There’s no such thing as good music without good vocals.
And how is a good vocal sound produced? Through vocal recording.
This ultimate beginner’s guide will let you know the fastest, easiest, cheapest, and most effective way to record vocals at home.
Things to Remember When Recording Vocals at Home
There are different types and styles of vocal music.
These music styles include:
- Rock and pop vocals
- Whispery vocals
- Classical vocals
- Solely pop vocals
Regardless of your music style or your particular voice, you’ll need the same basic equipment for vocal recording.
Before you start recording, we will let you determine the equipment you’ll produce and teach you the step-by-step guide on how to record vocals.
What You Will Need
Recording vocals at home isn’t exactly… budget-friendly.
But, we’ll help you save your penny by listing down the sorted version of studio essentials.
Here’s what we recommend:
1. The Right Microphone Choice
For some, any type of microphone would work just fine.
BUT! When recording vocals, it is important to choose the RIGHT microphone to produce pro vocals with the best tone!
These are the main types of microphones used in vocal recordings.
On the technical side, dynamic mics are good for recording low-to-mid frequency instruments such as flute, guitar, and piano.
This type of mics does not require phantom power.
What exactly is phantom power?
Phantom power is a direct current voltage sent down the microphone cable to power the preamplifier.
A dynamic mic is commonly used in karaoke bars and by hosts of parties, events, weddings, etc.
Do you want to go on a full recording session? This all-around microphone is for you!
If you are into detail and accuracy during a vocal recording session, you should listen to what condenser mics have to offer.
This mic is for recording studios to capture vocals and high frequencies. They can also pick up more details compared to other mics.
Condenser microphones require phantom power.
Cardioid Condenser Microphone
As complicated as it might sound, a cardioid mic primarily picks up sound within a roughly heart-shaped area.
These microphones are BEST for vocal recordings and anything that must sound dry and close.
However, a cardioid condenser mic rejects sounds from the rear and sides, so you won’t have to worry about external sounds coming in your recording.
You also have to bear the proximity effect when using this mic — move further away from the mic to have a brighter sound.
- Far away (12 inches) = open and airy.
- Close (4 inches) = warm and intimate.
The proximity effect could break a good recording!
Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone
A live performance of a band like One Direction or The Beatles would require an omnidirectional condenser mic.
This condenser microphone lets the audience hear sounds coming from all directions.
It is best for recording multiple instruments simultaneously.
Let’s make it sound as NATURAL as possible with ribbon mics!
This mic lets you capture the most natural sound of your instrument, voice, and atmosphere.
NOTE: A phantom power can destroy ribbon mic.
USB mics suit content creators who produce voiceovers and podcasts the most.
They can make your voice sound clearer, silence unnecessary background noises better, and capture natural sound in high-definition headset mics!
This type of mic doesn’t require the presence of phantom power.
2. A Pop Shield or Pop Filter
The ones placed closer to the artist’s mouth and after mics that look like a strainer are called a pop filter or pop shield.
Its main purpose is to serve as a noise protection filter for mics to eliminate and reduce unwanted, especially popping sounds.
Most misc will not require a pop shield to produce the best sound quality, but a pop shield can prevent audio distortion when used up close.
3. Mic Stand
Of course, it is known that recording singers should stand instead of sit during a recording session. It allows the artist to open the throat and move the diaphragm fully.
That is why mic stands are invented!
Just like the mics, these mic stands are also different from each other.
A firm, high-quality, and solid microphone stand is one type of equipment you should invest in.
If you choose a good one, it could last a long time!
4. A Computer
It is nearly impossible to produce a vocal recording without digital software support.
Yes, the vocals are in, but what about the mixing of tunes, beats, and even sound waves?
A computer will also let you save your recorded sessions which is vital in producing a vocal recording.
Your laptop or computer will also be the home of your DAW (digital audio workstation), which is used for editing, mixing, and fine-tuning your recordings.
NOTE: MacBook Pros are recommended as the must-have computer for good recording and editing.
5. DAW/Audio Interface Combo
Cellular phones can automatically replay what you just recorded to help you decide which parts need to retake.
The DAW/audio interface combo enables you to do something like that — to hear or monitor what you’ve just recorded.
