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How to Record Professional Quality Vocals At Home | Recording Clean, Loud, No Distortion Vocals Using a Normal Mic
So... you have an instrumental you absolutely love, you wrote some great lyrics & the way you are flowing on the beat is on point. But you don't have a studio close to you or studio time is just too expensive. So you decided to start recording your own vocals at home, but you feel you can improve on the sound...
Maybe you are a recording and/or mixing engineer and you need to sharpen your skills when it comes to getting the best sound? There are various sites and ebooks available that can outline how to make beats and which programs to use to make great quality instrumentals. You can even find courses online that teach you how to play live instruments like the piano or the violin. Simply put, you will find a plethora of information about most things associated with music.... but not many cover how to record clean, crisp vocals with no distortion at home (without having to spend thousands).
Microphones on a Budget
Importance of Recognising Good Vocals
The big tip to understanding what is a good vocal, is learning to recognize peaks/clips/‘the red’ whilst recording. The Hub below is the first in a series which cover how to record the cleanest vocals, how to apply certain effects, best plug ins to use for mixing your tracks and the difference between mixing & mastering.
Understanding how to record vocals without peaking or hearing distortion afterwards is an art that can be easily acquired, you just have to recognise the warning signs whilst recording to ensure that you get the cleanest vocals possible.
On most sound meters, you'll notice the sound is measured in negative decibels (db), from low to high, with zero being the highest the sound can reach before it distorts. You will notice that on some meters the increments change at different rates; the higher up on the meter you get, the further apart they get.
This represents the algorithmic pattern of sound amplification needed for the sound to increase by another increment. This means the more sound you have; the more carefully you’re going to have to listen (especially when going into those higher decibel ranges). It also helps you zero in on your exact volume when in those high db range.
These higher ranges in vocals need to be recorded clear without peaks or clips (without the vocal hitting the ‘red’), so that in the final mix when the vocals are fully mixed in, they sound clear, real and natural.
No Good Vocal Should be Distorted at the Time of Recording
If you have been having problems with distorted vocals, or if your vocals commonly go into the ‘red’, all you have to do to solve this problem is to lower the input (mic volume) until the loudest vocal part in the song can be recorded without it hitting Zero (‘The Red’). You don’t want to low down the input more than you need to because you want the strongest sounding and looking vocal (i.e. the visual representation) for you, or the sound engineer, to work with.
So, like the heading states, no good vocal is distorted. Not even if you want to get that distorted sound; you do it (i.e. add a distortion effect) after the vocals are perfect. Some people think you have to be able to hear the distortion for the sound to actually be distorted, but the plain truth is our ears get used to constant sounds. In other words, if your vocals have always been distorted from the moment you recorded them, your ears will begin to think this is ‘normal’ and you may not register the distortion consciously.
Mic Stands - on a Budget
This happens to each and every human. If you listen to something distorted for too long it will seem pleasurable enough to cope with but the discipline is to rest the ears by listening low till u can’t take it anymore and keep looking at your meter. You will notice when you're clipping and you can see the volume you’re listening at, this will give you an idea as to how low you have to keep the mic volume.
This should ensure that your vocals are clear but not distorted. This is the most important thing about recording because once the vocal is recorded distorted it CANNOT be fixed by applying any effects. So no matter how good your engineering skills are you will never have total control of that vocal if it is distorted from the start.
This in turn makes it bad for mixing & mastering, hence the quality of your track will never be high. There are some plugins such as Sound Soap that can help if you have no other choice but to work with a distorted vocal, but ideally you want to avoid having to use these plugins on your mix if you can.
How to Disguise Distortion on Vocals
Another thing you could do to disguise distortion is to reduce the volume of the sound by about 3db and then add another distortion effect onto it, but note that your vocal will sound like a deliberately distorted vocal. There are many plugins available (like CamelCrusher and Izotope Trash) that can be used to apply a controlled distorted effect onto the vocals.
Having said this however, it is always worth keeping in mind that a perfect vocal distorts way better with a distortion effect than an already distorted vocal and the resulting sound is much more deliberate and controlled, so the bottom line is:
Record the cleanest vocals possible (with no clipping or peaking) & then add the distortion effect afterwards to get the crispest sound.
Best Monitor Headphone To Buy
One of the Best Monitor Speakers on the Market
Using Monitor Headphones to Achieve the Best Sound
In order to get the best vocals, you have to be able to hear the little changes & shifts in the vocals notes, & decide whether the vocals need to be re-recorded. Monitor headphones & speakers are the best tools you can use for your home studio to achieve the most professional sounds right from when you begin recording the vocals.
These monitor headfones are a must-buy for any engineer or artist serious about mixing & mastering their music to professional standards. I personally use the Audio Technica M50 monitor headphones to mix & master for my clients, they outshine the majority of the ones available on the market in this price range. They offer:
~ Exceptional audio quality
~ Collapsible design & adjustable padded headband
~ 45 mm drivers with neodymium magnet systems
~ Closed-back cushioned earcup design, ideal for maximum isolation
So What Do You Need to Get CRISP Vocals?
You may think that to get the cleanest vocals you will need expensive studio equipment, including microphones, pop filters, mic stands & an extremely efficient computer/laptop. This is true to a certain extent - you do need a computer with a relatively fast processor (above 1Ghz), but you can buy great mics on a budget and mic stands and pop filters are not too expensive to get a hold of either.
You probably know already, most artists start out with little or no funds, all costs tend to come out of pocket, but most artists don't realise the ease at which they could have their own recording system in the comfort of their own homes.
You can get usb condenser microphones for under $60! Behringer has mics priced even lower than that, and considering the fact that mic stands cost less than $25 and a pop filter costs less than $15, you can have your very own set up to practice and record your own vocals to your satisfaction for around $100!!!
This will afford you some freedom to record at your own pace, at your own hours, and build up your confidence accordingly. It will also ease up your expenses when you wish to push some new music out for your fans.