Recording quality vocal performances is a most important aspect
in the success of your music projects. Here's 5 tips to help you
capture great vocal tracks;
1. Gain the vocalist's trust and respect.
It's your job as an engineer to show the singer you really care
about the quality of their performance. Little things like adjusting
the studio lighting and making sure they have something to drink
(coffee, tea, or Drano) go a long way in calming jumpy singers'
nerves. Also seat all people in the control room to prevent the
singer from feeling judged. And only one person should communicate
with talent on the talkback. Several well meaning folks shouting
conflicting instructions simultaneously is a sure way to ruin
the vibe the singer needs to perform a great take.
2. Choose the right mic for the vocalist.
Maybe try a few different mics to see what works best for the
singer's voice. Once you've got a winner make sure the mic
is adjusted with proper pattern, roll-off, pad, & position.
I like the vocal mic just above the singer's mouth angled down
toward the throat/chest area. Use a pop filter if needed.
3. Choose the right headphones.
Some singers sing off key with sealed headphones. Some singers
like their brains turned to guacamole with sheer headphone level,
which precludes using open-air headphones which will leak into
the vocal mic. Some singers wear one ear cushion slightly "off"
to aid in hearing their natural pitch. The Beatles sometimes favored
out of phase Auratone speakers on each side of the singer's ears
instead of headphones. Experiment!
4. Record first takes!
Don't let great takes slip away forever
5. Use the proper signal
processing equipment. Carefully
assess the need for compression, limiting, de-essing, gating,
etc... Don't overdo any signal processing that you are liable
to regret later. Also monitoring at lower levels on small monitors
helps you to hear pitch more clearly.
The following letter appeared in a recent issue of Home &
Studio Recording. It addresses issues I raised in last month's
"5 ways to Record Better Vocal Tracks".
The September 1991 Recording 101 column (Home & Studio Recording)
spoke of the difficulties in recording vocals. Although the introduction
mentions the need to have the right preamp (and reverb and compressor
and vocalist), no further mention of preamps was to be found...
Choosing the proper mic preamp is just as important as the proper
microphone, etc. All mic preamps are NOT alike, and the differences
can be extreme. A superior mic preamp can often eliminate the
need for an equalizer. Most preamps do enough damage to the audio
signal that the engineer is forced to use an equalizer for damage
control. If you don't do the damage, you don't need to fix it.
You end up with less electronics in the signal path, so you are
even better off. (continued)
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