The conversion of an analog signal to a digital signal that your computer/DAW can recognize and process.
Normal headphones won’t do the job well.
Instead, studio headphones are the ones you should be looking for.
It lets you source better imaging and accuracy while finding and fixing impurities in the source audio interface.
When recording vocals, you want to use over-the-ear, closed-back headphones. These headphones will prevent sound from escaping and being picked up in the microphone.
7. Studio Monitors
If you think it’s a dual monitor set-up. Then, IT’S NOT IT.
Studio monitors are loudspeakers used for professional audio production applications, where frequency ranges must be processed and heard clearly and accurately.
8. Ear Training Software
Your ears are your cashless investment for this budget home atelier set-up!
Listening is also a skill that you must master, like singing and playing instruments.
Through ear training, you’ll be able to learn to play a melody by ear as well as identify chord quality and progressions.
9. Well-Versed and Rehearsed Vocal Recording Artist
All the instruments and equipment listed above would appear useless if the vocal recording artists themselves didn’t do the job well!
Remember to undergo proper training, practice, discipline, and diet.
12 Important Steps to Properly Record Vocals
Recording vocals properly and perfectly is just as frustrating as it gets!
We understand how you feel, so we’ve sorted out an easy-to-follow step-by-step guide for beginners like you!
Step 1: Find a Proper Recording Space
This has to be one of your most expensive home studio investments — from the engineers to the actual materials costs.
A proper recording studio space will help you produce a precise, accurate recording that responds well to sound.
Having an isolated sound booth would also greatly reduce room reflections.
Step 2: Set up a Proper Acoustic Sound Treatment
A proper recording studio shall have a good sound treatment for sound absorption and diffusion materials in and around the studio walls and surfaces, such as foot noise.
Proper acoustic panels serve as a temporary vocal booth around the artist.
Alternatively, you can use mattresses, duvets, heavy curtains, and anything else that would absorb much sound.
But do you want to know some life hacks?
Keep your space-eating egg trays at home because it is a great alte0rnative for space soundproofing!
Be sure to first install pieces of foam within its openings before hanging them on the walls.
Step 3: Choose the Right Microphone
You can’t go inside the stores and say, “Can I buy the right choice of microphone for recording vocals?”
There is no such thing as that.
However, a large-diaphragm condenser mic is a popular choice for vocals.
REMINDER: You could also choose from the microphones mentioned above, which are dynamic microphones, condenser microphones, and ribbon microphones.
Step 4: Set Up Your Microphone Stand
The comfort of the artist also manifests in the artist’s voice!
A mic stand that is too high could make the artist strain, while a mic stand that is too low can make the artist slouch during recording sessions.
That’s why it is important to set up your mic stand correctly according to the artist’s height.
Step 5: Know the Correct Placement of Mic
Sound waves travel back and forth, which causes vocal recordings to have a more open and boxy sound if recorded in poor-sounding room acoustics.
This is why we recommend that the vocal artist record in the middle of the room to minimize the noise reflected into the mic from the surrounding walls.
Step 6: Stand a Few Inches Away From the Microphone
When recording or tracking vocals, it is always advised not to stay too close to the microphone as this would make you sound deeper than your usual tone.
However, voiceover artists do this purposefully as they strive to achieve a deeper sound.
Since if you move farther from the microphone, your voice thins out.
This is called the proximity effect.
It is best advised to record vocals 8″ to 12″ away from the microphone placement to produce your true voice.
Step 7: Utilize a Good Preamp
This may add a little bit to your budget set up but trust us when we say this is a game-changer!
It is already given that a good microphone set-up will provide most of the tone.
However, most studio engineers always send the vocal recording through a preamp. This amplifies low-level signals to line level and adds warmth to the original piece.
Step 8: Set Proper Levels and Recording
Besides setting up yourself and your types of equipment in the correct angles and position, you also need to know if your levels are right on your interface and any outboard equipment.
For reference, here are the proper levels to look out for:
- Averaging around – 18dBFS
- Peaking around – 10dBFS
- Never peaking higher than – 6dBFS
NOTE: dBFS levels are found in your DAW on the channel meters, and you can also use a dedicated metering plugin).
