Often a bad vocal gets blamed on the performer and yet some of the best vocal performances have been ruined by bad technical issues with recording engineers getting a great performance down badly. Here are our 5 common mistakes made when recording vocals.
- Wrong microphone
It is said that a bad workman blames his tools, that may be true sometimes, but using the wrong microphone on a vocal can make life very hard. If you have little money for your home studio then you need to make sure you buy a microphones with vocals as one of the primary applications for the mic. If you have the good fortune to own a lot of microphones then make sure you put a selection up in front of the artist and listen to them before making your final selection. The right mic can often mean that the need for eq and compression is then left to a minimum.
- Level headed
Make sure you understand gain structures in recording, it’s fundamental stuff, but essential if you want to make great recordings. Too low and you’ll have more hiss than bacon frying, too high and you’ll have more clipping to deal with than a poodle parlour. In the ‘wonderful’ days of analogue pre-amps and tape were more forgiving when clipping occurred - not so with digital, get that wrong and it will sound like Indiana Jones is cracking his whip in the background. Which leads me to my next point…
- Coach The Singer
I’ve lost count at the amount of times I’ve seen engineers increase gain instead of asking the singer to move from across the room towards the mic. Your singer needs to be comfortable, yet at the same time be singing in the right place to capture the best possible performance. Forget trying the whole ‘testing 1,2,3’ rubbish with them, that will just remind them they are about to do something technical. Simply ask them to sing through the song a few times to get relaxed, and whilst they do this then you can sort out your gain and other settings… oh yes and record perhaps their best take.
- Treatment Hell
We are big proponents at Pro Tools Expert of getting stuff down to ‘tape’, rather than fixing in the mix. However, if you overcook the compression, EQ or yes, heaven forbid track with autotune on, then there’s no way to recover it later. If you want to get a certain sound when tracking then use splits on the mic and get a clean safety version of the vocal down too, just in case. It does no harm and can save a song later.
- Monitors, Monitors, Monitors
Even before a singer arrives you have work to do and that is make sure you have decent monitoring for them. A good pair of headphones (enclosed) should also be high on your shopping list. If you’ve ever wondered why seemingly great singers suddenly start going out of tune in a studio, it’s normally because they can’t hear either themselves, the track or both. Make sure your singer is comfortable and has what they need in their monitors, for some it takes two or three passes of the track until they have what they need.
Recording vocals can be scary even for the most seasoned professional, so make sure you are ready to get down their best takes. Any more tips?