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Tips for Recording Vocals

Transcript
Hi, it’s Warren Huart here, and today we’re going to talk about recording vocals.

The most important thing really of getting a vocal performance — a great vocal performance — is making the artist feel comfortable. Which means, you know, have water available. Have a nice bottle of water ready to go. Have hot tea.

Hot tea is really great, because hot water really keeps the vocal cords supple, and if they’re singing a lot, having a sip of tea is quite nice, and it doesn’t have to be caffeinated, just a regular hot drink would be really, really good.

One of the best techniques, honestly I’ve learned through the years of recording vocals is distraction. Make your vocalist feel a little bit out of the moment. Make them feel relaxed. You know, make it a light hearted time.

You don’t have to be a comedian, but at the same time, make them feel comfortable. Try to take them out of their head a little bit, because nothing is worse than when a singer is doing everything to rote, whether they’re basically — what I’m saying is they’re reading every lyric off like this, and they’re worrying so much about pitch and timing that it sounds really mechanical, and like this.

You know, you want this to be relaxed. You want the vocal to be relaxed. As a listener, we respond to when a vocalist — when we feel the vocalist is talking to us, and the best way for that is to make them feel comfortable, and we’ll respond to it and we’ll find that vocal compelling.

So if you want a great vocal performance, make it so that your artist feels comfortable while working with you.

A couple of things you should be aware of when trying to keep your microphone chain clean, distortion that you might get from the capsule, or distortion you might get from your mic preamp.

Now, if you’ve got a simple IO that came with your Pro Tools, or Logic, or whatever system you’re going directly into your laptop using any number of different devices. Just give yourself enough headroom on your gain stage so that when you come up and the singer is like, “Wah!” screaming like that, it’s not pure distortion.

But at the same time, don’t have the signal to noise ratio so low, the gain so low, that what happens is you’re picking up all the ambient noise around.

It takes a little bit of time to get used to that.

So here we have a mid-price microphone, a Blue Bottle Rocket. It’s about a $1,000 microphone. I think it’s a pretty wonderful sounding microphone. You can use microphones — anywhere from about $400 up that gives you great results. Lewitt makes a great microphone at about $400 or $500. There’s a Rode NT1 that I love. A lot of people use it. Then of course, the sky is the limit. You can get vintage Neumanns for $15,000, and you can get AKG C12 — there’s all these incredible microphones, but the reality is that you don’t have to spend that much money and you’ll still get wonderful results from select microphones from like, $400-1500.

That’s a really good range for microphones, and if you are going to spend a little extra money, that’s probably the one thing that it’s okay to spend a little extra money on at first, because even a $4,000 mic preamp means nothing without a good microphone in front of it.

Now, as far as proximity, when you get close on the microphone, you’re going to get the warmth, when you pull back, it’s going to be a little thinner. So what I would suggest you’d do is when you’re doing, say, quiet verses, have your artist come forward. When he or she is wailing, have them come back a little bit.

It’s really a combination of that and understanding the mic.

Now, obviously, a lot of your artists are going to be in the studio for the first time. They’re going to have never recorded a vocal in their life, so some of these techniques they may or may not know, so if you just want to stand back, you know, six, eight inches back for 90% of the time, you know, then you really just have to watch your gain staging, and make sure that when they are wailing, maybe just click it down once on the gain, so you’re not getting distortion.

There’s lots of little techniques that you’re going to learn. I would suggest putting on a pair of headphones, plugging in your mic to your DAW, and practicing some different ideas, and get used to different gain settings.

So here, we have a pop filter on this microphone. The pop filter gets rid of some of that “puh” excessive P sounds that you would get. People would make these out of clothes hangers and pantyhose, which of course, you can do if you like, but an inexpensive pop screen, pop filter is probably $20 upwards.

It’s something you can keep forever, and this one is probably 15 years old. The only thing I would suggest you do is wipe it down with — you know, you can use mouth wash and just clean it down, but otherwise it tends to get a little stinky when you’ve had fifteen different people singing on it over a couple of months.

Now, talking about rooms and ambience, if you don’t have a sound booth, a vocal booth to record in, maybe a technique is to get into the corner of a room. You don’t have to be right pressed into the corner, but if you’re in the corner, maybe take some couch cushions and put them up at around this height.

Now, I’ve seen baffles around here. All that really does is maybe stops some sound coming in here. You don’t want a baffle around here as much as you want a baffle behind the singer, because the microphone is pointing this way.

So you’re singing in this direction, it’s picking up everything behind. So when you’re baffling, baffle behind the artist.

So there’s some recording vocal tips. If there’s any other questions you have, please feel free to leave me some comments below, please subscribe to my e-mail list, and I’ll send you some information, and feel free to e-mail me with any questions you may have, and I’d love to try and answer them in future videos.

Thank you ever so much for watching.

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.
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