Step 9: Warm Up Your Vocalist
Performers typically feel anxious before a precedented performance, whether done live or recorded.
During these times, it is best to have them do some warm-up sessions; but press record on those sessions.
Performers with anxiety probably give their best when they think it is not recorded.
However, please do not push the artist too much as it may lead to voice exhaustion.
It is also a MUST to check the comfortability of the vocalist before every sesh. If you see they are not comfortable enough, consider monitoring them on loudspeakers.
Step 10: Use Headphones During the Recording Phase
To produce a better quality of recorded vocals, use over-the-ear, closed-back studio headphones, as mentioned earlier.
These headphones will save the sound from escaping and let you hear minimal reverb.
Step 11: Go for a Full Song Rehearsal
If you are recording a song, use this chance to do a full round of the recording and spot any technical or vocal issues.
Additionally, during a full song rehearsal, the vocalist must be encouraged, cheered, and complimented.
Do not criticize them!
They should be able to get into the music and be comfortable.
Make them lose themselves in the song — reminisce their joyful past experiences and tell them about their inspiration.
Step 12: Take Breaks in Between Recording Sessions
After warm-up sessions and full song rehearsals, the vocalist will probably give the full range of their abilities throughout the first three takes.
However, if the vocalist fails to deliver consecutive times in a row, it is best to take a break.
The best performances usually come straight after the performer has taken a rest.
NOTE: If you think that the performer has given its full potential on one take with a single error, insert the part where there was an error. Multiple takes may lead to voice exhaustion.
Recording Backing Vocals and Ensembles
While main vocals are the thing, recording backing vocals and ensembles can also serve much for a song.
The best way to learn how to record backing vocals and ensembles is to do it.
Here’s how you should do it:
Step 1: Know What Your Song Needs
For the use and treatment of backing vocals in music production, you must always consider the general vibe and meaning of the song.
Look back on what your song wants to say to the audience and how background might aid in delivering and enhancing your message.
However, not all songs require background vocals.
Some songs may deliver the most impact by using a piece of solitary vocal throughout.
Step 2: Determine When to Bring Backing Vocals
Smart use of background vocals can be a great way to build energy as the song continues.
Backing vocals shouldn’t just be placed anytime and anywhere. That’s why it’s important to ask:
At what point in the song do you bring in background vocals?
Step 3: Use the Right Mic and Apply Proper Mic Placement
Proper mic and mic placements also apply to background vocals.
The singer should be placed on the mic for soft and breath sounds.
It is also advised to use an Omni-mic to avoid the bass boom coming from directional mics with such a close proximity effect.
But the singer should move back off the mic for big, full-voiced background vocals. Allow a bit of the room sound to get into the recording. This can add some authenticity and a cool vibe.
Step 4: Know When to Double Background Vocals
Lastly, doubling background vocals may add to the song’s girth and vibe.
But it can also disrupt music production in a very different manner. So it’s better to assess the right time to double background vocals.
Tips for Mixing Vocals
Can you give me a song in Spotify’s greatest hits with a poorly mixed vocal? You can’t probably tell me one. Because plainly, there’s none.
Mixing vocals is just as important as vocal recording.
So we’re giving you some tips on how you should mix vocals:
Tip #1: Produce a Great Vocal Recording
A good recording is where it all starts!
You might think that this is already the mixing part and vocal recording has nothing to do with it.
Scrap that thinking.
Most of your song’s quality has already been decided in the recording process — 80% recording stage and 20% mixing stage.
So don’t think that mixing would save a busted vocal recording.
Tip #2: Apply a Good Edit
Any unnecessary background noise is filtered at this stage.
Applying good editing doesn’t mean editing too much, as it may sound unnatural.
Editing and compiling the best parts of several different takes together is recommended to create a great performance.
Tip 3: Apply Subtle Pitch Correction
Even if you chose the best parts of several different takes for each verse or section, perfect and smooth performance is still not guaranteed.
This is why you need to apply subtle correction to pitches to fix rough mix and notes.
Tip #:4: Automate the Gain
Vocals are very dynamic compared to instruments — they can go from whisper to a shout in split seconds.
However, the modern music industry asks for consistency. Each word must be audible enough.
Automating the gain at the beginning will help the levels going into your compressor to be consistent.
