve your recording quality. Here are some tips and strategies to help you capture powerful, pristine vocals in your basement, bedroom, or elsewhere in your home.

How to start recording vocals at home

You can set yourself up for home-recording success by following a few baseline steps:

  • Choose a quiet space. Whether it’s car horns, the dishwasher, or family members on the phone, outside noises can spoil a great vocal take. That’s why you should try to scope out the quietest spot you can find for your recording session. You can also take steps to minimize sound and echoes like silencing phones and alarms, putting up signs asking people not to ring the doorbell, and adding sound-dampening foam to your walls and ceiling.
  • Set the right mood and atmosphere. Do lava lamps and tie-dye tapestries make you feel creative, or do you prefer a room free of clutter and decoration? Do you sing and produce best when you feel like you’re under a bright spotlight, or do you prefer a darker vibe? There are no rules here, so make sure to set up your space in a way that makes you feel comfortable and excited during the recording process. If you don’t immediately know which setting will get you in the zone, experiment and see what makes you feel the most inspired. Just remember that adding or subtracting objects from the space can affect the acoustics of your recording, so don’t let drastic modifications compromise your sound quality.
  • Remember basic recording techniques. Keeping in mind some basic tracking fundamentals will take you far. Set up your microphone so it’s comfortably at mouth level, give yourself plenty of space to move your body so you don’t feel cramped while you sing, use a pop filter, and be mindful of how far you are from the microphone. Microphone placement impacts your recording quality and can create a sonic effect when you’re too far away. Also, stay aware of how the position of your microphone in the room affects the sound; even moving the microphone an inch in one direction or another can make a big difference between a sound that works and one that doesn’t.

Equipment needed for home vocal recording

You don’t need the fanciest microphone or the most expensive preamp to make your home-recorded vocals shine, but you do need to be smart about assembling the right gear for your specific needs. Part of learning how to record vocals at your home studio includes careful consideration of your tech stack. Here’s some advice for your home recording studio setup:

  • Choosing the right microphone. Many singers swear by condenser microphones, like those made by companies like Neumann, AKG, Telefunken, Warm Audio, and many others. Condenser mics can be quite sensitive and can pick up subtle nuances of a vocal performance. Other singers and producers swear by classic dynamic mics like the Shure SM58, which might not capture quite as much intricate detail as a quality condenser mic, but remain a mainstay of live performance and can give your vocals great character of their own. What’s the right mic for you? The one that you feel comfortable singing into, and the one that produces a sound you love.
  • Audio interfaces and preamps. You need a way to get the sound from your microphone into your computer, and audio interfaces and preamps can do the trick. Sometimes, both utilities are contained in the same hardware box, and sometimes you’ll want a separate preamp to give your vocals a specific tone. Products from Universal Audio and Focusrite are just a few of the many options that can set you up for vocal-tracking success.
  • Headphones and monitors. You won’t be able to get very far with your recording if you can’t hear the music well, so be sure to invest in a good pair of studio-quality headphones, and most likely a pair of studio monitor speakers as well. The best headphones are generally those specifically designed for recording, which tend to give a more balanced frequency response, rather than mega-boosting the bass. Using headphones while you track vocals is important so you can hear your backing tracks without the sound seeping into your vocal recording. Professionals very often prefer to mix using monitors rather than headphones, and there’s a lot of value to that approach. Play with different options and see what works for you.
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What is the best way to record yourself singing?

Beyond the equipment described above, you need the right software to help you track great vocals. Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) like Pro Tools, Logic, Ableton Live, and Cubase can give you massive power to do nearly anything you want sound-wise. If you’re just getting started, one of the most accessible DAWs for beginners is GarageBand, which comes standard on nearly any Apple device.

When it comes to capturing the right take, make sure to warm up and get yourself into a creative flow, then try to forget everything and pour yourself into the music. It can sometimes help to sing the same part a few times in a row without stopping, getting deeper into it each time, or trying a slightly different emotional or tonal approach. Make sure to stop, rest, and listen back before you start getting frustrated or your throat starts to hurt after the multiple takes.

If you’re very talented, very practiced, very lucky, or some combination of all three, you may capture a perfect take of your vocals from start to finish. If you capture a take that you love but stumble over a couple words here or there, don’t fear. Most DAWs make it easy to comp different vocal takes together so you can get the best bits in one amazing take. Make sure to cross-fade when editing vocals so there aren’t any obvious blips or digital hiccups.

A big part of creating strong vocals is applying effects, and there are countless options you can add to make your vocals sound heartbreakingly pure or otherworldly and robotic. The effects that you want to lean on most will likely be EQ (to cut out troublesome frequencies and make your vocals sit richly within the mix), compression (to add subtle tonality and regulate volume levels), and reverb (to help your vocals feel like they occupy a space that works in context of the rest of your song). Always trust your ears and feel free to experiment. Remember that with most effects, a little goes a long way, so try to avoid slathering anything on too thickly.

Once your vocals sit comfortably within your song (not overpowering the instruments but not drowned out by them either) and you’re happy with the mix, make sure to get your track mastered. Mastering a song helps the overall volume level be industry standard, provides a final sonic polish, and just glues everything together. Explore our audio mastering services at Disc Makers to get your track professionally mastered.

Overcoming common home recording challenges

Recording at home can come with its own set of challenges, but you can easily take steps to minimize the hassle.

If you’re getting weird sonic reflections in your recordings or feel like your vocals sound too boxed in or echoey, try applying simple foam padding to the walls, experimenting with different mic locations around your room, or trying a different room completely. You’ll often be amazed how a less-than-ideal room can suddenly start to sound good when you lay down carpets and put things on the walls to absorb sound.

There’s always the threat of background noise — and one of the biggest things you can do to deal with this is pay attention to timing. Does the trash truck come around at five, the neighbors take their dog for a walk at seven, and the bus screeches by at seven fifteen? Keep those benchmarks in mind and plan your vocal takes accordingly. Luckily, unless you’re trying to record an opera in a single take, all you need are a few minutes of quiet at a time to get your work done.

Have fun

Making great vocal recordings at home depends on the right equipment, the right space, and the right technique, but also the right attitude. Be sure to enjoy the process of making music, and don’t get hung up on anything that doesn’t directly enhance your art. Good luck!

Your music isn't ready until it's been mastered
Michael Gallant

About Michael Gallant

Michael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.

5 thoughts on “How To Record Vocals at Home

  1. Something else to consider when it comes to the condenser/dynamic mic choice, is ambient room noise. Besides minimizing outside noises as mentioned above, other subtle noises — wind through unsealed windows, fish tanks, AC units, appliances — all get picked up to some degree. Condensers are great for full detail, but pick up *everything.* A high-quality dynamic (I’ve used a Shure SM7b) is a great way to way to control some of that noise beyond your control and still get good quality.

  2. One thing I found that was a true game-changer was getting a quality isolation shield for behind the mic on the stand. Se Electronics makes one as does Moukey if you want something cheaper. I’ve got one of each and they are both excellent for “removing the room” from the recording. Small bedrooms, etc. tend to throw back a lot of quick reflections and can muddy up a track. The reflection filter clears that up and let’s you craft the vocal tone in the mixing stage to better “blend” with the music and sit where you want it in the mix.

  3. I also find it useful to hang blankets on mic stands to mitigate reflections. There’s also a gadget you can screw onto your mic stand that provides some soundproofing material on the far side of your mic. When used in combo with the blankets, I’m able to get a purer vocal source. I used this technique on my latest album “Digital Carnival.”

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