© Mike Konopka

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".

"Dear Editor,
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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