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How to Get Your Vocal Recording Setup Started

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Whether you’re a voice over artist, songwriter, or rapper, chances are at some point you will be interested in setting up a personal recording system. For some people, simply getting the idea in a recorded fashion is enough. For others, they may want to actually release or sell the results. But getting started can be a little daunting. Have no fear, I’m here to help.

The goal here will be two fold: get workable, decent results, and not break the bank. Here’s what you basically need:

1) Voice

It all starts here. A rich, strong vocal tone will translate well even on a low budget setup.

2) Space

You exist in a physical environment, and there’s no way to take that out of the equation. The most common error people make here is to record in the smallest space possible.

This is done because a) you don’t hear as much reverberation in smaller spaces, and b) because that somehow came into fashion. This is rarely the best setup.

You’re much better off using a medium sized room and creating some kind of gobo system. That could be those extremely overpriced Auralex gobos, or you can make your own. The cheapest way is to mount up some moving blankets using mic stands or any other support system. For just a hair more money and a little more effort, you can do it using Owens Corning 703 fiberglass wrapped in fabric or burlap.

The trick here is that you don’t put the gobos behind the mic. You put them behind yourself, generally in some kind of triangle configuration. This takes the most effort to get right, but for around $100, you’ll get much more distance from even a cheap setup.

A cheap mic in a room with gobos will sound better than an expensive mic in a closet, 9 times out of 10. So take the time, do some research, and get this step right!

3) Microphone

You need to turn your acoustic voice into voltage. If you are doing voice over or rap I recommend going with a condenser microphone. Even in the $300 price range, there are some very good options. My personal favorite is the Audio Technica 4033a. This is a microphone that holds it’s own against microphones that cost 10x as much. You can get very professional results on this mic. But there are a number of options in this range that are good. I’m not a fan of the Rode NT1-A, which seems to be among the most popular picks. They give good results, but they tend to require a little more skill on the mixing end to get the best out of them. Also, microphone placement matters.

If you are a singer, you may want to try a dynamic microphone like a Sure SM7 or an EV RE20. These microphones have been used on countless classic albums and give killer results that rival high end condenser mics. The only reasons I hesitate to recommend these microphones to voiceover artists and rap artists is that they don’t have the most open/natural top end (important for a voice over, to hear the “reality” of the voice), and they tend to round out the transient sounds hitting the diaphragm (not as much articulation for fast rap vocals). That said I’ve record rap vocals with an SM7 quite successfully, so these things are fairly negotiable.


4) Preamp

The what?? A microphone signal is very low. It requires an amplification stage before it goes through your interface. A good preamp is imperative to a good sound. Even if you have enough cash to get a high-end mic, I would recommend getting a less expensive mic with a decent preamp. The average computer interface will have preamps built into them. Depending on your interface  those preamps might not be so good. You are better with a dedicated external one. Some good choices are the GAP73, UA Solo 610, or Focusrite ISA 1. None of these preamps will blow you away, and I might even say that the 610 and ISA 1 are a hair overpriced — but they get the job done.

5) Interface or Converters

Converters turn your continuous electric signal into a discreet signal that a computer can understand. “Interfaces” are devices that include preamps, converters, monitoring routing — several steps in one. Though there are cheap stand alone converters as well that skip this stuff. For an interface, I recommend the Apogee Duet, or the Mbox 3. These have the best sound overall to my ears. Standalone converters tend to be very expensive, however the Behringer converters are very cheap and actually fairly decent (one of the better makes for their general product line).

6) DAW

There are a million DAWs out there. Pro Tools, Logic, Ableton Live, Digital Performer, Nuendo, Cubase, Garage Band, Reaper, Acid, and the list goes on. All of these things will do the most basic function of getting your voice recorded. The one you choose to work with depends a lot on what you are trying to accomplish and is somewhat outside the scope of this article. Good workflow is important.

7) Monitors

You’re going to need to hear your recording. While recording you will need headphones. Again there’s a lot to choose from, but my pick on the inexpensive side is Sennheiser HD280s. There are many options though.

For speakers, again, lots of options. If you plan to do a significant amount of mixing, your best bet is a pair of Yamaha NS-10s and an Adcom amplifier (like the GFA series). This may be a bit pricey and might not be appropriate for your needs. A cheaper but decent alternative would be a pair of active speakers like Event 20/20 series. TR-5 through 8s all make for a good choice. Yamaha HS series is also fairly good. KRK Rockits are pretty popular, I personally don’t care for these monitors. I find that while they sound fairly neutral in terms of frequency balance they don’t provide much detail to the sound.

Assuming you already have a computer, a complete and decent recording setup can be had for under $2,000.

If set up properly, this will provide a setup that could allow for perfectly usable vocal recordings on an album or for voice over performance.

The other factor of course will be your know-how in terms of using your equipment. So keep checking back here for tips on getting the best for your sound.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

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