This will help you avoid over-compression.
FAQs About the Vocal-Recording Process
Aside from the types of equipment, the step-by-step guide, and other tips we’ve mentioned, we’ll also be dealing with what others want to ask about vocal recording.
Here are some questions.
What Type of Microphone Is Best for Vocal Recordings?
As previously mentioned, there is no such thing as the right microphone placement as a vocal recording isn’t universal.
They differ in tones, type of music to produce, singer’s voice, and such.
However, condenser mics are always preferred more than dynamic mics for vocal recording as they can produce a much more accurate detail and are the most linear type of microphone.
Why Do My Vocals Sound Distorted?
Indeed, a recording isn’t smooth sailing.
There are times wherein you have to re-record vocals because of too much excess noise, pops, clicks, and distortion.
And you have to exert the same big energy you’ve had in your previous recordings.
But is this even possible?
Of course, not at all times! That’s why you have to take note of the proper microphone position and your position while recording.
The most common reason for vocal distortion is that they have been recorded too loud.
What Should You Do the Day Before Vocal Recording?
A good recording also demands good preparation.
Here are 5 ways skilled singers must do to prepare for a vocal performance:
1. Get Proper Sleep
A properly recharged body may give you the right amount of energy you need for your recording session.
Of course, rest is important too!
2. Consume a Lot of Liquid
Of course, hydration is important. But much more for artists whose investment is their voice.
At least an hour before you start recording, you have to have a decent amount of water intake to optimize your vocal folds — they become more elastic.
If you don’t feel like drinking water, here are some alternatives to choose from:
- Caffeine-free tea like chamomile, ginger, or peppermint tea
- Flavored water
- Cucumbers, melons, and other watery fruits
3. Have a Proper Diet
Having a healthy intake before your performance minimizes unwanted occurrences.
Just as beverages are important, your food also affects your vocal performance.
Dairy foods allow you to have unusual mouth noises. Meanwhile, spicy foods trigger acid reflux or flatulence.
4. Protect Your Voice
A day before your performance, you should detach yourself from an environment or event that would cause vocal strain.
5. Be Ready an Hour Before the Session
You may have managed to do all the preparations needed for your vocal recording session but still fall prey to some vocal pitfalls.
Here’s what you should do an hour before the recording:
- Wake up earlier than your recording schedule to have ample time to prepare your meals and everything you need.
- Drink enough water an hour before your performance.
- Avoid damaging elements such as cold weather, cigarette smoke, dust mites, and other allergens.
How Loud Should I Record Vocals?
You should record vocals at the following level of decibels (dB) for 24-bit resolution:
- Lowest – 24dB
- Average – 18dB
- Peak – 10dB
How Can You Cut Down on Monitor Spill?
Spills occur when a microphone picks up an intended sound from another source.
Recording engineers and live sound engineers aim to avoid spills by:
- Placing microphones closer to the sound source
- Using acoustic barrier
- Reducing sound reflection in the recording room
- Having the different instruments and amplifiers set up in different isolation booths or rooms
- Recording every instrument and a vocal one at a time
- Using directional mics
We know it may take some time to fully grasp the types of equipment mentioned above, steps, and tips for the recording phase of the vocals.
And so, take your time and relax.
You’ll eventually get closer to achieving what you’ve dreamt of. But for now, let’s take a quick look at what we have discussed so far:
You’ll be needing the following pieces of equipment:
- The right mic
- Pop filter
- Microphone stand
- DAW/Audio interface combo
- Ear training software
- Bass traps (optional)
How to properly record your own vocals:
- Find a proper recording space with proper acoustic treatment.
- Set up your microphone stand with the right mic.
- Check the correct placement of the mic. Do a few tests and stand a few inches away from the mic if needed.
- Utilize a good preamp by setting proper levels and recording.
- Warm up your vocalist.
- Use headphones during the recording session.
- Go for a full rehearsal and take breaks in between recording sessions.
Recording vocals at home is a humbling experience.
You may start from scratch and eventually grow as an audio professional as time passes by.
For now, it may not seem easy to produce all of the professional audio types of equipment, but you’ll get there.
Who knows? You might have your own complete studio set up in the future!
Start recording now and invest in your natural human voice!